Currently in her 10th year working with companies to help drive exports, as an International Trade Adviser, Prosper met with Marion Doherty to chat about her work and understand what the job entails.

Experience and an understanding of what companies need has helped Marion win the confidence of businesses which has led to winning business across the globe. Her career has spanned many industries and countries and she firmly believes that good sound advice, an understanding of capabilities and a clear strategy on how to achieve results and lower the risks, is key to her role. 

Here, Marion answers questions about her role, the clients she works with and the kind of support she offers. 

What region do you cover?

I am based in the Black Country Chamber of Commerce and look after companies from the whole of this region. I’m not from the region originally, but I have been amazed by the geographical size and the volume of companies and the diversity of the sectors that the region offers. 

Do you have a sector focus?

I do lead on the infrastructure sector in the West Midlands and this means that I am the key point of contact for all things infrastructure focused, ensuring that anything relevant to this sector is shared with colleagues and companies. In my role as an ITA I support companies from all sectors, which makes life very interesting. 

What did you do before you became an International Trade Adviser?

I have always had a drive to experience life first-hand and a thirst for knowledge. I had many varied roles prior to my current one. When I left school, I studied Hotel Management and then spent quite a few years working in Europe, mainly Germany, Belgium and Austria.


However, after a number of years, I felt that this role was not sustainable due to the shift patterns.  I had gained so much experience in different aspects of business through this, it helped me realise what I enjoy - people. Also, what I am good at - supporting, organising, identifying opportunities, market research and completing projects.


I have since had roles in marketing and research capacities in many sectors. I relocated to Birmingham in 2000 and my awareness of DIT (UKTI at that time) came through leading on the Regional Data & Intelligence Network (RDIN) at the WM Regional Observatory which was an organisation focused on sector support for companies and organisations in the region.


Which countries have you visited?

I have lived and worked in Ireland, Germany, Belgium and Austria which has given me an understanding of the diverse business and social culture.  Realising that the UK way is not the way of the world is key to success and I really value the fact that DIT offer ‘Business and Culture’ awareness as part of the support to companies before they approach a country.


I have led DIT company visits to Hong Kong, China, India, Mexico, Ukraine, Australia, Turkey, Germany, Sweden, Poland, France and Ireland, mainly with an infrastructure sector focus. Outside of work, my holidays are spent in Ireland with family, foremost, but I do love the sunshine, so the Mediterranean Islands are my go-to.

Do you speak any other languages?

I was born in London but moved to Ireland at seven, to an Irish speaking (Gaeltacht) region so I had to learn the Gaelic language quite swiftly. I also studied Spanish and French to A Level. Living and working in other countries I picked up the German language and drew on my knowledge of French.


I often used the term Sesquilingual which best described my abilities. I have not developed or used these much over the past 20 years so I would consider these very rusty.


What kind of advice and support do you offer your clients?

As a DIT Adviser, as well as the knowledge and experience that we can impart to companies, we also have a good support mechanism which can give access to Specialist Advisers on many subjects - Contracts, Finance, Digital / E-commerce.


We have our international colleagues based in Embassies all over the world to help connections, the market and sector understanding. It is difficult to give a comprehensive reply to this question as, in reality, how I support a company is dependent on what they need. 

I approach a company having done as much research as possible on them through website, LinkedIn and other platforms. I then encourage the client to tell me everything about the business.


Using all of this information I can then determine where the strengths and weaknesses lie and build a plan around these, ensuring that I work to the company’s resource capabilities.


My experience of working with both SMEs and MSBs has helped ensure that a company’s approach to international growth is measured to their capabilities.


My approach can be in many forms; mentoring, up-skilling, diversification, identification of opportunities and how to engage with these, profile raising and, if possible, access to funding to help enable all of these things.


I understand the business pressures that need to be approached and making sure that a company believes in my abilities is the first step to being able to help.

What skills do you need as an ITA?

This is such a multi-tasking role that being able to juggle many projects at one time and complete them all is a must. We work with such a large number of companies all at the same time.


Attention to detail is key as we are always client facing, whether it is in this country or in our approach to those that can help internationally. Listening to clients, dissecting what they say and being able to compartmentalise during the conversations is also a must.


Conversations happen at great speed and sometimes the crux of the information that we want to gather gets lost in other detail, so we need to understand and tease out the details that are fundamental to our being able to assist.


Understanding business and the challenges that they face, trading internationally and confidence building skills are also a must.


Also, social skills, being someone that a company can relate to is imperative otherwise it just won’t work. 

What do you like about your role?

The companies! I love the companies that I work with. I love the challenge that is faced on approaching a company initially, trying to figure out how I can help and working this through systematically to a positive end result or win for the company. I love the diverse nature of Black Country companies.

I love the surprise of turning up at a small company who I find has a team of diverse people and nationalities, all using their skills to win business in many different markets. I enjoy building relationships with my international colleagues and actually getting to meet them face to face.


This role is never dull, or boring, and not for the faint hearted or for those who find it hard to cope with time pressures and high expectations. 


Tell us about your clients

I feel that I could plagiarise a catch phrase from a well-known presenter, now deceased “You’re my favourite”, as I really do get very attached to all of the clients that I work with.


I work with companies from all sectors and I work with clients in various roles in the companies; Chairperson, MD, Directors, Managers, Executives, and individuals who do all of those roles combined.


Many of my clients have grown with me in the 10 years and I have heard about them becoming parents, their children leaving home to go to university or them becoming grandparents, which is very much part of my ITA approach.


I put great emphasis on relationship building as I believe that if you have this then you are an integral part of the business and care about the journey. 

And finally, what advice would you give a company looking to export into new markets?

Before you do anything, get in touch with your local DIT Adviser. We can help lower the risk, avoid the pitfalls and wasting time.


Always do your research, invest both time and money in this activity as this intel is what will help you make the right decisions.


Make sure that you have at least one key member of your team focusing on your exporting and be prepared for lengthy negotiations as international business is not gained or won overnight.  

To talk to an International Trade Adviser about how they can help your business to expand internationally call Marion on 01902 912325 or 07810 377794 

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