What was your first break in business?
I was studying engineering at Loughborough University when I won a sponsorship to work with Rover Cars in Birmingham. This gave me my first taste of what working in business was really like at only 17 years old. After a few years, I went on to join Philips Electronics as general manager of the small component division, eventually becoming the MD of Philips TV in Durham, where I managed an annual turnover of £80 million.
What did you want to be growing up?
I’ve always enjoyed mechanics, which is what led me to study engineering at university, and then my stint working for Rover Cars. I like the idea of being hands-on and using logic to find solutions to problems. This is a skill I still use daily at the Department for International Trade (DIT), where I help businesses across the North East realise the potential of exporting by helping them overcome any barriers they may face, from legal questions to finding an international buyer.
What attracted you to your current role?
When I first saw the vacancy of regional director, I knew it was for me. My role allows me to work across a broad range of sectors, travel across the region and meet new people every single day. I’m extremely passionate about working to help the North East grow and encourage people to see the abundance of successful and ambitious firms that call our region home. It is a privilege to fly the flag for North East businesses.
What is your organisation’s mission?
DIT’s mission is to secure UK and global prosperity by promoting and financing international trade and investment, and championing free trade. We want to show that the UK is the best market in the world to do with business with.
How do you get the best out of your team?
The team at DIT is multi-regional and multi-skilled. Our teams work across a variety of sectors to secure the best opportunities for North East businesses, so it’s essential we have strong communication. We also believe being prepared and proactive is the key to what we do and is essential to companies looking to export. Our teams are encouraged and are always given the support, skills and resources needed to help North East businesses reach their goals.
What has been your career highlight?
I’ve been lucky to have had quite a few moments I’m proud of in my career so far. Most recently, it was seeing Jason Knights, the managing director of Gateshead-based Blue Kangaroo, win national recognition at the Board of Trade Awards after working closely with DIT. Jason was awarded the accolade by the Secretary of State for International Trade, Dr Liam Fox, after being voted the most inspirational exporter in the North East. It’s moments like this that make me even more proud of my team at DIT, as it’s partially thanks to their efforts that a North East business has been able to realise the benefits of exporting.
What has been your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge occurred when I was the managing director at Philips for its TV division in Durham. In 2005, due to a change in technology, the business was relocated to China. This was a huge learning curve as I had to oversee the transport of equipment and machinery to a market while coping with sales pressures in Europe. The experience however did teach me the importance of communication to get through a challenging time and ensure all staff were kept informed to make the best out of what was a very difficult time.
Who or what inspires you?
I am inspired by people that are self-motivated and know how to work hard. On a daily basis, we work with businesses like this that know what they want, are willing to do the research and reach out to DIT for the support they need. If you are willing to put the work in and take advice on board, there’s nothing stopping businesses of all sizes and sectors achieving their goals.
What are the main priorities for the North East in the next 12 months?
There is huge potential for the North East’s host of highly-skilled and ambitious businesses that are producing world-class goods and services. We want to help them realise this potential by showing that the Northern Powerhouse is a great place to invest, building on its strong heritage in sectors like manufacturing. By showcasing and supporting the innovation coming out of the region, we’re ensuring that the North East is in the best possible position to contribute to the UK’s future success.
How do you achieve a good work/life balance?
It’s not always easy but there have been several occasions during my life where I’ve had to make a conscious effort to put my family before work. You can’t always let your job take over. I’m also thinking about doing a bike ride from Durham to London with one of my colleagues for charity which will help me get away from the office for a bit to enjoy the great outdoors – and all for a great cause.