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Resilience and renewal

Making the most of international markets: From the glens to graphene

Author: ICAEW

Published: 08 Nov 2023

Mike Younger, Financial Director and ICAEW member Ian Macleod Distillers

Engaging with international markets brings many benefits but more UK companies should take the plunge. Two very different firms show how buying and selling overseas can make organisations more successful and resilient.

Despite a history suffused with global trade, only just over 10% of UK businesses currently sell what they produce abroad. As our analysis shows, participation in global markets brings many benefits. Businesses trading overseas are typically more innovative, experience stronger growth and, on average, are 20% more productive than those that don’t.

As we show in the third and final film in this series, two companies whose existence depends on global trade highlight what makes it hard for UK firms and provide lessons for how to get more companies trading overseas. Ian Macleod Distillers is a successful family-owned firm based in Scotland, and Paragraf is a tech pioneer making semiconductors from graphene. This new form of carbon is one of the latest breakthroughs produced by UK universities but, in the past century, UK academic success – from lithium batteries to the internet itself – has not reliably translated into economic success. The development of graphene offers an opportunity to change that. The technology the company is developing is not being worked on anywhere else in the world, as Jaspreet Kainth (below), one of the firm’s scientists explains in the film.

Jaspreet Kainth scientist lab white coat Paragraf tech semiconductors graphene

Paragraf was spun out of a research group at the University of Cambridge in 2017. Cathy Cranton, Financial Director and ICAEW member (below) was the firm’s second employee when she was hired five years ago, and is now one of over 130.

Cathy Cranton, Financial Director and ICAEW member Paragraf tech company

She was more recently joined by Charles Platts, CFO and ICAEW member (below), who also chairs the ICAEW Global Trade Advisory Group. He has experienced first hand how hard it is to set up an international strategy.

Charles Platts, CFO and ICAEW member Paragraf science lab white coat

International trade is about far more than selling goods and services abroad, it also means working with businesses and people overseas to source the right products, ensure supply chains are resilient, and to bring in the right expertise, technology and financial capital as well. Ian Macleod Distillers works with an American Bank to finance its operations. Mike Younger, Financial Director and ICAEW member (below), has been central to the firm’s international strategy over the past 20 years, and how 60% of Ian Macleod’s strong growth has come from overseas sales.

Mike Younger, Financial Director and ICAEW member Ian Macleod Distillers

He says in the film how proud he is to be contributing to the local economy by selling what they produce in Scotland all over the world, and by sourcing the right goods, services and capital from overseas to continue the company’s impressive success story. Engaging with international markets – and the businesses and people that constitute them – will only serve to make UK-based businesses more successful and resilient, and through them, the UK economy as a whole.

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