I had the pleasure of interviewing Carl Hunter, CEO & MD of Coltraco Ultrasonics, exporter of 30 years’ experience and a world traveller who is committed to supporting British SMEs, so that they will become international and innovative. He is a former Greenjacket Officer in the British Army, a Graduate and Honorary Doctorate of Science from University of Durham.

Name: Carl Stephen Patrick Hunter
Company: Coltraco Ultrasonics
Position: CEO & MD

He is a member of Chatham House, the British Exporters Association, the Vietnam-UK Network, Royal Institute for International Affairs, Royal Society of Asian Affairs and the Royal United Services Institute. Carl is a Council Member of the Maritime Defence & Security Group, the British Marine Equipment Association and a Trustee of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects, amongst others!

1. Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

Having spent my childhood being raised in Australia and Canada, I have long had a desire to operate internationally. After Durham University, I commissioned with the British Army which offered opportunities to explore unusual parts of the globe. I left the Forces to start up my first business and have since lived in UK, Hong Kong, Greece and multiple countries in the Middle East, as well as travelling extensively across Asia, Europe and the USA. A portfolio entrepreneur and consultant for over 30 years, my focus is currently predominantly on Coltraco Ultrasonics – a world-leading British manufacturer of ultrasonic technology. The company now exports 89% to 109 countries worldwide. My efforts to ensure the company’s technology is innovative was recognised by Durham University who very kindly awarded me an Honorary Doctorate of Science, for our commitment to excellence, in the fields of Research and Development in Ultrasound and in student professional development. I now wish to share my extensive and diverse international business experience to: (i) advance an understanding of the UK’s place in the world, (ii) encourage British companies, particularly SMEs, to increase exporting and to be innovative in their products, services and business operations, (iii) to enhance the opportunities offered by EU Exit and (iv) to champion Global Britain, especially through exporting and inspiring others to. I endeavour to do so by being an active ambassador for exporting and advocates of DIT, the GREAT campaign and great.gov.uk and other departments of HMG.

“Global Britain” is :

  • One with rich opportunities with the USA as our “special relationship”,
  • a new and forthcoming special relationship with the EU,
  • an invigorated relationship with the other 52 member states of the Commonwealth and
  • those of the Rest of the World.

Our trade, diplomatic, defence, security and cultural relationships with them will determine (1) how successfully we can develop mutual trade and investment opportunities and (2) how successfully we can embed distinguishing UK values into a complex world to achieve collective and global security.

2. Can you share an interesting exporting story that has happened to you since you became a leader or started your company?

Working in India is both a wonder and a challenge concurrently. One particular export example we are proud of, is in the maritime and defence sector: supplying our watertight integrity monitoring systems to India’s naval fleet. The Indian Navy is developing a 300-ship fleet:

  • This leveraged Coltraco’s experience working with the Royal Navy and US Navy on surface and subsurface vessels.
  • Navies need to maintain watertight compartment integrity – if a flood occurs, you need to make sure the water does not spread through compartments.
  • Coltraco developed the means to do this using ultrasonic technology to test watertight integrity called Portascanner® WATERTIGHT
  • The Indian Navy carried out extensive trials on the equipment alongside competitor technologies. After three years, the Indian Navy selected it as the best in class and installed the equipment across their Western and Eastern Fleets.
  • Mindful of the long-term Engineering & Maintenance support contract as much as the acquisition itself, the commitment to after sales in-country support was critical to the success of the project and the company established an Indian ODA Service Station to provide this in-country.
  • Coltraco has also developed the world’s first Calculator app designed to log data and compute leak site apertures from the Portascanner® readings, which has been shortlisted for the Seatrade Asia Maritime Safety awards 2018.

3. What advice would you give to a founder or CEO who is just starting their exporting journey?

The UK is the world’s 2nd largest exporter of services, its 5th in goods and its 4th overall. Yet only 9% of our companies export at all. Now is the time to start exporting.

