Member Interview: Business adviser Lesley Hawke on promoting north-eastern trade and helping companies sell abroad

Thu 9 May 2024
Posted by: Phil Adnett
Lesley Hawke

Lesley Hawke has worked in a variety of business roles over the last few years, mostly based around promoting importers and exporters in the North East of England.

After a long career in membership and sales – including a stint as a coach with the Scottish Rugby Union – Hawke joined the Department for International Trade (DIT), as it was then called, to build “awareness and support” of the exporting opportunities available to Teesside businesses. 

This makes her a perfect candidate not only to speak at the first of the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT)’s regional events in Newcastle next week, but also on how to get more north-eastern companies selling their goods and services abroad.

The right stuff

She identified local businesses that had the “right products and services” for various trade missions, as well as those that had the potential to sell abroad.

Later, she moved to the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) as a business consultant, and is now a business support specialist with RTC North.

Working within the North East, she now inspires businesses to consider new markets, most recently India, with which the UK has long been struggling to sign a new trade deal. She says:

“I will also get excited when I recognise export potential within a business – the thrill as where this could lead for that business. It’s ingrained in me to always build the pipeline!”

‘Thrilling experience’

Playing a small role in a business’s journey to global growth is thrilling”, she says, and something she enjoys doing continuously.

Hawke gave the example of a small, digital business that hits the goals set out in a five-year plan by the third year of the strategy.

“I supported them to get to that point, strengthening their UK business, providing overseas research, then saw them fulfil their goals to choose a market ready for their expertise.”

Other examples over her long career of helping business grow including advising a fake-tan producer to expand into three new markets and helping a struggling business start selling into the Middle East.

Teesside state of mind

Each region is different from the other, but Hawke regards Teesside as “her patch”, and knows that North Easterners do things differently to other UK regions.

The biggest challenge, she says, is making north-eastern businesses aware of the support they can receive from government. Recent changes to DBT have made this “frustrating”.

“They want to talk in person, and they want a relationship. The new ways of working aren’t allowing for that.

“Tees Valley is a region where people just get on with the job in hand. Brexit has had impact, obviously, and this is where working face-to-face helps when discussing the rest of the world, and the work the Department for Business and Trade (DBT) are doing around trade deals.

“People trust people, and if you take the time to talk about overseas options, we can engage better, we can inspire better.”

IOE&IT support

When it comes to her previous work experience, Hawke said that membership of IOE&IT was instrumental to building her knowledge with training.

“Every [job] since leaving DBT has required me to have international trade experience.”

IOE&IT’s training programme of webinars and free resources for members were vital to Hawke’s growth:

“For me, it was using a lot of the webinars, because it was a primary example in working with DBT around regulations and changes.”

In the fast-changing world of international trade, having information arriving in a timely manner was vital:

“Right now, conversation [is] about free trade agreements, the opportunities around that market analysis, and market overviews.

“They're all the things I need to know now, so I can go to the company and talk about the opportunities in that particular firm: where I send them to for research, so I need to be more familiar with what's happening in international trade.”

Qualification value

Membership of IOE&IT, and the MIEx suffix, was powerful for Hawke’s career.

International trade experience was a “prime skill” that RTC North sought in a new recruit, so having “MIEx after my name opened doors for my career,” she said.

“It's a great opportunity for me and it pushes me forward.”

The regular news feed from the IOE&IT Daily Update is a vital part of keeping Hawke informed and up to date.

“You don't always have time to go on a social media: I spend a lot of time on emails, so getting information here is perfect. it. I'll read the new stories and more from there.”