Richard Branson, Martin Sorrell and Jes Staley react to Brexit with other top business leaders

Companies in industries like travel and advertsing, which are heavily exposed to swings in currencies, said they would reassess their plans

Zlata Rodionova
Friday 24 June 2016 15:59
Richard Branson said the UK will face difficult choices over the coming years
Richard Branson said the UK will face difficult choices over the coming years

Business leaders across the world reacted with dismay to the UK’s vote to leave the EU on Friday.

The FTSE 100 plunged more than 8 per cent in its biggest opening slump since the financial crisis, wiping £120 billion off the value of the 100 biggest UK companies.

Many leaders warned that the decision may see investment redirected overseas as companies restructure their operations.

Companies in industries like travel, advertising and car manufactuing, which are heavily exposed to swings in currencies, said they would reassess their plans.

This is how 11 business leaders reacted to the vote:

1. Sir Richard Branson, founder, Virgin

Branson's business empire is valued at around $5-5.5 billion

“None of this [leaving the EU] will happen overnight, and the UK will face a multitude of complex negotiations and difficult choices over the coming years.

“I have been clear I wanted the UK to remain in the EU. The last few weeks I have been more outspoken as I think leaving the European Union is a very sad decision that will do enormous damage to both Britain’s economy and Europe’s stability.

“This decision will create volatility and will threaten much of the good work delivered by the EU over the last 40 years. Nevertheless we must all accept and respect the majority vote.”

2. Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director General

Carolyn Fairbairn, of the CBI, said the UK economy had finished the year strongly

“The British people’s vote to leave the EU is a momentous turning point in our history. The country has spoken and it’s for us all to listen.

“Many businesses will be concerned and need time to assess the implications. But they are used to dealing with challenge and change and we should be confident they will adapt.

“The urgent priority now is to reassure the markets. We need strong and calm leadership from the Government, working with the Bank of England, to shore up confidence and stability in the economy.

“The choices we make over the coming months will affect generations to come. This is not a time for rushed decisions.”

3. Paul Polman, chief executive, Unilever

“The most important thing to have long term prosperity is to accept the will of the people and respect democracy. Now we all need to unite.”

4. Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive, WPP

Last year, almost a third of shareholders of the world’s biggest advertising company voted against the chief executive’s pay

“I am very disappointed, but the electorate has spoken. The resulting uncertainty, which will be considerable, will obviously slow decision-making and deter activity. This is not good news, to say the least.

“However, we must deploy that stiff upper lip and make the best of it. Four of WPP’s top ten markets are in Western Continental Europe and we must build our presence there even further.

“It just underlines the importance of implementing our strategy: fast-growth markets, digital, data - and horizontality, which ironically means getting our people to work together, not apart!”

5. Jes Staley, chief executive, Barclays

Barclays boss Jes Staley said selling its African operations would boost the dividend

“This is a significant decision and there will be many questions asked in the coming days and weeks about what happens next. The answers are complex but our position is not - we will not break our stride in delivering the Barclays of the future.

“We have stood in service of our customers and clients for over 325 years. We have been here for them through equally profound changes before. And no matter what has been laid before us, we have been here to help them achieve their ambitions.

“That does not change today. And through the uncertainty of the months ahead, be in no doubt that we are ready to do whatever it takes to uphold that promise.”

6. Sebastian James, chief executive, Dixons Carphone

Millions of customers have had their details hacked

“Feel strange and unsettling following the vote but we are the same, our company is the same, and our job is the same.”

7. Ian Shepherd, chief commercial officer, Odeon & UCI Cinemas

Leodeon will be the Leicester Square Odeon's name until after the Oscars on Sunday

“Genuinely can’t believe it. Have spent the week with colleagues from around the world who were rooting for the UK to come to its senses.”

8. Carolyn McCall, chief executive, easyJet

Carolyn McCall, chief executive of easyJet

“We remain confident in the strength of easyJet’s business model and our ability to continue to deliver our successful strategy and our leading returns.

“We have today written to the UK government and the European commission to ask them to prioritise the UK remaining part of the single EU aviation market, given its importance”

9. Douglas Flint, group chairman, HSBC

Analysts expect Douglas Flint to be replaced by an outsider as the bank makes a clean break

“We are today entering a new era for Britain and British business. The work to establish fresh terms of trade with our European and global partners will be complex and time consuming. We will be working tirelessly in the coming weeks and months to help our customers adjust to and prepare for the new environment.

“As one of the largest, most stable, liquid and prudent financial institutions in the world, HSBC is well placed to support our customers and the markets as they deal with the challenges that will arise. Our commitment to British businesses, customers and staff in the UK remains undiminished.“

10. Gareth Stace, director of UK Steel

The Indian conglomerate said last year that it would sell its UK business but it has since decided to seek a partner

“The decision to leave the European Union will send shockwaves across the UK’s steel industry. Our sector is well versed in having challenges thrust upon it, but it’s clear that this is like no other.

“It is now more essential than ever to create the right business conditions in the UK that allow the steel industry to survive, invest and thrive. This will ensure that our vital supply chains, such as defence, automotive and construction, can rely on the production of steel in the UK so we are self-sufficient and can never be left at the mercy of others.

“Government can now match words with actions and take the lead in dealing with subsidised exports, most notably form China, that are slowly destroying steel making in the UK. It must come up with clear and concrete actions to ensure that we can still trade with the EU, while at the same time ensuring that trade tariffs have the teeth to guard against dumping of Chinese steel. An exceptionally challenging ask, but one the whole UK steel industry stands ready to support.”

11. Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and chief executive, Goldman Sachs

Lloyd Blankfein will still make more than $22m

“We respect the decision of the British electorate and have been focused on planning for either referendum outcome for many months.

“Goldman Sachs has a long history of adapting to change, and we will work with relevant authorities as the terms of the exit become clear. Our primary focus, as always, remains serving our clients’ needs.”

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