News Article

November 2008

The International Small Business Congress (ISBC) and Leadership Influence

“Small Businesses Gather for Conference in Belfast” – Belfast Telegraph, November, 2008.

At Value the Person we are extremely proud of Professor Ken O’Neill, Chair of VtP T&D Co, and all the work he does on behalf of the small business community.

Ken’s a great leader who uses his many natural talents to make a difference. A recent example is the organising and chairing the recent International Small Business Congress (ISBC) — being held in Ireland for the first time — and the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ISBE) conference.

Background to the conferences

Those at the four-day gatherings in the Europa Hotel, Belfast in November represented the cream of SME practitioners, policymakers and academics. Because of his world-wide relationships, built up over many years, Ken and his committee were able to attract more than 1,000 delegates from the small and medium sized business sector across 71 countries and 5 continents to discuss how to maintain their competitiveness in the current economic downturn.

Ken, who was largely responsible for attracting the conferences to Northern Ireland, said: “There are many issues affecting SMEs in the current economic climate and this was the first opportunity for experts from the sector worldwide to meet and discuss the way forward.

“Delegates were able put forward their views on how the financial institutions and the policy makers could help the sector weather the current economic storm. There was a distinguished list of keynote speakers who brought their own expertise and experience to bear on the discussions.”

The conference were formally opened by HRH Prince Michael of Kent. Others speaking were Madame Le Bail, the EU SME Ambassador, Hanns-Eberhard Schleyer, Secretary General of ZDH in Germany, Padraic White, former managing director of the Industrial Development Authority in the Republic of Ireland; Graham Davis, director of entrepreneurship, Invest N. Ireland and Hans Werner Mueller, Secretary General of UEAPME for 10 years – the major European representative body for SME’s.

His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent – Another small business champion

His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent, as a longstanding supporter of the small business community, thanked Ken and his team in his opening address for their work in organising the conference. He also stressed his personal belief that SME’s were the backbone to our global economy and, therefore, encouraged support to develop the sector to maximise their contribution to the global economy.

Will McKee, a local Northern Ireland entrepreneur and, therefore, speaking on behalf of all SME entrepreneurs, emphasised the need for institutions and governments to show they “cared for the entrepreneur” even in tough times when it was not necessarily easy to do so.

Will went on to express his view that the current economic difficulties were due, in the main, to the West becoming uncompetitive over recent years. He suggested that we had become lazy and were paying ourselves too much and businesses were guilty of giving ourselves too big a safety net. We needed to get back to basics and start to value the contribution of the individual and invest in those who could contribute the most.

Policy Statement from the Conference

It was encouraging to note that the policy outcomes from the conference stressed many of to-day’s key issues. They included demands for:
  • decisive measures from governments and central banks to promote confidence among businesses and consumers
  • actions to ensure a normal functioning of the banking system, especially towards SMEs
  • extending credit guarantee schemes for SMEs
  • evaluation of political decision procedures with a view to shortening them
  • measures already in the pipeline should be speeded up
  • “out of the box” thinking on many policy areas to give change a chance
  • “think small first” also in the policy area of sustainable development
  • effective representation of SME associations at the regional, national and international levels
Ken’s closing remarks…

In his closing remarks Ken emphasized that “never has the contribution of small businesses to economic, social and political life been so clearly recognized. In fact, many see it as underpinning any healthy, functioning democracy. Nevertheless, governments still listen and act in favour of the larger, better organized and more heavily funded lobbies.

“In the end, however, the origins of the current financial and economic crises reinforce us in the knowledge that the values we cherish and which have been the foundation of our past success lie in respect for people as individuals as well as economic units. I believe those values still prevail in smaller, caring businesses that recognize their obligations to their people, their suppliers and their communities”

“Ken couldn’t have summarized the reason d’être for Value the Person better!” Editor

If you want anymore information or have queries concerning this article please contact Jim Cowan, Chair, Value the Person International at