Experts share secrets of world-class exports to put firms on map

23 October 2015


Chris Holland meets the Bradford-based specialists oiling the wheels of commerce

YOU need to be “MAD” to be a successful exporter.

So says trade veteran Mike Strawson, who has more than 50 years’ experience in international trade and is a Fellow of the Institute of Export.

Mike, who during his career set up two export departments at chemicals giant Croda and held board-level positions at other companies, has been part of Bradford-based Chamber International’s team for ten years running training courses developing local firms’ exporting skills.

“One of the things I tell them is that ‘MAD’ – Meticulous Attention to Detail – is vital to successful exporting. It is a basic requirement if companies are to get their goods and services to the right place at the right time,” he said.

Mike, whose career has encompassed every continent, including a period working in Iran, is one of several Chamber International trade specialists with extensive hands-on experience.

“None of us are theoreticians. We have all been at the coalface and companies benefit from that,” he added.

Mike is responsible for coordination events for the We are International campaign which Chamber International is running for Leeds city region enterprise partnership to try and boost local exports by an extra £1.6 billion and create thousands of jobs.

He also recruits regional export ambassadors to wave the trade flag for Yorkshire and encourage companies to take the plunge into exporting.

Mike is also responsible for building closer links between CI and the Institute of Export and hopes to establish a northern training centre in Bradford for its students and graduates.

Chamber International – originally Bradford Chamber of Commerce’s export department – has been operating in its current form for about 15 years and is led by Tim Bailey, who joined the Chamber in 1982 from shipping and forwarding giant Lep.

Even though Chamber International still processes 25,000 documents a year, its operations have widened and grown.

A beefed up website and extensive social media activity is driving clients to CI from around the UK and 27 per cent of its work is for companies outside West and North Yorkshire and growing.

Advice and hand-holding for new and existing exporters and administrative support to ensure the smooth movement of good are a major part of its operations. Chamber International is also a gateway to useful contacts, research into overseas markets and to helping firms understand cultural differences.

Chamber International also conducts regular company visits and hosts around 30 events a year which provide networking opportunities.

Tim said: “We have several people doing visits to see how we can better support for businesses in the true spirit of a chamber of commerce, which is about helping to create wealth and boost the economy in the area. It’s not about selling services, but supporting businesses.”

One beneficiary is Pennine Environment Services which featured in T&A papers last week.

The Calverly-based firm, designs, produces and installs refrigeration equipment, mainly for poultry processing, and has just won its first export order – a £2.5 million deal in the US.

Another freelance associate is David Attia, former export director at Astracast Jacuzzi, who has 40 years’ experience in overseas trading.

He lends his experience to a range of companies, including Leeds-based fancy dress specialist Fun Shack (UK) he is helping to beef up exports to Germany.

Advice and assistance has included recruiting a German speaker to man a stand at Nuremburg Toy Fair and locating potential partners.

In addition to trade support, Chamber International has put Fun Shack in touch with standards testing body Intertek to ensure imported costumes meet rigorous fire safety standards.

“The contact with Fun Shack came from a telephone call from the firm, which was launched during the banking crisis and now has a £4 million turnover and 25 staff. We have been able to help the firm, which has ambitious growth plans, in a number of ways with David as the main contact, including helping Fun Shack research the market in Germany,” said Tim Bailey.

David Attia, senior export advisor; works with companies in developing new markets and identifying opportunities as well as using his extensive experience in hand-holding capacity.

He said “This is an ideal role for me as it enables me to work two or three days a week helping to take the fear factor out of exporting and hopefully get local firms to think more seriously about exporting.

“I had a thoroughly enjoying and long career in exporting and it’s great to be able to use my experience helping other businesses. It’s very rewarding.”

Since the merger between Bradford, Leeds and York chambers to form the West and North Yorkshire Chamber, David visits firms across those regions and has worked with companies in a range of sectors as diverse as health food products and washing machines for the baking industry.

David believes that West Yorkshire firms are “not doing badly” in terms of overseas trade.

“I see some quite small firms exporting and that is encouraging. All you have to do these days is put things on a website and it opens doors.

“Export comes into its own during a recession. If you have strong business overseas it helps when things get tight,” he said.

David is also developing closer links with overseas chambers to give firms access to even more market intelligence, including working with overseas chambers in the United Arab Emirates, Poland, Turkey and Germany.

“It’s all part of trying to make information for companies more accessible. It’s a long term project but we have set the ball rolling,” said David.

Source: Chris Holland, Telegraph & Argus


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Chamber International - David Attia

         David Attia, Senior Associate

Chamber International - Mike Strawson

         Mike Strawson, Senior Associate

Chamber International - Tim Bailey

Tim Bailey, International Trade Director