I commend you to hold an atlas in your thoughts. My day starts in the East with key markets such as Japan and Korea, flows through the continents during the day and ends in the Americas. I look at the world through 4 concentric spheres of influence: the USA, the EU, the Commonwealth and the Rest of the World. This was first stated by Winston Churchill and the fourth added by Theresa May in 2017. It is a joy and a privilege to work internationally and to travel and I feel honoured to have gained such insights into other countries at multiple levels.

  • Reach out to HMG, review the gov.uk website which has a wealth of information available to help new companies starting out.
  • When I started exporting I used the Market Research reports from DIT (formerly UKTI) as my initial understanding of a country by its economy, key sectors, and also the cultural and sociological aspects. It is important to get to know a country as a whole – not just the specific niche you are looking at – because it will form your business discussions.
  • I also felt supported by HMG’s international network of Embassies, High Commissions etc.
  • Recently we have received TAP funding to support out exhibitions overseas e.g. Singapore, China, Germany and participated in the Passport to Export programme. For example, in March 2018 Coltraco joined the marine and energy trade mission to Rio de Janeiro which was supported by DIT, and also received support and funding to help develop business in Brazil, via DIT’s delivery partner’s ERDF programme, which is partly funded by DIT.

Most importantly business can work successfully by working with HMG. Here are some thoughts and statistics to support this argument. I appreciate it is a fair amount of content but I feel it is valuable to share with fellow British businesses. I will keep to bullet points for concision:

Summary of UK Business Types:

  • UK business is divided into:
  • 7,000 larger companies employing over 250
  • 4m SMES employing 2-249
  • 4m micro businesses employing 1
  • The larger companies employ 46% of the private sector workforce and generate 54% of the private sector revenue
  • The SME and micro operate the inverse 54% and 46% respectively

How can HMG help business?

  • We can assume that most of the larger companies are innovating and largely at export capacity, so it is the SME sector where the potential is highest to “do more”
  • But why then do only 8.8% export at all?
  • And virtually none know of the Govt help available
  • E.g. the Manufacturing technology Centre in Coventry where for GBP 500/day they can access 300 PhD’s, most of the world’s finest machine tools and production engineers to “make their designs better”
  • Government wants to help UK business succeed but is that reciprocated by UK business?

SME CEO Engagement

  • How many UK CEO’s see themselves as being the “HMG Champion” in their company?
  • How many UK CEO’s are able to inform their teams of the array of Govt support from DIT, BEIS, UK Export Finance at HMT, DFID or the FCO?
  • How many know their DIT market sector manager?
  • How many ask their DIT IAT to connect them with other government departments?
  • How many UK CEOs visit UK Diplomatic Posts overseas to meet the Deputy heads of Mission and the other Trade diplomacy teams? If CEOs do not visit our diplomatic posts overseas they are “not travelling well”
  • If they did, they might gain access to the very points of contact at the State Owned Enterprises they are seeking to business with, without appointing a local agent who may lack business integrity and may not have the access they say they do

Do CEOs have a national or wider duty?

  • How many UK CEOs believe they have a national obligation to succeed with a wider goal of aiding the prosperity continuum of our country?
  • Might CEOs be mindful of placing employees and customers ahead of investors and the sales of their company?
  • There are few great companies of the 20th C that have endure into the 21stC without being sold
  • But are companies becoming “better” by selling themselves or merging?
  • 70% of all mergers and acquisitions fail to realise value

Business – Govt divide

  • Government is constantly seeking to consult with uk business
  • It takes 10 minutes to complete the form on say a future trade deal with New Zealand
  • But how many take the time to?
  • Government and business are only as strong as the equal relationship they form
  • UK business is the engine of growth for our national prosperity; to be respected it must work with government, not merely use it when pressed to

Realising a “Global Britain”

  • Global Britain means an outward looking one with an appetite to win in overseas markets
  • But you cannot transfer a domestic celebration of diversity without transferring that overseas too
  • Many people think of us as a great free trading nation and we are
  • But to maximise its potential we have to be great in our global understanding, not purely driven by our own self interest
  • And Adam Smith warned us that “free trade” contains greed and selfishness which is the reason government exists in it: to soften its worst prospects
  • So knowing that, why would UK business not want to work hand in hand with government to succeed together – in the national interest?

