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Monday, November 1, 1999 Published at 16:56 GMT

Business: The Economy

Bosses told 'get online or get out'

New opportunities need to be grasped, bosses are told

UK business leaders have been told that many of them are out of touch with new technology - and that any director yet to use e-mail should be out of a job.

Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Dr Christopher Evans said that attitudes across the UK had to change towards those who take risks and make money.

[ image: Sir Iain Vallance: Business is transforming]
Sir Iain Vallance: Business is transforming
In a speech to the Confederation of British Industry he said that executives listened to messages about what they should do to face the e-commerce challenge, but then retreated to the boardroom for a gin and tonic.

Part of the reason for the failure so far to grasp further the opportunities of new technology was the negative attitude to making money in the UK, he said.

Sir Christopher said: "Making money should be seen to be OK. It should be applauded. It is the attitude to risk and opportunity which has to change. The stigma of failure must go."

The national obsession with building people up only to knock them down, had to change, he said.

"If 55 million people made a New Year's Eve resolution to stop whinging - that would be great. Attitudes have got to change - and that includes you lot as well", he told the conference.

"Most of you have no idea what is going on in the knowledge-driven economy, which will be the leading way of creating wealth in the next 25 years," said Dr Evans.

'Frightened to learn'

In the same debate, BT chairman Sir Iain Vallance said the UK was moving from an industrial to an information society, bringing with it a rapid change in economic activity.

"The ability to communicate, to access information in any form and to complete transactions electronically, any time, any place and almost instantaneously, will impact virtually everything we do."

This meant that company bosses had to make sure they were at the cutting edge of technology, he said.

"If a company director hasn't tried out the basics of e-mail or e-commerce for him or herself then, to my mind, he or she should not be on the board," said Sir Iain.

Some firms were frightened to learn, or bemused by technology, and needed help, said Sir Iain.

There was a word of caution for the e-enthusiasts from Vauxhall chairman Nick Reilly, who said there would still be a role in the future for traditional industries such as manufacturing and agriculture.

He warned that the current buoyant service sector may lose some of its strength when a future recession or downturn arrived.

And it would be then when the UK would want to rely more on its agriculture and basic manufacturing sectors.

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