David Parkin finds a positive approach to Brexit, hears about rascals in Downing Street and continues his quest to find the perfect way to mix beer and business

ON the day that the government triggered article 50 which will lead to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, to be hosting an event aimed at helping businesses create and grow overseas trade opportunities, seemed entirely appropriate.

We were working with the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to deliver Let’s Talk…Selling Overseas this week.

Rather than the usual dull and dry export seminars, which wanted this to be engaging with advice coming not from advisers but from real businesses who were involved in doing business outside the UK.

It had to reflect the LEP’s Let’s Talk Real Business campaign, which I think is a real breath of fresh air for businesses because it cuts out the management speak and cliches and focuses on down-to-earth, no-nonsense support and advice.

And given that any business person will tell you that you learn more from your mistakes than your successes, we encouraged our expert panel to share some of the things that hadn’t quite worked out for them.

We decided that the lunch should be provided by some great Leeds City Region businesses including Friends of Ham, Baltzersen’s, Tarte & Berry and Northern Bloc ice cream.

We also wanted to hold the event at a business that reflects the vibrant diversity of enterprise with the city region so we headed to Holbeck, the cradle of the industrial revolution in Leeds, which is now home to so many creative and digital businesses that are part of the exciting future the Leeds City Region is looking forward to.

Brand design agency Elmwood hosted us in their impressive studio and Jonathan Sands OBE shared the Elmwood story with attendees.

As I explained: “If you don’t know Elmwood, prepare to be surprised and impressed by one of Yorkshire’s best kept secrets.”

This is a business that is based in Leeds but probably better known across the globe than it is here at home.

Elmwood is a brand design consultancy renowned for winning more DBA Design Effectiveness Awards than any other consultancy in the history of the scheme.

In 1989 Jonathan led a management buyout of Elmwood, at the age of 28. His work now takes him all over the world to clients including GSK, Heineken, Danone, Loblaw and Tesco to name but a few. Originally based out of one office in Leeds, the consultancy has since opened offices in London, Melbourne, New York and Singapore.

He told the audience that since opening Elmwood’s studio in Melbourne 10 years ago he had counted 60 Australian stamps in his passport.

“Believe me, travelling overseas for business is exciting for the first couple of times, then it gets harder,” he confided to the audience, who nodded their agreement.

I just thought of the air miles.

Joining Jonathan in a panel discussion on a pair of cool sofas were three representatives of diverse businesses at different stages of overseas trading.

Victoria Hopkins is managing director of Hopkins, which is a Leeds-based family business which manufactures catering equipment and commercial kitchens.

The firm started out more than 50 years ago making fish and chip ranges but has diversified into catering equipment for hospitals and nursing homes.

However its export business has been driven by the popularity of fish and chip restaurants being opened in countries such as Canada and Australia.

From fish and chips we moved on to crisps with Kevin Butterworth, marketing & international sales director of Seabrook Crisps also on the panel.

Based in Bradford, Seabrook Crisps is a £30m turnover business that has been manufacturing potato crisps for over 70 years.

Once family owned, it was bought by its management in 2015 backed by private equity firm LDC and only started exporting its crisps less than 12 months ago.

However it is already on shelves in Walmart and 7-11 stores in China, Monoprix in France, Carrefour in Spain and Aldi in Australia.

When I read the biography of our final panellist, I thought we’d got a lot in common.

Robin Hilton said that his background is a mish-mash of careers, wrong choices, drop outs and mistakes.

The difference is Robin has gone on to great success.

He set up fast-growing research agency ResearchBods 6 years ago with co-founder Jonathan Clough and a £15,000 loan.

It now turns over around £4m, employs 50 staff at its headquarters in Leeds and also in Bulgaria, Greece and the Philippines.

ResearchBods boasts a host of international clients including Coca-Cola.

All of the panel offered honest advice, highlighting where they had gone wrong when trading overseas.

Victoria said that one of her colleagues was once arrested in Abu Dhabi.

Two members of the audience put their hands up and told her they could have helped with that.

I made a mental note to get their numbers for the next time I run into a spot of bother in the UAE.


THE Selling Overseas event was a great opportunity to see Leeds City Region LEP chairman Roger Marsh again.

Previously when I’ve bumped into him the conversation has turned to the turgid tussle that is devolution for Yorkshire.

Given Roger’s private sector background at PwC, he has put the posturing of the politicians behind him and got on with selling the city region to the world.

And he’s got a real spring in his step.

