Having been presented with a great opportunity, I recently made the decision to change industry. I started work as International Business Manager at Rapesco Office Products, a manufacturer of stapling and punching products for almost 60 years – that’s a very long time for a 28-year-old.
As I began networking and talking to customers and other professionals in the industry, it became apparent to me that not only are there plenty of companies out there with an extensive track record, but many of the people working in these companies have also spent the majority of their careers in this industry.
With the proliferation of networking platforms such as LinkedIn and Xing, we live in times where everything is transparent and it feels like barely a day goes by when I don’t get a notification about somebody I know who has changed job yet again. This is what makes the longevity of so many so impressive. There’s clearly a lot of loyalty that people have to this industry.
And so much knowledge too. When I started at Rapesco I was slightly nervous, if not intimidated, by the number of highly knowledgeable people I was working with. Knowledge really is power and let’s face it, everybody likes to be the ‘go-to person’ for his/her specific area of expertise because it makes us feel valuable and important.
However, I have been surprised time and time again at just how willing people are to help and to pass on their knowledge because they know that it will be for the greater good of the company. Whether it’s technical advice on a product, helping to understand a specific market or some kind of other favour, I am encouraged by this attitude.
All of this is great, but it also begs the question: What about those starting out? What can us newbies bring to an industry packed with knowledge and experience that can only be achieved through years of service and the accumulation of grey hair? In my opinion, one of the answers lies in the evolution of our industry which sees organisations increasingly seeking to work internationally.
Yes, English remains the international business language, but our experience at Rapesco tells us that if we can talk to our overseas partners in their own language, progress can be made much faster and they also feel more comfortable working with us.
When it comes to the younger generations starting out in the OP industry, many are coming through as bilinguals which should give them a real advantage from day one. I see this becoming the standard as employers inevitably realise the added value that comes with employing bilingual staff. I believe that the ability to speak an additional language is something that has been undervalued in the past. Us Brits, of course, are particularly guilty of being lazy when it comes to learning a language – I was exactly the same before I spent five years living in Germany.
It’s also become obvious that many organisations that started life as a pure distributor or wholesaler, for example, are having to adapt and move away from those traditional models to stay effective and competitive. Thanks to the internet, there is a transparency which did not exist 20 years ago. As a result, we have seen some of our international partners move to a hybrid model whereby they are selling into multiple channels across a variety of platforms. This can make understanding the structure of organisations very difficult and giving the correct pricing level even more so. If there is a language barrier to overcome as well, progress can be extremely slow indeed.
The combination of all that long-accumulated knowledge and expertise in tandem with an all-encompassing global outlook – and the language requirements that this might entail – is a sure recipe for success in my view.
Alex Bonarius is International Business Manager for Rapesco.