Learning from Britain's leading exporters03 Dec 2013
Seven leaders of market leading companies gathered at the Telegraph in October to share insights on how to grow internationally, writes Alex Evans, Programme Director of the National Business Awards.
Shortlisted as high performing champions of their respective industries, a panel of CEOs and senior executives represented their companies as finalists for the 3i International Growth Business of the Year – a new award recognising exceptional overseas growth.
Setting the scene, David Whileman, Partner & MD UK for 3i, and co-host of the debate, said: “The UK continues to excel on a global stage across sectors such as value engineering, insurance, design, mission critical services and quality control; but regardless of sector, the ability to adapt to changing environments, know your core competencies, listen to and value your customer and focus on innovation remain key ingredients for success – qualities that these finalists have demonstrated in delivering British brands overseas.”
While several key themes emerged from the debate – such as what government should be doing to support SMEs looking to expand overseas and what is hindering or enabling British export – each leader offered a different perspective on international growth.
Paul Lindley, CEO and founder of organic baby food firm Ella’s Kitchen, said international expansion “can help to de-risk business” and free trade means there has never been a better time to export. “There is also a lot of free help out there to enable overseas growth for those prepared to make the effort to find it and use it – like Skype for cheap international calls and using Linkedin to find contacts instead of paying for consultants,” he added.
Just as Ella’s Kitchen is well on its way to building a global brand, kitchenware design company Joseph Joseph has invested in functional innovation for global appeal - tailoring its sales and marketing language and approach to each new market. While the impetus for Joseph Joseph to launch overseas was initially difficult in getting UK distribution, co-founder Richard Joseph said there were fewer barriers to export. It now boasts a presence in 80 countries as well as Britain’s biggest department stores.
Acknowledging the exemplary export successes represented by each finalist, co-chair James Hurley, Enterprise Editor of the Daily Telegraph, asked why Britain exported a lower proportion than its global competitors.
A prevailing view was that Britain is an ‘ideas factory’ but a lot of what it designs and invents is built elsewhere – with Dyson cited as a strong British brand investing in UK based engineering talent but manufacturing overseas.
Don Henshall, CEO of artisan paint and wallpaper maker Farrow & Ball said “we pride ourselves on manufacturing everything at our factory in Dorset according to traditional production methods”. Farrow & Ball is creating a high end consumer market globally for authentic British made products, focusing on US, Germany and France, with showrooms in key locations and a multi-lingual customer service team.
Malvern Instruments, which has become a world leader in the development of scientific instruments that measure the properties of materials, supports customers in more than 120 countries – enabled by multi-language websites and e-based marketing tools. Winner of seven Queens Awards, the most recent for International Trade, Malvern attributes its success to a long term export strategy and an investment in market intelligence. “We used local research consultancies to learn more about naturally aligned geographies and the markets within them,” explained Managing Director Paul Walker.
Sun Mark, which develops and markets British products into 100 countries, has won a record four Queens Awards in successive years. Attributing the firm’s success to an international network of distributors, its Chairman Dr Rami Ranger said UKTI could better enable entry into new markets by providing better market intelligence – such as helping to identify the best trade exhibitions to find new customers and partners.
Several of this year’s finalists have expanded internationally by becoming an extension to their global client’s business. Worldmark International, which designs and manufactures labels, die cuts and display windows for the global electronics industry, counts some major global firms among its clients. Commenting on the international growth this has enabled, Alasdair Lewis, Managing Director of Worldmark Material Sciences, said: “You have to constantly innovate and think ahead to what the client will need to continuously add value.”
Offering a different perspective on the big global players, Ian Sinderson, CFO of travel management company ATPI, said it’s easier for challengers to compete with the multi-nationals on niche business because they have tended to commoditise their products and services. Differentiating itself with high service levels on a global scale, ATPI targets specific industry sectors where “travel to work” is important – such as oil and gas, shipping, or sports.
“To compete, you must be a specialist offering a more bespoke service,” said Sinderson. “If you know your market better than anyone else, you can win market share because if you’re not selling expertise, you’re selling fulfilment.”
Closing the debate with a final thought on what will support UK export in the future, Paul Lindley said the Olympics had reminded the world about British greatness. “Team GB has some resonance post-Olympics,” he said. “We’re seen as winners who are humble and creative so there’s a lot of goodwill to capitalise on.”