Bloomberg Capturing Exceptional

Good business is about making the right decisions at the right time. It's about seeking opportunities. It's about investing in services and world-class expertise, and forging strong partnerships that can leap across time zones. Following the 44th G7 summit in Quebec, Canada this month, we created a series of portraits of exceptional U.K. business leaders in international businesses. 



Click here to view the entire story on, with thanks to Bloomberg Media Studios

Karen Blackett OBE of WPP advertising

Karen Blackett OBE of WPP advertising

Karen Betts of the Scotch Whisky Association

Karen Betts of the Scotch Whisky Association

Alex Lovén of Net World Sports

Alex Lovén of Net World Sports

Alex Lovén of Net World Sports

Alex Lovén of Net World Sports

Sports fan Alex Lovén was inspired to start a global sports equipment business after buying a cricket bat as a teenager and realizing the profit margins of the retailer. He went on to launch Net World Sports from his bedroom, turning it into a limited company in 2009. Nine years on, he has become a flagbearer for a thriving 21st-century business—one that is export-centric and propelled by technology.

Based in Wales, Net World Sports is one of Britain’s fastest-growing private companies, with sales up 67 percent last year to nearly £20 million. Exports account for more than 60 percent of sales, and the company has launched eight international sites to help expansion across the G7 and beyond, with a particular focus on the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

Still only 30, Lovén is among the U.K.’s most successful entrepreneurs. So to what does he attribute his success?

“I’ve always had big dreams and ambitious expectations,” he says “I’ve been entrepreneurially minded for as long as I can remember, and have been making money from sports equipment since I resold those cricket bats at school, aged 13. Today, we sell more than 5,000 different types of products to schools, clubs and individuals. Much of it is our own-brand equipment, and yes, we still sell cricket bats.”

Lovén describes Net World Sports as “a straightforward logistics and services business” that has led him to develop trusted relationships with suppliers around the world.

“I’m one for a simple vision. There’s no need to overcomplicate things,” he says. “Communication has been absolutely critical to our success. As a founder, it is through clear, effective communication that you are able to inspire and take people with you—whether it’s a business partner, customer or your staff.”

The sports goods market continues to grow worldwide, fueled by a rising interest in health and wellbeing. In the next two years, market forecaster IBISWorld expects revenues to increase at a compound annual rate of 5.6 percent, to reach £9bn.

Since London 2012, the U.K. has contributed to 70 major sporting events and in the last decade British engineers and architects have helped to build some of the world’s most iconic venues, including Beijing’s National (Bird’s Nest) Stadium by Arup, Johannesburg’s Soccer City Stadium by Populous, and Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic Park by Aecom.

Football (soccer) is particularly big business for the U.K., with more than half a billion people across 100 countries watching this year’s FA Cup on TV. The Premier League generated £700mn in broadcast revenues alone last season. Tapping into this popularity, Net World Sports sold more than 100,000 soccer goals and Lovén is confident the momentum can be sustained.

“We’ve enjoyed solid double-digit growth every year since launch, and I think we’re well positioned for it to continue. We have an easy-to-understand proposition, and we’re well-versed at delivering it. We have the right infrastructure and people in place. Domestically, we are in the process of building a new warehouse that will provide us with up to 400,000 square feet of space for stock.”

Lovén says he has learnt not to be daunted by the physical distance between the countries in which he is now operating, realizing that any geographical distance can be overcome with good planning and trusted partnerships.

“I didn’t go into business to be famous. All I wanted to do was run a successful business and grow a successful business,” said Lovén, who has had to overcome dyslexia. “I’ve been very fortunate that it has done so well, and I’ve got a great team that has enabled it to move forward.

“If my success can encourage or give light to anyone who is dyslexic or who just isn’t particularly enjoying school, then that’s great.”

The photo shoot with Alex Lovén took place in the grounds of his family home near Wrexham, Wales on a bright summer’s day in 2018. The aim was to capture a sense of Lovén, an energetic, ambitious entrepreneur, riding high on the phenomenal success of his well-organized sports business.
Karen Betts of the Scotch Whisky Association

Karen Betts of the Scotch Whisky Association

Karen Betts runs the 106-year-old Scotch Whisky Association, championing a sector that accounted for £4.4bn of exports in 2017. Although Scotch Whisky – whether a blend or Single Malt – will always be a classic drink of the highest quality, the industry continues to invest in deepening current markets and developing opportunities in new ones.

Scotland’s distilleries greatly value their overseas partnerships, and the SWA is proud to represent Scotland’s whisky industry. Seeking new opportunities, Betts was part of the business delegation that joined U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May on a trade trip to Japan last year. Asia is a fantastic growth opportunity for Scotch, which already does big business throughout the G7’s U.S., France and Germany.

So to what does Betts attribute the ongoing allure of Scotch whisky?

“It’s quite simply a fabulous drink that is rightly loved and enjoyed by people all around the world,” she says. “It is of a consistent high quality, and there is fantastic diversity; within one distillery you can find a huge range of flavors.”

Betts notes that this is an industry well used to planning for the mid- to long term; during the 140 years in which Scotch whisky has been exported, its resilience and ability to adapt has been its greatest asset.

