AN SWINNEN is the owner and managing director of Business English Consulting Service Ltd in Paignton and among her achievements is business success in the Middle East.
QHow did you come to set up the company?
ATen years ago my former partner and I had to decide where we were going to base ourselves: Brussels where I am originally from or Paignton, where he was born and bred. We had been living out of a suitcase for two years and travelling between Belgium, Holland and England so we chose Paignton because of the pace and quality of life. I soon realised that I had to be entrepreneurial, as a lot of the work in Devon is low-paid and seasonal so I set up BECS and I have never looked back.
QWhat does the company do?
AWe deliver training to large corporations and organisations such as Kuwait Petroleum Corporation, Qatargas, Saudi Arabian Chevron and Aluminium Bahrain and we specialise in business skills, management skills and train the trainer courses. Our training is adapted to the participants' level of English and the cultural considerations.
QWhat is your background?
AI am a Bachelor of Education and worked in every education sector whilst based in Devon: primary and secondary education, special needs education, higher education and I also taught at Exeter University on an MOD contract. I have taught English as a foreign language at Devon School of English and LAL in Paignton where I specialised in delivering business English. From 2002 to 2004 I delivered business English to big corporates in Brussels such as AXA and Pfizer.
In 2000 I lost my voice due to laryngitis which forced me to give up teaching for a while. I got a job at Nortel Networks where I worked in the fibre department on weekend nights. This experience opened my eyes to the opportunities of the corporate business world. I was there for two years and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
QTell us about your work in the Middle East
A I did EMRS trips to Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman. I did an OMIS in Kuwait and Brazil where I wanted to break into the oil and gas sector via Petrobras. I went on a UKTI market research trip for British Education and Training specialists to Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Kuwait and I have welcomed UKTI groups in Kuwait. I am in touch with all the local UKTI offices in the Gulf region and the British trade groups.
Last year I was a Board Member of the British Business Forum in Kuwait and set up the BBF Businesswomen group which helped British and Kuwaiti businesswomen network and discover mutual opportunities.
I also organised last year the BBF Excellence Awards in Kuwait which was attended by the Lord Mayor of the City of London and the British Ambassador.
The business I have developed comes from hard work, cold calling and knocking on doors. Many companies have tried to succeed in the Gulf and given up as it takes a lot of patience, hard work and not inconsiderable financial outlay.
As an entrepreneur I work hard at developing and taking the opening, which was acknowledged when I was awarded the British Business Forum of Excellence Award By Baroness Morrisson in Kuwait in 2011.
QWhat has been the company's greatest achievement?
AOur biggest achievement is the excellent course feedback from our clients and participants and the fact that we are doing so well in the Gulf, especially in Kuwait and Bahrain. Doing business in the Middle East is not easy. I have seen many companies come and go.
QWhat major challenges is it facing?
AThe global economic crisis affects the training budgets of companies. There has been a downturn in our market. Luckily our clients are mostly in the Gulf area and are involved with oil and gas.
QWhat's next for the company?
AOur sector changes constantly, bringing with it new opportunities. BECS is passionate about training so we will carry on doing what we do best.
QHow would you describe your management style?
AMy trainers are the company's biggest asset so I make sure they are included in decision making and future strategy. When my trainers are happy I am happy and so are our clients. It's a win-win situation.
QHow do you keep enthused and keep things fresh?
AIt is easy to stay enthused as we are passionate about what we do. We have turned our hobbies and interests into our jobs. Seeing our participants improve their skills is very rewarding. We have picked the best things from the British education system and integrated it in our corporate training which is very interactive and up-to-date.
QWhat awards have you (or the company) won?
AThree years ago I won the British Business Forum Excellence Award at the British Embassy. This was followed by the Venus Networker of the Year in Devon Award in Exeter in September 2013. I was in the Venus national finals as well, and a finalist in the Exporter of the Year category of the 2014 South Devon Herald Express Business Excellence Awards.
QWhat other organisations are you involved with?
AI love networking so I am a member of many business organisations such as the Rotary Club of Torbay Sunrise, British Business Forum, Canadian Commercial Circle, German Business Club, Australian Business Club and the Belgian Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce in London.