The latest instalment of the Institute’s World Trade Summit programme saw us visit the North West. In partnership with Mersey Maritime and Bibby Financial Services, the event was hosted at the Maritime Knowledge Hub in Birkenhead, Liverpool. As ever, speakers shared experiences and learnings from their varied careers in international trade, networking over coffee and sandwiches.
A key talking point at the summit was the need for more businesses to export and to learn how it’s done. Deputy Mayor of Liverpool, Councillor Gary Millar FJMU, gave one of the more inspiring speeches you’ll hear to this effect, quoting the government’s research showing that companies become 34% more productive through exporting. He drew on his long career selling businesses overseas, and also promoting Liverpool and the UK to the world. Among the many intriguing stories he regaled from his exporting past, was how an introduction of colour to typically mundane products like stair edgings and door handles earned him significant contracts with giants like McDonalds. His point about more companies needing to look at the opportunities that export brings was echoed by Luke Fitzsimmons (Bibby Financial Services) and Chris Manka (Federation of Small Businesses), both of whom advocated the strength of ‘Brand Britain’ as a key asset for UK businesses when selling overseas.
Exporting, of course, takes time - and it needs to be done properly if companies don’t want to make costly mistakes. The Institute’s Director General, Lesley Batchelor, repeated the presentation she has made throughout this year’s programme calling for businesses to learn the skills of export – especially with Brexit coming up so fast. The Deputy Mayor echoed Lesley’s call for more companies to seriously consider using the apprenticeship levy as a cheap and effective way to up-skill their teams with these export skills.
Samantha Bridger (Bridger Consultancy) spoke of the importance of companies having a thought-through ‘export strategy’. She regaled her own personal journey as an international trader, from learning on the job at her first SME to setting up subsidiaries for Mazda in Scandinavia. One of the key points from her presentation was that a company’s success in export is not necessarily determined by their size, but by the emphasis that each company places on installing and implementing properly thought-through export processes and strategies.
And, of course, there is plenty of support available for companies looking to start exporting. Samantha Bridger recalled the impact that studying with the Institute had on her early roles as an exporter, while Chris Manka also highlighted the support provided by the chambers of commerce and the Department for International Trade. Keith Stringer (KPS Business Helpline), also spoke of how studying with the Institute facilitated his career in international trade, while Kevin Ledwith (UK Export Finance) spoke of the support UKEF gives to companies, helping them to win contracts, get paid overseas, and to fulfil contracts. Chris Shirling-Rooke (Mersey Maritime Group) spoke of the local support provided by Mersey Maritime Group through the clustering of academic institutes and local government to provide support that isn’t driven by private interests, but by the need to grow local economies and jobs.
Then there are the practicalities of doing trade. Andrew Shipley (M&S Solicitors) spoke of the need for companies to appreciate and understand the role that contracts play in all business, saying that terms and conditions are there to help not to frustrate. Luke Fitzsimmons spoke about how companies can use the financial solutions provided by Bibby to fund exports and bridge cashflow gaps, while Keith Stringer spoke of the need for companies to be aware of what cultural adaptions they may need to make for selling products into different new markets. Keith gave the example of how cufflinks in the UK are much smaller than those worn in the US and smaller than those worn Japan, noting also that the packaging expectations similarly vary in size for each country.
With special thanks to our event sponsor: