CBCC member interview - Mark Armitage, Director of Strategy, clearBorder

On his beginnings in Czechoslovakia, his interesting career path, how clearBorder helps businesses overcome gaps in international trade knowledge and so much more…

Can you share some details about your background?

From 1983-1987 I did a Russian Studies degree at Leeds University and as a part of that I also studied Czech for 2 years, even spending some time at J.E. Purkyne in Brno in 1986 – that was my introduction to the-then Czechoslovakia. After graduating, I spent the first ten years of my career working for De La Rue Plc, working in over 70 countries, but with a lot of that time being spent in Central and Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union supplying banknotes, passports and cash handling equipment to governments and commercial banks across these regions. After completing an MBA, I set up my own international strategy business in 2004 which I had for 14 years. More latterly, I completed MSc in Management research and worked for the Department of International Trade for four years before joining clearBorder in October 2021.

Can you summarise what clearBorder does?

Overnight on 31 December 2020, thousands of UK businesses became net importers and exporters. Gaps in international trade knowledge existed and continue to exist and the Founder, Christopher Salmon, set up clearBorder in 2021 to support companies to help them address these issues.

clearBorder has three separate offers – international trade consultancy, on-demand international trade advice and online training. clearBorder Consultancy provides in-depth, detailed international support for mainly large corporations who are experiencing complex international supply chain and border issues. Our Border Ready Advice service addresses immediate one-off international trade queries that companies may have. Many of them are having a lot of difficulties and as the problems are usually unique to their business, they need specialist, tailored advice to resolve them. There is never a one-size-fits-all answer to all the issues.

The third service is Border Ready online international trade training where we believe we are really breaking the mould. There was and still is international trade training provided by many expert organisations, but the traditional training has, in the main, been created by experts for experts. For ordinary businesses it is hard to find the foundational knowledge they need in a succinct, readily accessible format. For traditional training, one has to book a slot a few months in advance, which does not really solve the immediate problems companies have with regards to training their workforce. We offer online training which takes businesses all the way through the import-export process, not just parts of it, in less than two hours. It provides foundational knowledge on export/import, customs, freight services, rules of origin etc. It is available on any device and once you have a licence, it can be accessed anytime, anywhere, for as long as you need it. We consider it a major breakthrough, particularly during the time when rules and regulations are constantly changing. For example, there was a change in UK Border regulations in January this year and more changes are scheduled for July.

Do you get a lot of interest from companies?

We do, and although the company is only 10 months old, we get a lot of interest in all three of the services described above. And not only from the UK companies. The online training may be specific to UK businesses, however, there are some parts which are useful for companies in the EU trading with the UK. Recently, a company from Slovakia bought a licence for the Border Ready Importing and Exporting course.

The online training was launched in December. We are now working on its digital promotion as well as directly with partners such as international commercial sections of Embassies, international chambers of commerce and industry trade associations whose member companies need clarity on these border processes.

Have you got any competition out there for your online training?

We do have competition for the international trade training (as well as the Advice and Consultancy services) but as I have mentioned the competitor training is delivered in very traditional learning formats, and for the market we are targeting i.e. the businesses that do not have any real international/customs experience, it is too complicated. We have distilled that complexity to two hours and introduced scenario-based modules with lots of interactivity to enhance and reinforce the learning experience. If I attended a traditional international trade course, I’d spend nearly a full day just on importing, and another day on exporting, and so on. The length of our course and the way it is delivered is unique - it is accessible through its language, the way it has been designed and the way it can be accessed online and via any device. It actually complements the more complex learning that is already out there aiming at novice individuals and whole teams using simple language but which aims to support them in getting the job done.

How will you develop the online training further?

We can design and add new courses to our existing portfolio very quickly. It was designed jointly by an online learning company as well as international trade experts, so we have the best of both worlds. Nobody has time to wait for months to have updated information or new modules for training purposes; we must act fast.

Will there always be a need for such online training?

I believe that the number of businesses that will have to get up to speed will grow. Small businesses do not have enough money and time to ensure their people are trained. Companies look for training that is accessible, straightforward, and understandable. We think the opportunity is there for a long time to come. The Free Trade Agreement agreed with the EU still includes lots of gaps and people need knowledge. Demand will also come from new, as well as existing exporters and importers and the fact that trading across borders will always be a complex process.

Is the training available only in English?

Now yes but we can translate it quickly. We are already looking at other language variations such as Polish, French, Spanish.

How would you define yourself in three words?

I’ve worked in over 70 countries so, I’d say international. I love different languages, cultures and travelling. I’ve learned Hungarian, Czech, Russian, French and Spanish.

My second word is aligned to that - learning. I love learning and have never stopped doing so. Through books and directly through travel - working, living and meeting with different cultures one is always learning, assimilating.

The third one is sport – I like climbing and mountaineering. I have played squash all my life. It is rather different from the academic interest, but it has been a huge part of my life nonetheless.

What do you do in your free time?

Mainly reading and playing squash. I also play the piano and continue to take language lessons (Russian). I make a lot of time for my hobbies, it’s important.

Last word?

We believe that one of the major reasons EU Exit has been and remains problematic for many businesses is a lack of accessible (by that I mean a lack of complexity and delivery) international trade knowledge and that is still the case; there are international trade knowledge gaps that need to be filled. In order to buy or sell their goods overseas and develop new international markets, companies need to have efficient and effective international supply chains. And we are on a mission to make trading across borders as seamless, as straightforward, and as efficient as possible through giving companies the international trade knowledge they require just when they need it.

Would you like to find out more about the clearBorder training and how it can help your business? Sign up for our free webinar with clearBorder on 6 April at 12:30 BST (13:30 CEST)! More information on this event is available here: or register your attendance now by emailing dmajor@cbcc.org.uk.

By Tereza Urbankova, member of the CBCC Executive Committee 
We are looking for more CBCC members to be interviewed! Please email tereza@cbcc.org.uk if you are interested.

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