The “luck of the Irish”? Really? No, export growth didn’t just fall into our lap

By Susan September 30, 2011 14:55

The “luck of the Irish”? Really? No, export growth didn’t just fall into our lap


The “luck of the Irish” is such an overused phrase that it would seem everything we do successfully should be ascribed to luck. But in my opinion we have many successes, among them exports, that are certainly not due to luck only.

Take this quote for example: “[John Whelan, the IEA’s Chief Executive] added that exporters in Ireland have been able to capitalize on the continued rapid global growth in demand for pharmaceuticals, agri-foods and information communication technology related products, which grew at over double the rate forecast by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).”

It looks like those exporters had a lucky strike because it so happened that the products they manufacture were in demand. But if that same demand waned today, would they be out of luck? Let us look at this in more detail.


The harder you work, the luckier you get


To be in business, you need a solid problem-solving mentality. Other people’s problems are opportunities for your business. You fill a need, you offer a solution. A business person is always seeking new ways of doing things, of setting themselves apart from the competition.

And when issues arise, many of them are not-so-thinly disguised opportunities. These Irish exporters didn’t passively wait for the products they manufacture to suddenly be in demand! The Irish, at home and abroad, form a strong community. It might be this habit of cultivating interpersonal ties that is reflected in our way of doing business: the Irish are famous the world over for being very very good at selling!


Ireland has business sense in spades


So what are those skills that the Irish are able to capitalize on when doing business, if there’s more to it than their proverbial luck? Well, good management, planning and tenacity, for starters. And just plain business sense in creating a product, as well.

I wholeheartedly believe that Irish exports are doing well because of some basic business principles, like asking yourself the following questions:

– What is it that the market needs? Research that.

– Can I produce it for less than I can sell it? If yes,

– How can I go out and create a marketable product and sell it now?

– Do I have the required skills and abilities? Can I take the skills and abilities that I have and sell them to the world?

Exports, like other domains of business, are based on opportunity, but that should not be confused with luck. Spotting opportunities requires business acumen, and adaptability. Things might have been difficult, and God knows they were and continue to stretch us, but businesses have adapted. It is thanks to this that exports have been able to withstand so many shocks so well.


Ireland’s competitiveness has increased


Ireland is far from mired in inertia, contrary to what all the doom and gloom might make you think. No, we are not perfect. Yes, we could be more effective in some respects. Yes, there is room for improvement.

But, as the press release from the IEA makes clear, Irish exporters did what they had to do to retain their competitiveness. They implemented “tough internal measures” such as cost cutting, looking for greater cost efficiency and also, unfortunately, decreasing staff and benefits.

These are all things that go on in a company that is actively responding to change. No luck involved in that. And this means that our success relies, not on some chance reunion of circumstances, but on our qualities, qualities that we worked to acquire and accumulate

You might also remember all the other qualities Ireland has, that I mentioned in relation to multinationals. If we are still very much attractive to multinationals, it’s not just luck. We worked hard at building our “value proposition” in many different sectors.


Irish businesses are doing well across the board


Take agri-foods, pharmaceuticals and information communication technology. What do the three have in common? Well, they are doing particularly well exports-wise, according to the IEA. And? And that’s all. They don’t have much in common.

This is why I am saying that exports success is not down to luck. That Irish exports should be growing across the board, and that three totally unrelated industries should be doing equally well cannot be down to luck.

But what if the demand for those three productions suddenly dipped? Well, we might use the same adaptability that allowed us to become competitive in these industries, and apply it to succeed in whatever other sector is growing.

If there was ever a time in our history that the Irish have shown themselves to be able to adapt, it has been the past four years… That very same period in which exports have illustrated record growth. We just need to keep going!


Irish-owned companies strong in the agri-foods sector


There is one sector that is very much indigenous, does not rely only or even mainly on FDI and foreign firms, and is doing particularly well in exports: agri-foods. They represent 14% of total exports and are among the 250 top Irish exporters – 5 of these firms are even among the top 20.

Moreover, it’s a highly labour intensive sector, which means it’s difficult to automate and needs people to do the job. As the press release says, this “traditional backbone of Irish exports […] remains a vital part of the Irish economy”.

So this is one more reason to stress that exports news is very positive news indeed: it emphasises a lot of good things in the Irish economy and in the Irish attitude to business.

Sheer entrepreneurship, tenacity and hard work got us there, not luck.


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By Susan September 30, 2011 14:55