Elizabeth Fothergill, Chief Executive of healthcare products manufacturer Pennine Healthcare, is UK Trade & Investment's (UKTI's) latest recruit for Catalyst UK, a network of business leaders. Members promote the UK internationally by speaking at UKTI events, as well as discussing their insights and views with businesses.
As part of her new role, Elizabeth will also provide practical support and mentoring to local businesses and entrepreneurs taking their first steps in international markets.
Elizabeth is no stranger to exporting after leading her team to overseas success in more than 70 countries. Pennine is a family-owned company which started in 1963 in engineering and evolved into the manufacturing of disposable medical products as they transitioned from steel, rubber and glass to PVC. The company is based at City Gate in Derby with a 380-strong workforce.
"I was delighted to be asked to join the UKTI catalyst team as, for me, it's a chance to share my knowledge after 32 years of being involved in overseas sales. Trading overseas can be fun, but also frustrating, challenging, even terrifying, but would we still be a growing and successful company without our export markets? No, not a chance. I doubt we would even be here!
"Exporting can generate big rewards but getting started is never easy. Trading overseas can be lonely and risky, which is why doing the ground work and learning as much about the culture and business practice in that country is vital.
"My advice to new exporters is to always start with a 'safe' market so you can test the waters. It should be somewhere you share some sort of commonality, whether it be a similar culture or language. So despite the issues with the Euro, the Continent is still a good place start your export journey.
"As a manufacturer once you think you can add value in a market (the first rule of selling both at home and abroad) for me choosing the right distributor is the most important decision you can ever make. In every way they are your representative, your persona in that market and the decision should not be made lightly.
"In my experience, this relationship is bit like marriage and should be entered into for life, not a quick fix that might end in the divorce court! Remember European law distributors do have rights and can even claim compensation if you terminate unlawfully.
"Much is made of the potential of countries such as Brazil and Russia. These markets are not always the best place to start for novice traders, but these are certainly markets that you can eventually try once you have built up more confidence and have more of a feel for what's involved.
"It's vital that you understand the language, culture and impact that religion has when dealing with stakeholders, particularly in Middle Eastern countries. For example, the significance of Ramadan is sometimes underestimated by non-Muslims.
"There can also be a tendency for Middle East business people in particular not to want to lose face so it's something to be aware of. But this is where getting help and advice from the local UKTI teams based out there can be extremely useful to give you a steer.
"At Pennine Healthcare we are seeing a significant increase in activity following the appointment of motivated and business hungry distributors in our Middle East markets. My advice is that you need to have patience when dealing in this region and I can't emphasise enough the need to research as much as you can, using all the advice and help there is out there. Above all be patient, there is never a quick fix. Foundations have to be built as the basis for a safe and secure business relationship."
Elizabeth made her official debut as a UKTI Catalyst member at an event on 24 September in Nottingham as part of Growth Month. Experienced exporters and novice traders gathered to discuss the challenges new exporters face, as well as sharing key hints and tips to getting started overseas.