8 December 2014

  |  CBI Updates Team


Advice on succeeding overseas from Grant Thornton

Here are five key takeaways on business success overseas from Grant Thornton. Their expert panel spoke to delegates at our MSB Monday Summit last week.

Advice on succeeding overseas from Grant Thornton

Grant Thornton ran two breakout sessions at the MSB Summit, and assembled a panel full of expertise and experience to debate the topic. The panel were:

  • Simon Bevan, Partner, Grant Thornton (Chair)
  • Tim Kitchin, Chief Executive, Euromonitor 
  • Guy Warrington, Director – English regions, UKTI
  • William Crook, Group Managing Director, R&M Electrical 
  • David Kerr, Chief Executive Officer, Bird & Bird

The session covered how to overcome the challenges and barriers that MSBs face when deciding whether and how to take their business overseas. Here's five tips delegates took away:

1. Finding the right partner is crucial when exporting

Finding partners is countries where you are looking to export was keenly discussed. "You need to have the confidence to turn a relationship from an arms-length one to a much closer one," David Kerr observed. "And you need to allow five to 10 years to do it properly. There's a lot of investment needed in team building globally." 

"Find potential partners by reputation," William Crook advised. "Speak to a client and ask them 'who's good?' And use the help from UKTI – we got them to do a report on Libya before we did business there." 

"If you choose a partner make sure it's the right one – if you pick the wrong one you are not going into that market again," Guy Warrington warned. 

2. Make the time and effort to visit the countries you're operating in

William offered some first-hand experience on doing business overseas and the importance of actually visiting in person. "When we have been dealing with Azerbaijan we found that conference calls and Skype just don't work – getting on a plane for a one hour meeting does," he told delegates. "You need to get out there. We went to Singapore to meet with a business we were interested in buying – we quickly knew that wasn't the right target, but ended up buying a business that we didn’t go to see. Networking in person is important."

David concurred: "You've got to get on a plane – and also keep that up once you've done the deal. Getting out to the country is worth 100 phone calls."

3. Language is a big export barrier, but doesn't need to be

The way you use English is important, according to David. "Using a simplified version of English really works – it's important not to speak colloquially, as a lot of the time you will be misunderstood," he advised. 

"Often the language barrier is seen as the biggest barrier," Guy noted. "But we (UKTI) have language and culture advisors throughout the UK. These advisors are prepared to spend a considerable amount of time with you to help you break down any barriers to exporting your business."

One delegate went on to impart his own experience of China and Malaysia as an example of why language shouldn't always be a barrier. In China there is a language barrier, he argued, but doing business there is relatively straightforward. In Malaysia, meanwhile, people speak perfect English but doing business is not as easy. 

4. Tap into the local knowledge that already exists in your company

Tim Kitchin used his company's eastern European office as an example of tapping into local knowledge. The company had two Lithuanian employees who were keen to return home, so, rather than lose the two employees, the company chose to locate its eastern European operations in Lithuania in order to retain them. 

The office now has 160 employees and Tim attributed this success to placing people with cultural and language knowledge from the outset to its success. A delegate agreed with this example, saying he had done a similar thing with a Polish employee with similar success.

5. Take advantage of Government help when exporting your business

One key theme to come out of the sessions was the amount of help available to MSBs from UKTI. This is due to a renewed focus on the MSB market in order to achieve its target of increasing UK exports to £1 trillion by 2020

"The biggest opportunity is currently in China, India, Brazil, Russia," Guy observed. "But UKTI can help you wherever you want to export to. It doesn't have to be the obvious markets; it can be the markets that are right for you and your business. Libya might sound like a difficult market on paper, but it might be the right place for you." Tim noted that larger businesses are now asking Euromonitor to research newer markets in Africa and Myanmar.

And Simon Bevan encouraged delegates to speak with UKTI, having met Lord Livingston, Minister of State for Trade and Investment, himself recently to discuss the findings of our Agents of growth research. "Lord Livingston is really interested in the granular detail of trying to export to new territories, so it makes sense to be speaking with UKTI."

Finally, Guy gave a glimpse of a new type of exporting about to get UKTI support: ecommerce. "UKTI has ecommerce advisors coming," he revealed. "The UK does more ecommerce than the rest of Europe put together. Some people export without setting foot in the country; they just do it over the web."

More information

There is more information about our Agents of growth research into MSBs online. More information on the export support available from UKTI can be found on its website.