13 March 2023

Partnership can help with that all-important long-term view

First published in The Times on March 13th 2023

Amid the noise of the latest Westminster dramas, it would be easy to miss signs that some green shoots of pragmatic governance might be breaking through. From anti-inflation measures to progress on the Northern Ireland protocol, the government is displaying more long-term thinking than we’ve seen for years. The Labour Party, too, under the increasingly adept leadership of Sir Keir Starmer, is putting focused and practical policymaking above political showboating.

Time will tell whether Rishi Sunak’s measures will produce the goods, but that’s the inherent challenge of policymaking. Tackling entrenched problems requires commitment and resolve, a tension exacerbated when there are barely two years on the electoral clock.

Now Jeremy Hunt will try to address the challenge of setting Britain on a path to long-term growth. He must do so alongside delivering on the government’s other priorities of cutting debt while shielding us from the worst effects of the cost of living crisis.

That tension between short-term expectations and long-term goals is familiar to businesses everywhere. The parallels with chief executives, obliged to report financial results to shareholders quarterly, are obvious. However, I know as founder of The&Partnership that there’s another way. We run our business differently — as a partnership, owned and managed by a group of partners that grows alongside the business.

Partnership has been the secret of our success for more than 20 years, from early days as an advertising agency with three partners to today as a multi-disciplinary network with more than 1,500 people in 45 offices globally, led by more than 45 partners. In a market where progress has been elusive, it’s helped us to sustain average annual growth of about 17 per cent for a decade.

The biggest advantage of the model is the long-term, strategic perspective it gives us. Independence means we can set our own agenda and growth timetable, allowing us to make decisions in the long-term interests of our people, clients and business. A bit like a political term of office, at The&Partnership we do our planning in five-year phases, each with a simple goal. As we near the end of the latest phase, we can reflect on another period of consistent growth, thanks to a commitment to our clients’ digital transformation. And over the next five years we’ll focus on being a marketing commerce partner to our clients.

I’m not saying that being a partnership means a business won’t have challenges, but on balance I think the true value of partnership has been “knowingly undersold”.

Britain’s structural and economic challenges won’t be solved overnight, but we must hope the prime minister and the chancellor continue to apply a long-term perspective to policymaking that lays down strong foundations for growth. They could begin by addressing the digital skills gap, which costs the UK £63 billion annually. This is an area where we’ve taken that all-important long view, launching our The&Academy last year, the first centre of excellence for apprentices in digital and creative skills. I’d also suggest they try to provide incentives for more companies to explore partnership-oriented models — anything to encourage the eyes-on-the-horizon planning that government and business so sorely need.

Johnny Hornby is founder, global chief executive and chairman of The&Partnership