Wednesday, 10 August 2016
My overwhelming emotion on the morning of Friday June 24th when David Dimbleby announced ‘we’re out’ was one of sadness. After all, whether I liked it or not, I am a hardwired European by virtue of my Father who, like Nigel Farage, elected to marry a German national. And liked it I did.
Unfortunately, my parent’s union did not last which resulted in my Mother returning to her Fatherland when I was 7. I started travelling as an unaccompanied minor between the two countries, spending my time either in the sedate beauty of the Hertfordshire countryside in what was then Broken Britain, or in the brand new shiny modern metropolis of Düsseldorf. The contrast was extreme.
Apart from attending an American School in Düsseldorf in 1973, my schooling was in England where I went to several state schools. Aged 11, I was sent to a boarding school in North Norfolk which was to become my new home for the next five years or so.
Back then, the second world war had not been all that long ago and anti-German sentiment was still relatively high. To this end, I distinctly remember trying to keep my German side private, for fear of being called a Nazi.
However, when in Germany and conversing with Germans who learnt I was half English, I always found the reception I got was far more favourable. It’s as if they were grateful to be speaking with an Englishman who accepted them. In my thirties, moved to a small village called Blankenese on the outskirts of Hamburg where the love of all things British was arguably far greater than within Britain itself.
In the early nineties, I found myself to be an enthusiastic proponent of the European project. After having spent countless hours waiting at border control in Netherlands, France and elsewhere, I rather liked the idea of free movement throughout all of Europe. I was sold. And I loved the logo.
I was dating a MP’s daughter at the time who was kind enough to invite me to the public gallery on the evening that the Maastricht Treaty was ratified. All the top brass were there, and it was fascinating to be at the seat of power on such an historical day.
Over time, I detected less anti-German sentiment this side of the channel and subsequently became less inhibited about my German heritage. On the contrary, I was proud – Germany had become Europe’s economic powerhouse. Plus I love German cars and the fact that there are no speed limits there!
Germany’s hosting of the 2006 FIFA World Cup was a turning point for me since I knew that many Brits visiting the tournament would not have normally have elected to go there. But when they came back, many observed how friendly their hosts were and what a beautiful country is was. From this point forward, I would no longer hide my German side – on the contrary, I would embrace it.
A decade later, the British electorate decided that the European project was not such a good idea after all. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given my intrinsic European credentials, I voted to remain in.
But I totally ‘get’ some of the arguments that the other side made – the bloated bureaucracy, unelected officials, and the fact that the (still) United Kingdom has always been and outwardly looking global trading nation.
In the meantime, however, we have to live with Brexit and all its unforeseen consequences.
In recent years, I have been helping North American SME’s make UK their European home. It was an easy pitch: Business friendly, same language, and access to the world’s largest trading bloc.
Now that the UK is not such an attractive proposition, I will be helping UK & US SME’s establish a subsidiary in, you guessed it, Germany. This allows them to structure their affairs in such a way that they do not actually leave the European Union at all and can continue trading freely with the remaining 27 members.
I really hope that the Britain envisioned by those than wanted us to leave comes to pass, but I think it will take a while to get there. In the meantime, we are left pondering if the Le Touquet treaty will hold.
Now, where’s my German passport?
Monday, 8 August 2016
The seismic events occasioned by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union have forced many UK companies to consider restructuring their affairs in such a way that they do not actually end up leaving it at all.
Establishing a European subsidiary, of course, is nothing new. But Brexit has caused many British companies to consider this possibility as a form of insurance policy so that they can continue to trade freely with the remaining 27 member states without having to worry about the countless unknown unknowns that it has created.
When it comes to deciding in which country within Europe to relocate, most companies are perhaps unsurprisingly electing to do so in its largest and richest market. But where within Germany should they establish themselves?
Having lived and worked there for over a decade myself, I can wholeheartedly recommend its most beautiful and prosperous City, Hamburg.
Situated on the river Elbe, Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany and the eighth largest city in the European Union. It has a population is over 1.7 million people, and is Germany’s most Anglophile City with several thriving English-speaking communities.
Thanks to its geographical location and easy accessibility by water, road, rail and air, Hamburg is an outstanding hub of logistics in world trade and the most important logistics location in Northern Europe.
Hamburg‘s economic structure is dominated by the services sector. The Hanseatic city is traditionally the most important trading centre for goods of all kinds in northern Europe, and central gateway for the overseas trade in the Baltic Sea region.
Moreover, Hamburg is home to many major players in the business services sector, in particular for banks and insurance companies and is host to a dynamic fintech sector, with numerous start-ups developing intelligent digital solutions for next generation banking.
Furthermore, Hamburg leads the way in a number of other sectors including media, music, film, PR, online, software and games. This is why Internet giants such as Google, Facebook, Adobe, Systems Engineering, Twitter, Hootsuite and Yelp decided to make Hamburg as their German headquarters.
The list of long-established advertising agencies in Hamburg is tantamount to a "who’s who" of the German advertising industry. Other areas in which the City excels includes Life Sciences and Wind power.
When it comes to quality of life, “The Economist” consistently ranks Hamburg as one of the most the most livable cities in the world. This is a sentiment to which I concur.
With this in mind, I am seriously considering moving back there once my son starts university, and I would be delighted to help any UK company establish themselves in this, the most British of German cities.
Sunday, 3 July 2016
For the 48% of us that voted to remain inside the European Union, the referendum result came intially as a unwelcome shock to most of those who are in the business of doing business. But as Napoleon Hill once pointed out, every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.