4. Can you share any stories or examples of how your company is making a difference to others, or how you’re making an influence in your sector?

Coltraco is proud to fly the flag for ‘UK Plc’. It’s expertise is renowned globally, especially in Commonwealth partner nations.

  • We are global leaders in the design and manufacture of equipment and systems to monitor watertight integrity and high pressure gaseous marine extinguishing systems, sinking and fire being the principal reasons for loss of vessels at sea.
  • We operate across sectors in shipping, oil and gas, defence, power generation, renewable energy, pharmaceuticals and more.
  • Our equipment is installed on 10,000 vessels or 17% of the worlds fleet of commercial ships, the top 15 Navies including the Royal Navy and US Navy, and 50% of the world’s offshore oil and gas companies. Recently we opened a new market for our equipment in onshore and offshore renewables wind.

Since EU Exit our core market of Shipping has really focused on how it can promote itself in the UK. We are at the core of this industry, engaged with HMG’s marine sector experts, with marine trade associations, exhibiting at key shows worldwide, speaking at conferences and winning awards for our technology. In 2017-18 Coltraco won the Safety at Sea and Cruise Industry Best Supplier awards as well as one of the “best of British Innovators 2017”.

  • I aim to make a difference and influence the shipping industry by actively participating in key groups.
  • I am a contributor to the All Party Parliamentary Group-Maritime & Ports, a stakeholder engagement member of Maritime 2050 at the Department for Transport and a marine sector engagement member to the Export Strategy of the Department for International Trade and the Ro-Ro Safety Group at the UK Chamber of Shipping.
  • I am a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects, a Fellow of the Institute of Marine Engineers, Associate Fellow of the Nautical Institute, Member of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners and of the Royal Aeronautical Society, Royal Institute for International Affairs, Royal Society of Asian Affairs and the Royal United Services Institute.

I am a Council Member of the Maritime Defence & Security Group, the British Marine Equipment Association and a Trustee of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects.

5. Can you share what you believe will be the “Top 4 Exporting Trends Over The Next 3 Years”

PWC published a report in February 2017: “The World in 2050”. This brilliant report by PWC sets out our latest long-term global growth projections to 2050 for 32 of the largest economies in the world, accounting for around 85% of world GDP where it suggests that the UK may be in 10th place in global GDP rankings by 2015, France may be out of the top 10, Italy out of the top 20 as they are overtaken by faster growing emerging economies like Mexico, Turkey and Vietnam respectively. “While the exact extent and timing of these shifts is subject to considerable uncertainty, the general direction of change is clear,” PwC said.

The UK comes out on top of the so-called G7 club of major advanced economies in terms of projected growth rates, even though it slips a place to tenth between now and 2050 in the global league table based on purchasing power parity (PPP), which adjusts for price differences and buying power in each country.

In conclusion, we contend that the UK will become the largest economy in Europe and outstrip Germany by 2050 based on its economic independence, enhanced global economic engagement and population increase.

One method will be developing our international trade relations. As business leaders, imagine what we could do if we doubled or tripled the 9% of UK companies currently exporting at all. It is time to invigorate: to start exporting, to grow existing markets and to find new ones.

6. What are the medium to long-term objectives that you’re focusing on at your company and how will you achieve this?

There are many definitions of a company. But the one I think of most is that a company is the “sum of the individuals within it.” My role as its leader, “To generate a happy dynamic for the members of it for their good and so that we create a profitable and sustainable company.” These are the results of my combined military and commercial careers.

We have created the capability to be “better, faster, cheaper” than any of our competitors at home and overseas. Our reputational integrity is stronger today than ever because our customers and markets know that integrity is our founding value from concept design through to life time after sales customer care.

We are committed to strengthening our existing markets and expanding our work into the new areas of Brazil and Renewable Wind market this year.

We have a diverse and extensive R&D programme, which will offer first of its kind technology to the world, once launched. We conduct our R&D through dedication to science and mathematics, in world leading UK institutions, in order to offer opportunities to our students.

It is an exhilarating experience to export and 2018 is a great time to start or improve your international business strategy!

Coltraco Ultrasonics is a member of the British Exporters Association (BExA)