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Monday, 13 January 2014
Visiting Bolton School, Clive Drinkwater, Regional Director of UK Trade and Investment North West, imparted his business acumen and worldly insights to the next generation of future business leaders from the Boys’ Division. He was invited to the school by Mrs Edge, Head of Business Studies in the Boys’ Division, after she read “From Bolton to Beijing”, an article he wrote for The Times, expounding the importance of exporting internationally.
Mr Drinkwater, who is more accustomed to lecturing to businesses and in universities, said: “It was a real pleasure to talk to students at Bolton School. I was hugely impressed by their enthusiasm and engagement, being ably supported by the school's excellent and committed staff. Their level of understanding of the subject was exemplified by the testing and really interesting questions they posed and, if this group of students is anything to go by, we need have no concerns about where we will find our future business leaders and entrepreneurs to take the UK forward.”
The presentation to Year 13 students opened with Mr Drinkwater asserting that “exporting is fun”; Prime Minister Harold Macmillan had said this back in the 1950s and it was something that the Regional Director had found to be true from personal experience. He regaled the boys with his own business experiences, including having lived in South-East Asia for 10 years and exported to over 90 countries. His anecdotes included fleeing China at the time of the Tiananmen Square crisis as well as having to make similar dramatic escapes from Bangladesh and South Korea at times of unrest.
Throughout the engaging and interactive talk, Mr Drinkwater spoke passionately about international trade and the Sixth Formers learnt about the advantages of exporting. He cited research showing that companies that export in their first year of existence will, on average, see a 34% boost in their long-run productivity. He explained how companies that export are 70% more innovative and grow their resilience, becoming 12% more likely to survive through difficult times.
The audience learnt that in the North-West there are 250,000 businesses but only 25,000 of these actually export and it is Mr Drinkwater’s mission to drive up this figure. He told students how the EU makes up only 7% of the world’s population and 19% of the World’s GDP and how economically it is no longer growing, yet 50% of the UK’s exports go to this region. If the UK wants to succeed it needs to increase exports to BRIC countries and to emerging MIST economies (his own acronym for Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey). BRIC and MIST countries account for 50% of the World’s population – the opportunity to export to these countries needs to be grasped and Mr Drinkwater worried that other EU countries are ahead of the UK in this respect.
Focussing the second half of his presentation on how to succeed in world markets, he said exporters need to show flexibility, agility and resilience. He also stressed the importance of understanding the cultures, languages and customs of the regions in which you aim to operate. Around the World, colours have very different meanings, large swathes of people still cannot read and this needs to be considered when packaging items. He told boys that gift-giving is important in some regions such as South-East Asia, although clocks are frowned upon in China as they are seen as reminders of impending death! In some Muslim countries, it is rude to show the soles of your feet, it must be remembered that the head is the holiest part of the body and that you should always use your right hand when offering something to someone! Understanding language is also important and Mr Drinkwater referenced Vauxhall who came unstuck with their Nova car in Spain, which means does not work in Spanish!
The session ended with a thought-provoking question and answers session which covered a range of issues including the importance of focussing on value and not worrying too much about exchange rates, Scottish independence, reasons why some companies choose not to export and whether sanctions and export controls are a good idea in some instances.
Prior to the presentation, Mr Drinkwater was interviewed for the Boys’ Division radio station, Quadrangle Radio. The podcast can be heard here.
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