Agile and forward thinking UK SME’s can mitigate the risks associated with leaving the EU by structuring their affairs in such a way that they do not actually leave it at all.
Creating an EU subsidiary will not only allow them to capitalize on the opportinities afforded by continuing to freely trade with the remaining 28 member states within the world’s largest trading bloc, but also it will give them a distinct advantage over their UK competitors who don’t seize the initiative and simply retreat behind the drawbridge and wait to see what happens next. But procrastination is not only the thief of time, it also does a pretty good job of ensuring that business is not as brisk as it should be.
Consequently, the post-Brexit period of widespread uncertainly in which we now find ourselves is the perfect time for UK companies to secure their future by opening a branch office in Europe’s powerhouse economy, Germany.
Not only will so doing ensure that they can continue to trade and to provide services throughout the entire European Union, but also it will alleviate any fears that customers or suppliers might have by demonstrating that they are fully committed to the European project, despite the Brexit outcome and all the uncertainties associated with it.
Securing a foothold in Europe’s key market therefore offers enormous advantages to SME’s already trading with Germany, but also to companies that have been considering establishing a presence in Europe anyway.
Only an hour or so flight from most UK airports, Germany has a business friendly tax and legal system and its central location within Europe makes it the natural choice for British companies looking to establish a subsidiary or branch office on the continental mainland.
The most common legal form is to establish a GmbH (Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung) which is German for "company with limited liability" - The name of the GmbH form emphasises the fact that the owners (Gesellschafter, also known as members) of the entity are not personally liable for the company's debts.
It is widely accepted that a GmbH is formed in three stages: the founding association, which is regarded as a private partnership with full liability of the founding partners/members; the founded company (often styled as "GmbH i.G.", with "i.G." standing for in Gründung – literally "in the founding stages", with the meaning of "registration pending"); and finally the fully registered GmbH. Only the registration of the company in the Commercial Register (Handelsregister) provides the GmbH with its full legal status.
Under German law, the GmbH must have a minimum founding capital , from which €12,500 have to be raised before registering in the commercial register . The company is run only by the managing directors (Geschäftsführer) who have unrestricted proxy for the company and must be either a national of a European Union country or have a German work permit. Shareholders, on the other hand, can be any UK entity, be it a person or a UK Limited company.
Other factors to bear in mind when establishing a presence in Germany includes securing a business address, launching a German language website - local law dictates this must include an ‘impressum’ which outlines company details, appointing a good tax consultant, and hiring at least one German speaking representative that can help during the formation period and possibly beyond.
Unlike in the UK, joining the local chambers of commerce is mandatory. However, doing so will allow members grow their business contacts. Social network XING is their LinkedIn, which is another useful way to engage with prospective customers or partners.
Brexit came as a shock to most Germans. Many are Anglophiles at heart and would welcome the opportunity to continue working with British companies that elected not to leave the European Union after all.
Monday, 28 March 2016
Thursday 23rd June this year will be a historic day: after years of heated debate, the British electorate will cast their vote for the second and presumably final time and decide whether Great Britain will remain within the European Union, or make the bold decision to leave and stand on its own two feet outside it. Either way, the importance of this day cannot be overstated since it has implications both in the short term, and for generations to come.
Personally, I am still undecided but am leaning towards ‘in’ – but I understand the arguments put forward by those who are steadfast in wanting us out. As former US Sectary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld once pointed out, there are “known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know.” This describes a ‘Brexit’ most eloquently in my opinion, and it is why I am erring on the side of caution and most likely will vote to remain ‘in’.
Whatever the outcome, the case made by those that want us to leave are valid ones: We are the fifth-largest economy in the world and punch above our weight on the global stage. A proud trading nation, ‘Brand Britain’ is synonymous with quality, innovation and sometimes style. But there are some things that we are not very good at. And given that the UK's goods trade gap with the rest of the world stands at a record high of £125bn in 2015, it would appear that exporting is one of them.
I apportion part of the blame on language. While English has become the de facto world’s standard when communicating in business, this lends itself to a certain complacency which is all too plain to see when visiting the websites of the majority of UK companies: stubbornly sticking to an ‘English only’ sales policy when reaching out to new customers, partners and distributors located outside the (still) United Kingdom.
Even worse, some of them seem to think that simply adding a Google translate widget to their homepage will suffice for their international outreach efforts. However, this often does more harm than good. Google excels at a lot of things, but translation is not one of them. Said translations will be riddled with grammatical inconstancies, and any visitor from overseas that takes the trouble to click through to the automated translated version will see that the company has not made any meaningful effort to reach out to them in their mother tongue.
As the name suggests, the World Wide Web - which was invented by a Brit - is a truly global medium. To this end, all UK companies that export – or want to – can and should be leveraging this universal reach using localized websites. This means adapting an existing website to local language and culture in the target market: adapting it to the linguistic and cultural context. This involves much more than the simple translation of text. The modification process must reflect specific language and cultural preferences in the content, images and overall design and requirements of the site – all while maintaining the integrity of the website, corporate identity and overall message.
Today all markets throughout the world are web-centric, sophisticated, diverse, mobile and increasingly competitive. Today, local websites are essential for UK companies to compete successfully internationally.
Whatever the outcome in June’s crucial referendum, those companies that take the time and effort to localize their website will be doing both themselves and the UK a favour by doing their bit in helping reduce that enormous trade deficit and narrow the gap between the amount we import and export. After all, it is called the World Wide Web for good reason.
For more information, visit www.ibtpartners.com