A view of Glasgow

Strathclyde Business School

The business of defining a city

By Stuart Patrick - Posted on 12 March 2013

Stuart Patrick, Chief Executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, looks at the economic and social make-up of today’s Glasgow and asks: Can you run a city like a business? 

Every year Glasgow Chamber of Commerce runs a series of Glasgow Talks influencer events, with senior business leaders exploring both their achievements and the successes of their companies - but occasionally we also ask a respected economic or media commentator to review the city’s progress.

In November, immediately before Glasgow’s annual State of the City Conference, urban expert and advisor, Greg Clark tackled these questions.

Not surprisingly the answer was, well, yes and no. Like businesses, cities do have customer groups, they have stakeholders, they compete in contested markets with other cities searching for investors, visitors and, ultimately, residents. Cities have human capital, they engage in research and development, they have brands and they have governance and leadership structures. City governments work with business models to meet citizens’ needs, and face many of the same challenges in securing resources, structuring delivery and shaping and promoting their services as a business would.

But unlike businesses, a city can’t choose its customers, it can’t decide to focus on selected markets. Its leadership is democratically elected and must work within complex, negotiated accountability structures. It cannot easily go out of business. It cannot easily escape from its national or international context by moving in or out of markets.

So, tackling the challenge of influencing the prosperity of a major city like Glasgow is a hugely fascinating and complex task, and Glasgow’s leaders have been making some important investments in that task over the past two years.

If there is one lesson that comes from Glasgow’s track record, it is that the city operates most effectively when the leaders in government, business, civic and academic life find common cause and work together to secure business for the city.

Securing the Commonwealth Games for 2014 is an obvious example, but so too have been the growth of the International Financial Services District, the growth in conference business at the SECC and the very recent decision by the Technology Strategy Board to invest £24m in a Cities of the Future demonstrator in Glasgow, which will explore how technology and data management can help cities become dramatically more efficient in the way they achieve citizens’ wishes.

In each case, the local authority, various agents of national government, individual businesses, educational institutions and civic bodies like Glasgow Chamber of Commerce have come together to promote the assets Glasgow has and persuade the investors, the institutions or the visitors that Glasgow is the right choice.

Right now we are spending valuable time deepening that bond between business, government and academic life. We are doing it through the Glasgow Economic Leadership group, chaired by Professor Sir Jim McDonald, and drawing on the commitment of the city’s Leader, Gordon Matheson.

With their help, senior business leaders, representatives of national organisations like Scottish Enterprise and Skills Development Scotland and civic bodies like Glasgow Chamber of Commerce are advising where the city goes next in pitching for the investment and custom that will help increase the jobs available to the people of Glasgow.

We have lots of assets to draw on – in engineering, in energy, in life sciences, in tourism and in financial services. There are world beating companies in each sector. And we have enormous assets to work with in our universities and colleges, our airport, our conference facilities and the cultural heritage we have built up here throughout our history.

And we have one very important and distinctive asset which every business will say is at the heart of its success. We have the people - and they are a very highly educated people. In Glasgow a much bigger proportion of our citizens have degree level qualifications than similar cities of our size in the UK. The Scottish education system still provides us with that competitive edge.

We have assets, we have the people and we have strong leadership. We have a culture of taking risks and we have a shared vision for the future. Glasgow may not be a business, but it has many of the attributes and it knows how to compete.

Keep an eye out for the new business that the city is winning and feel free to point out where we can win more.

So can you run a city like a business? Do cities share features with commercial organisations? Let us know in the comments below.

(Image source)

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