In the last few weeks he has been to the MIPIM property conference in Cannes (where Victoria Gate in Leeds was named the best shopping centre in the world) and to China.

He highlighted that fact that the middle class of China will soon outnumber the population of the European Union and they love British products.

Roger visited Hangzhou, which in Chinese terms is a relatively small city of just 10 million people.

It has been twinned with Leeds for about 30 years but the links have been relatively ceremonial.

He believes they can be much stronger in future.

“Leeds City Region don’t just hide our light under a bushel, we hide the bushel as well,” he told the audience.

That now changes.

“We need to move from menu to meal,” he declared.

The previous day Roger had been with Prime Minister Theresa May but I don’t think he had rolled his trouser legs up to enable the Daily Mail to compare his legs with those of the PM, which the newspaper had done the previous day when she met Nicola Sturgeon.

He settled for an appearance on News At Ten instead.


ANOTHER person at Downing Street this week was Sir Gary Verity.

The Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive was hosting a breakfast at Number 10 in his capacity as chairman of the Great Exhibition of the North, a three month extravaganza hosted by Newcastle-Gateshead in the summer of 2018.

Gary told his audience that they would never forget where they were on the day that article 50 was triggered to start the process of Britain’s departure from the EU.

He also said that we were looking to the future with confidence, hence Danish pastries were being served for breakfast.

But to underline the strength and determination of the North of England, he also made sure that Betty’s Fat Rascal currant buns from Yorkshire were also on the breakfast menu.


TO Aspire, the Leeds events venue which used to be the home of Yorkshire Bank, for the second do in a week hosted by a law firm.

This time it was the turn of Gateley, which was celebrating the fifth anniversary of its move into Leeds.

It started with just five people in a small city centre office but is now based in smart premises in Minerva House.

Willy Ballmann, who runs the firm in Leeds, is an engaging individual who was born and grew up in Germany but now speaks English better than most people in Yorkshire.

Leeds isn’t exactly short of legal firms, so for Gateley to come in and grow in the way they have has been impressive.

Willy’s speech, in clipped teutonic tones, was accompanied by a rolling set of slides including bar charts and graphs outlining the firm’s growth in Yorkshire over the last five years.

I was particularly taken with the photo of the five-strong team who launched the office. It reminded me of a film and I couldn’t think which one.

I’ll try and get a copy and run a reader competition.


IT was on with the sports jacket again this week and off to another business development opportunity.

Yes, the annual Bardsey Beer Festival.

This pretty but rather obscure village, which sits off the main road between Leeds and Wetherby, lays claim to having the oldest pub in the country.

The Bingley Arms can trace its history back to 953AD, when it was known as The Priests Inn and was a popular spot for monks to rest while travelling between Kirkstall Abbey and the Abbey at St Mary’s in York.

From around 1000AD a local court was held at The Priests Inn with offenders being taken to the pillory across the road, opposite the church.

That has been replaced in modern times by an audience with Dave Jones of Reward Capital, who lives in Bardsey and frequents the Bingley Arms.

A large, shaven-headed, imposing individual with a booming voice, I’ve often thought a spell in the pillory would be preferable to a night out in the pub with Dave, but that’s just me.

What I didn’t realise was that inside the pub’s chimney are two priest holes dating back to 1539AD. Here Catholic priests hid for safety following the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII.

At least I’ve got somewhere to hide next time I see him.

Back in the village hall, where the beer festival was being hosted, it was a gathering of the professional, financial and business community of Leeds who were enjoying the early spring sunshine, basking like walruses on an arctic ice flow.

Several firms had sponsored beers and I was fortunate to have received a number of invitations from sponsors, including Richard Larking at Progeny Corporate Law and Clive Smetham from fast growing accountancy practice Murray Harcourt.

But Dave Jones and Tom Flannery’s invitation arrived first and I didn’t want to disappoint them.

Reward Capital’s phenomenal success is based on its clients’ displaying a similar approach when it comes to their finance.

Given the generosity of the sponsors, I offered to sample the beers that they had put their names to at the festival.

But it appears that not all the beers were to everyone’s taste.

Chinook by Goose Eye Brewery in Keighley was an acquired taste, as was Rattus Rattus from the Rat Brewery in Huddersfield.

Reward’s sponsored beer was called Cattle Prod.

I decided to get a pork pie with chutney washed down by a chilled glass of prosecco.

You can’t beat Yorkshire in the spring.

Have a great weekend.


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