“Scotch whisky has to be matured for a minimum of three years, and very often it is matured for much longer than that, so our companies are working out what they are going to lay down today to sell in 10 to 20 years’ time,” says Betts.

“If you look back at the challenges we’ve overcome in the last century alone, in which we weathered two World Wars, Prohibition in the U.S. and two or three global recessions, you can see the industry’s resilience and ability to adapt. It’s a testament to their determination to succeed.”

Looking ahead, Betts—a former British diplomat and the first female chief executive in the SWA’s illustrious history—says the Scotch industry will continue to serve its strong markets across Europe and North America, and hopes to unlock more emerging markets.

The international success of Scotch has been built on the shoulders of its early 19th-century entrepreneurial giants, think Tommy Dewar, Johnnie Walker and James Chivas. Now a new generation of whisky entrepreneurs are taking single malts and premium blends to the modern consumer in new ways.

“Our companies work very hard to build markets overseas and then sustain them,” says Betts. “It’s all about knowing your consumers and understanding where growth can come from. It’s also about marketing well and advertising well, and building brands in each market.”

While Scotch’s three constituent parts—water, barley and yeast—remain the same, the industry has an ambitious environmental strategy with voluntary targets for the industry by 2020 and 2050. These include reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, with a goal that, by 2050, 80 percent of primary energy will be sourced from non-fossil fuels, such as anaerobic digestion and solar power – a reduction of 170,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

Advances in technology, meanwhile, mean that robotics and other digital solutions now take more of the load in coopering (making whisky casks) and the wider production process. The industry has also started to create biofuels and animal feed from its byproducts.

“The Scotch whisky industry has become more efficient by harnessing new technology and distribution methods where beneficial,” says Betts. “We’re optimistic for the long term. Sure, Brexit might produce some disruption in the short term, but generally we’re well-positioned. There’s definitely still room for growth.”

The shoot with Karen Betts took place on historic Calton Hill in central Edinburgh, Scotland, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On a blustery summer’s day in 2018, the aim was to capture Betts, the worldly business woman and collaborative leader, with a sense of Scotland, and, of course, a celebration of Scotch whisky.
As Country Manager of WPP in the U.K., Karen Blackett is one of the most senior women in British advertising, responsible for the global network’s second-largest market. In 2017, WPP generated £2.9bn in revenues from its U.K. mix of advertising, media, research and strategic expertise.

Founded in London, WPP is the world’s largest marketing group. The group is a vocal advocate for nurturing global talent and cross-border trade, and it has significant business operations in all G7 markets, most notably (in 2017 revenues): the U.S. (£7bn), Germany (£1.3bn), France (£700m) and Japan (£600m).

Blackett assumed her group leadership position at the start of 2018, and sees her remit in simple terms: “My role is to help our clients’ business grow, and to help connect our different operating companies, of which there’s 123 in the U.K., to put them together to form the ultimate industry Avengers.”
The U.K.’s advertising industry is renowned throughout the world for its excellence and creativity. Long recognized as a vibrant home for some of the best creatives and media specialists, data from the Office of National Statistics attributed £4.3bn in annual exports to advertising services, representing 3.5 percent of all U.K. exported services.

“There’s a reason why international brands want to come and work with the U.K.’s marketing specialists,” says Blackett. “Our heritage as a country that produces outstanding work throughout the decades is second to none, and we continue to be at the forefront with data and technology shaping new business solutions today.

“For ambitious companies that are looking to see real growth, our industry can be an invaluable partner. In the U.K., the Advertising Association has calculated that for every pound spent on advertising, £6 is generated. That’s a fantastic investment.”

An effective ambassador for the U.K.’s creative sector, Blackett topped EMpower’s 2018 list of 100 Ethnic Minority Executives for her tireless work in creating opportunities for minorities in the workplace. She is a passionate flagbearer for the benefits of diversity and inclusion. During her five year tenure as CEO of WPP’s MediaCom agency, the percentage of non-white staff almost doubled from 11 to 20 percent, while agency billings passed the £1bn mark for the first time and it became the most awarded agency in the U.K.

Such success resonates with a growing body of research that finds that companies with diverse staff and executive teams perform better on almost every major business metric than those that don’t.

“More diverse companies are more successful and more profitable—that’s a fact,” says Blackett. “The U.K. has an incredible fruit salad of talent, and it really helps in ensuring that we have a great diversity of thought, and access to the very best problem solvers.

“For us to achieve our best, it’s vital that we celebrate difference, because that’s where true innovation often begins. I think once you have a common goal in mind—whatever a client’s KPI is in terms of growth—it becomes really easy, because you’re all focused on achieving that common goal.”

Blackett says international relationships are built into the fabric of WPP, which employs some 205,000 people in 3,000 offices across 112 markets.

“It’s really easy to work with people overseas, and I thoroughly enjoy doing it. International partnerships help us all learn, and keep the industry lean and highly competitive. I think the world has certainly become smaller for business, and technology allows us to truly integrate and work closer and better together.”

The shoot with Karen Blackett took place in WPP’s South Bank, London office overlooking the Thames on a bright summer’s day in 2018. The aim was to capture a sense of Blackett’s openness and warmth, while she uses her leadership position to make a difference in her industry.
matthew lloyd