James Ashton: Business will be the loser in Olympic gridlock

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The Independent Online

Drinks at the Arts Club in Mayfair were interspersed with my investment banker friend jumping on the phone to pitch for a sales mandate. Things must be looking up.

When I had his undivided attention, talk turned to this summer. Would we both find it so easy to cross town and meet up when the Olympics are in full swing? My friend doubted it.

There are already signs that large parts of the business world are preparing to shut up shop. At least one bank is advising its staff to work from home. A private equity firm is advising its network that it will closed for summer. They won't be the only ones.

Other than heading into town to watch an event or indulge in some corporate hospitality, the normal comings and goings of industry will be muted.

That's fine for the course of 17 days – and actually plenty of the networking afforded by the Games could lead to good business come autumn. But what will suffer is the flow of complicated transactions that take weeks to consummate, such as mergers and acquisitions. My friend doesn't think the lull will end until well after the Paralympics is over.

So while pubs and hotels may be overflowing in July and August, plenty of day-to-day commerce will simply grind to a halt. Firms would do well to ditch the pretence that it will be business as usual.