“Home thoughts about Abroad”
Interview with Lesley Batchelor OBE, CEO Institute of Export & International Trade
Lesley, you have worked for IOE&IT for a number of years, what originally drew you to join the organisation and subsequently has motivated you to stay and work your way up to the very top?
I started my career in international Trade in the same way as most people, I fell into it! I started work with Ciba-Geigy Pharmaceuticals as a general management trainee working in different departments of the business. After a year or so they asked which one I liked the best and without hesitation I said export and that is how my career started. The Institute is the only Professional bidy representing international Trade and it was the next obvious step to join and start to complete the qualifications.
As far as motivation is concerned, once you find out about the world of international trade you are engulfed in a world of change and interesting issues. From marketing in another culture to making sure you get paid it’s all much more interesting once you have an added international aspect.
In your view, has the overarching purpose and focus of the Institute of Export changed over recent years? And if so, how?
The Institute started in 1935 with a basic remit of helping build competence and confidence in businesses looking at trading in both goods and services. It’s as relevant today as it was the day it started. What needs to change is the government approach to how exporting works. It’s easy once you know how – but it’s not easy unless you do know how!
According to Federation of Small Businesses and BIS, in 2016 there were 5.5million private sector businesses trading in UK of which 99% were small or medium sized enterprises. These SMEs contributed 47% of all UK private sector turnover. However, it is now estimated that only 8% of UK SMEs export. What do you believe to be the challenges still preventing many more SMEs from embarking upon international trade?
Many of those small businesses contributing to our economy employ less than 10 people. I think we need to look at ways of using the traditional Export Houses and consolidation techniques to fulfil larger orders and work collaboratively if we are going to compete globally. I also feel that we need to grow some medium sized businesses – using taxes to assist them in that growth period not allowing it to be more cost effective to sell up and start again.
What are your thoughts regarding whether the UK has a solid enough foundation of home grown international trade skills and experience to engender sustainable export growth post Brexit?
We have a dearth in skills and, indeed, in the appreciation of need to be skilled in this area. Looking at indicators such as the Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) for example which is effectively an international trade “kite mark”. We have only around 580 registered in this country against a backdrop of almost 16,000 registrations across all EU countries.
Is there a way that industry, government and academia can work more closely together to produce the next generation of qualified international trade specialists?
Yes there is however, until there is a basic recognition of the need to learn these skills and the acceptance that accountants, although a key component, do not have all the answers to growing a
skilled and effective international community. In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales all their client facing trade advisers are qualified through the Institute our Export Credit Agency UKEF use the highest diploma level – why not all of the English regions too? No idea but it’s not supporting our competence in this fields.
There are so many organisations and consultancies offering help and advice to new exporters it can be difficult for SMEs to know which way to turn. What advice would you give a novice exporter seeking export support for the first time? Look at www.opentoexport.com – it’s so helpful and is the best starting point for any sized business.
If you were to carry out an “Export healthcheck” on UK plc – what would your diagnosis and prognosis be – both within and outside of Europe.
We need to start looking at the detail of how we trade. Stop looking for quick answers as Einstein says – first learn the rules of the game; then go out and play it better than everyone else!
Looking to the future, what major themes is IOE&IT focusing on for the remainder of this decade out to 2020? How can people get involved?
We are focussed on creating truly useful apprenticeship programmes that will support businesses as they try and reach new markets. We fund all our work through membership – we take our members views to pass on to government and we are only relevant if we represent our members views – so become a member!!
And finally, similar to the luxury item on “Desert Island Discs”, what one possession or item would you recommend all exporters take with them on overseas business trips to maximise their chances of success?
Ear-plugs and a first aid kit – I never travel without them – if you can’t sleep or you have a headache you can’t operate at the peak of your game. You need to make a brilliant first impression and you can’t do that if you’re tired or bits of you ache.
Lesley, that concludes your “home thoughts from abroad” interview for HW Language Services. Thank you very much indeed for your time, your insight and continued drive and commitment towards helping organisations on issues of international business both strategically and practically.