Europe in pole position to attract biggest international HQ relocations

21 May 2019
  • One in four large firms around the world are open to relocating their headquarters (HQ)
  • Europe tops the list of favoured destinations, with established economies jostling for the top spot
  • Global opinion is split on the UK's attractiveness as HQ location post-Brexit
  • Strong appeal of UK address endures for directors in North America and Brazil, with a clear 'wish list' emerging of how UK can increase its appeal after Brexit

Almost one in four (23%) large businesses from around the world are open to moving their headquarters, with Germany, Ireland and Switzerland the favoured destinations for cross-border relocations, according to new research from international law firm, Gowling WLG.

With high profile HQ developments for Amazon, Unilever and Google hitting the headlines in recent months, the preliminary findings[1] of Gowling WLG's HQIQ report reveal the strategic plans for the most significant operations of more than 650 board level executives at large businesses across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Americas.

Europe is the key focus for those looking for a new home, taking the top six spots of preferred locations. The most favourable non-European locations to feature in the listings are Singapore, Australia, Japan and the United States. Those businesses looking to move are unsurprisingly in search of financial incentives and better access to talent, with access to raw materials, political stability and improved transport links also high on their agenda.

Top HQ Relocation Spots

Country % of respondents who would consider a move there GDP in $trillions (rankings) - Source: IMF
1. Germany 46% 4,416,800 (4)
2. Ireland 39% 409,225 (32)
3. Switzerland 39% 779,327 (19)
4. Netherlands 35% 994,771 (17)
5. France 30% 3,060,070 (6)
6. United Kingdom 24% 3,022,580 (7)
7. Singapore 22% 367,783 (38)
8. Australia 21% 1,581,890 (14)
9. Japan 16% 5,362,220 (3)
10. United States 15% 21,410,230 (1)

Sector-wise[2], Germany is the top location for manufacturing, financial services and automotive firms whereas Ireland scores highly among retail, leisure and food and drink businesses. The Netherlands is seen as the best location for electronics businesses, while Switzerland, the UK and Singapore are favoured by insurance giants. The greatest appetite to move is evident among insurance, financial services and automotive businesses.

The Brexit Effect

The findings also shed light on how HQ moves are influenced by significant political events, with opinions split on the attractiveness of the UK as a global HQ location post-Brexit. One third say it will be more attractive, a further third say it will be less attractive and the remaining third simply don't know.

That said, a strong consensus emerges on the enduring appeal of the UK as a home for large businesses, with directors in Canada, Brazil and US the most positive about a British HQ address, while also adopting a 'wait and see' approach regarding Brexit. Internet, IT and telecommunications, insurance and construction companies were also upbeat about the long-term prospects for the UK post-Brexit.

When asked what measures the UK could take over the longer term to further improve its attractiveness as an HQ location after Brexit, a clear message for policymakers emerged; reduce business regulation, improve access to talent, develop a more favourable tax regime and improve transport links.

Commenting on the findings, Richard Bate, head of real estate at Gowling WLG, said:

"Chief among the reasons for settling on a global HQ location, as you would expect, money still talks. But choosing the perfect HQ location is about so much more than a juicy financial incentive package.

"Our research reveals the importance of the location basics, from sourcing suitable buildings to excellent digital and transport infrastructure. Many of our respondents favour locations offering high quality real estate - a UK strength.

"Despite the painful Brexit uncertainties, our findings show that, with the right policies, real opportunity lies ahead for Britain to take an increased slice of the HQ market - with all its associated economic benefits - from internationally focussed businesses presently based in North America and beyond."

The findings come on the back of recent figures showing central London office developments to be at a three-year high[3], as well as news that one of Japan's largest telecommunications corporations, NTT, is due to open its international HQ in London in the coming months.

About the research

The research was carried out by Yolo Communications and all surveys were conducted during March and April 2019. The sample comprised 652 c-suite personnel in companies with 1000+ employees across 13 countries.

All research conducted adheres to the UK Market Research Society (MRS) Code of Conduct (2014).

Yolo Communications is registered with the Information Commissioner's Office and complies with the DPA.


[1] The full findings will be published by Gowling WLG in June 2019

[2] The research was conducted among a general business audience, which included respondents from the following sectors:

  • Automotive
  • Chemicals
  • Construction
  • Education
  • Electronics
  • Energy / utilities / mining
  • Film / entertainment / music
  • Financial services
  • Food / drink / hospitality
  • Healthcare
  • Insurance
  • Internet / IT & telecoms
  • Life sciences
  • Manufacturing / materials
  • Public sector
  • Retail / leisure
  • Services

[3] Deloitte Real Estate's latest London Office Crane Survey

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