An A to Z of 2023

It feels like these annual round-ups come around more and more quickly every year! At MBS, it’s become tradition for our final Weekend Edition of the year to be an A to Z of the last twelve months – a chance to share some highlights from the MBS calendar, celebrate the many successes of the consumer-facing sector, and reflect on the trends that defined our year.   

And while 2023 has certainly presented hurdles – strikes, spiraling costs and resulting restructures, for example – I think we can all agree that this year has at least been less turbulent than the three which preceded it. Despite fluctuating consumer confidence and a continuing cost-of-living crisis, our consumer industries are (touch wood!) beginning to feel more stable, and settling into new, truly post-Covid, patterns of growth.  

So, against this backdrop, let’s take a look back on 2023:   

A is for AI. This one won’t come as a surprise. Innovation in generative AI and the introduction of large language models like OpenAI’s ChatGPT are making a permanent mark on our world. As we wrote in a column at the beginning of this year, and discussed at a dinner on AI for CFOs last month, the developments this year represent a real step-change – it’s not just hype.  

B is for B Corp. Most readers will know that we’ve always been committed to making our consumer-facing sectors a better place. A few years ago, we formalised our CSR strategy, and in 2023 we were immensely proud to gain B Corp certification. We’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on what B Corp means – not just for us, but for the dozens of businesses in our sector which have made the commitment to transparency, accountability and continuous improvement.  

C is for Challenger brands – companies which are permanently disrupting their category for the better. In April, it was fantastic to sit down with founders, CEOs and investors to lift the lid on how disrupter labels can successfully scale in our Challenger Brands Index 

D is for diversity and inclusion. Today, almost all businesses in our sectors have a coordinated strategy to drive up inclusion – but progress on diversity leadership isn’t happening fast enough, especially at the very top levels. As shown by our four in-depth reports produced this year, it’s time for businesses to turn good intentions into targeted actions. Indeed, E is for the ESG agenda, which companies ramped up their focus on this year, perhaps distracting from D&I. 

F is for Marks & Spencer’s return to the FTSE 100 in August. Congratulations! G is for Growth: M&S, like many other retailers, has seen a period of exciting growth in the past twelve months. In particular, Next and Frasers Group have dramatically expanded their portfolio of retail brands, altering our retail landscape – at least for the moment.  

H is for hallucinate: the Cambridge Dictionary word of the year, referring to when an AI provides false information. Looking ahead, businesses of all sizes and scopes will have to navigate the many risks and opportunities presented by advancements in this technology – on cyber security, reputation, efficiency, and jobs.  

I is for innovation and the rankings of the most innovative companies in the UK in 2023. Based on 3 pillars: Intensity: a company’s innovation activity and focus; Impact: the impact on other innovators in and outside its sector and Ingenuity: originality of inventions and investment in disruptive technology. Ranked number one is Rolls Royce. 

Two silver Rolls Royce cars sit side by side at an expo
Rolls Royce was ranked as the most innovative company in the UK in 2023. Image credit: Adobestock/ltyuan.

J is for the Jury who found Sam Bankman-Fried, Founder of the failed cryptocurrency, FTX guilty on all seven counts of fraud and money laundering.  Read Mike Lewis’ book over the break, Going Infinite, all about Bankman-Fried’s companies but also about his major funding of effective altruism causes prior to going bankrupt. 

K is for King Charles III, who was crowned in May this year. In the years ahead, it will be interesting to see how the King’s dedication to sustainability and British entrepreneurship will be felt in our consumer-facing sectors.  

L is for leadership pipelines. Across our consumer-facing sector, the next generation of CEOs is emerging. A number of the healthcare sector’s longest-serving CEOs have stepped down this year, for example, and it will be interesting to see if the new cohort will bring with them a greater appetite for innovation.  

