Q&A: Meet Jeffries Briginshaw, CEO of Transatlantic Business Britain
Welcome to our B2BeeMembers series! Today we’re introducing you to Jeffries Briginshaw, CEO of Transatlantic Business Britain and Partner of Regulatory and Trade at Firehouse Communications, a leading UK-based reputation management consultancy. Since many of our members are involved in international trade, and in transatlantic trade specifically, we thought you might enjoy getting to know a fellow member whose career has been all about facilitating trade!
Jeffries is a former CEO of the BritishAmerican Business Council and BritishAmerican Business. He provides strategic and technical advice to clients including multinationals and trade associations on policy, regulatory, market entry, foreign direct investment (FDI) and trade policy challenges and opportunities.
Transatlantic Business Britain provides clients, partners and stakeholders with advice, communications, and advocacy for all things related to the transatlantic economy and the businesses that make it happen. They specialize in local outreach on transatlantic business themes away from the large UK regional and national cities, and they support grassroots business efforts to increase exports to transatlantic markets. From there, they develop arguments and advocacy to influence policymakers on issues relevant to the transatlantic economy.
With an education in both literature and law, what led you to transatlantic trade? (And are you secretly writing a great novel on the side?)
My experience has been to go with the flow, and go where the work is. It sounds a bit reactive, and I sometimes wish I had stuck somewhere, but like Bobby Byrd said, if you don’t work you can’t eat. One of my key transformations down the line was from law into public affairs because I had this view, which hasn’t really been borne out, that understanding things upstream of law, so in policy, was a valuable thing to be able to do. Then came the transatlantic focus through trade association work about two decades ago, and I haven’t looked back.
I am definitely considering writing a novel, really as a way of getting out the many secrets I have as some kind of confessional, which is probably quite a common motivation.
What makes you passionate about transatlantic trade? What core beliefs fuel your work?
I would consider myself as having progressive, liberal type views. When I was younger, I thought that we didn’t do enough to share between haves and have-nots, and that our shared North American/European “imperial” history was more a part of the problem than a part of the solution. I still think that, if a little bit less now, but life experience has taught me that the value systems that on a good day we are trying for, in the broader transatlantic space, are worthwhile. And they beat plenty of the propositions out there in other systems and places.
I think we are beginning to catch up in terms of diversity and fairness, and these are going to be defining things between societies quite soon, because they free the maximum number of people up to have a go and contribute—for themselves and as citizens. I am really pro-business, pro-entrepreneurship and pro-opportunity too, and I think when you add that stuff into the mix, we really can get to a good future balance, in Europe and North America as a start. A balance that encourages work, values material and cultural acquisition in good measure, but requires people also to take responsibility, at home with family, and as citizens in our countries for the common good, but also in a world with finite natural resources and lots of needs.
Tell us about your work with Firehouse Communications. How does the policy and communications consulting work you do there square together with transatlantic trade, for you? Or are they totally separate endeavours in your mind?
They are totally linked activities. Trade policy, which I work on, is a part of how cross-border trade rules get structured, and it can often be overrated—waiting for trade deals doesn’t solve the “next Tuesday” type problems that we most often face in business. But getting unnecessary frictions and obstacles out of the way can also help, especially once you are thinking into the medium term of how a business could develop more effectively if something could change in the rule environment—especially in new target markets abroad. Changing the rule environment comes as a result of finding a better way of connecting up things for policy change, so I think it’s valid. And it covers big-picture and small-detail obstacles, from what we think of China as a global actor to device conformity assessment testing, so it’s a huge thought leadership opportunity every day and can get you out of bed.
What would you consider your career highlights? Major accomplishments, things you’re especially proud to have had a hand in?
Not many, really, to be honest. I guess one thing I often smile about is an experience I had in the ’90s around a Cuban investment I was working on. It was right during a period of US sanctions pressure on Cuba with the Helms-Burton legislation, which was really triggered on use of assets that had been nationalized by the Cuban government in the early sixties, and which had been recorded in an archive in Florida. By complete coincidence I found that the claim in the archive had been bought by the investor without knowing, but so that it extinguished the claim. Lucky break.
You speak English, French, Portuguese and Spanish. Why did you become quadrilingual?
I am an accumulator of things, normally not useful things except to me, like vinyl records. But with languages they stay useful and fun because you can act out a different style in every language if you want. I normally keep clothes for about 20 years and then throw them out just before they get to be retro. But you don’t need to throw out languages because they don’t go out of fashion. With my languages, they really came with different experiences, but I use them a lot. French, I learned when I went to school very briefly in France and as my sister lived in Paris in the ’80s. Portuguese when I lived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and I vowed that I needed to be able to be able to speak to people in supermarkets and shops rather than just pointing at things, and then Spanish while working across Latin America.
Okay, if you’re not already writing a great novel, what would you write about given the chance?
As I say, I would always be trying to dress up my secrets in some way that was stylish, elegant and attractive for a modern discerning audience and that made me look good, be understood and be celebrated and forgiven. I think there is a hidden Catholicism in all of us, in other words, at least in part.
My favourite book at the moment, and I come back to it a lot over the decades, is Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, from the early twentieth century. It is really an assembly of linked short story “grotesques,” as the author described them, and it is quite gothic, quite intense and quite uncompromising, and only about a hundred and something pages long. Every word counts. It’s like that painting by Grant Wood, American Gothic, also of an Ohioan couple, and painted about fifteen years after Winesburg was written. They are a gloomy and stoical couple like the characters in Winesburg, and they are the people out of whom nations are often built. So, if I could do that as a writer and tell my story without being recognized, I would switch out of transatlantic affairs tomorrow.