In some areas, new paths to the top are being forged. In retail, we’re seeing Carrefour come through as a critical training school for CEOs. Rami Baitiéh, incoming CEO at Morrisons is a prime example. The same can be said in the pub sector, where the pipeline of leaders who trained in the Big Six graduate schemes is running dry. Already, Marston’s has appointed Justin Platt – who brings deep understanding of hospitality and the wider consumer sectors but no specific pub experience – as its CEO.  

M is for Mattel’s Barbie movie, and N is for Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. After a difficult few years for the leisure industry, it was fantastic to see people heading back to the cinema this summer. And away from film, the sector saw another boost from the success of competitive socialising. As we wrote in June, the meteoric growth of new concepts like F1 Arcade, Swingers and Puttshack have reinvigorated the leisure space this year.  

cinema seats in front of a screen showing the Barbie movie. In it, Barbie is stood on top of a building, waving at other Barbies.
Barbie and Oppenheimer broke box office records in the summer as customers flocked to the cinema. Image credit: hamara/Adobe Stock.

O is for roles off the pitch, specifically for women in football. Despite the sea-change in attitudes towards the women’s game in the past two years, the corporate talent landscape remains dominated by men. In the English Premier League, for example, only 9% of Board members are women.  

P is for the partners that we’ve worked with this year. It has been a privilege to once again join forces with some of our industry’s most impactful organisations to help spearhead change: the British Retail Consortium and Diversity in Retail in retail; WiHTL in hospitality, travel and leisure; The British Fashion Council in Fashion, and CEW and Julietta Dexter in Beauty.  

Q is for the questions that Healthcare Boards should ask themselves. In our first Healthcare white paper, we outlined the critical talking points for Boards of forward-thinking healthcare organisations, from diversity and blue-sky thinking to making sure there are the right clinical voices around the table.  

Indeed, one person who grasps these concepts is Dame Cally Palmer. R is for The Royal Marsden, the leading cancer care hospital which Dame Cally has led as CEO for more than two decades. In November, we caught up with her to discuss the many lessons we can learn from her formidable leadership.   

S is for the dozens of Senior Independent Directors we sat down with this year to discuss the roles, responsibilities and very many nuances associated with this critical non-executive position. In our last white paper of the year, we outlined how SIDs can drive effectiveness in their role, and why emotional intelligence and relationship building are paramount to success.  

T is for sports teams, and the growing need for creative direction at clubs and other sports organisations. In August, Kenny Annan-Jonathan was appointed as Creative Director at Crystal Palace, marking the first time a Premier League team has hired a creative lead.  

In November, we caught up with Dame Cally Palmer, CEO at The Royal Marsden to discuss lessons in leadership.

U is for undervalued, perhaps an apt way to describe consumer stocks, which have traded at an all-time low this year, despite a recovering economy. In October, for example, Birkenstock’s highly-anticipated IPO failed to live up to expectations. Dr. Martens shares are currently trading 74% below their float price, and Farfetch stocks are worth 90% of their original market value.  

V is for successfully scrapping the VAT on period pants, and the #SayPantsToTheTax campaign which encouraged fantastic levels of corporate collaboration in our sector.  

W is for our work. We are unashamedly brand snobs at MBS, and it’s been an honour to work with some of the most exciting companies in the consumer-facing sector this year, and help them solve their most critical leadership challenges. In 2023, our work has taken us from supermarkets in Africa to manufacturing in Asia, from luxury restaurant businesses to global FMCG giants, and from rapidly-scaling dentistry groups to cutting-edge streetwear labels. We truly couldn’t wish for a more exciting group of clients to serve. 

X is for Twitter’s new name: X. The less said about that the better…  

Y is for young people, who are thinking, acting and buying differently from previous generations. In the workplace, businesses are having reevaluate how to manage and motivate their (Z is for… ) Gen Z colleagues, while brands are finding new ways to speak to this demographic. It’s an exciting – if challenging – time.  

This is the last MBS Weekend Edition of the year, but our daily newsletter will continue into next week. From all of us at The MBS Group, wishing you all the best for a joyful festive season, and a very happy new year! | TheMBSGroup.