Entrepreneur to lead way on unlocking Yorkshire business growth

A SUCCESSFUL Yorkshire businessman, who is the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) lead spokesperson on international trade, has plans to unlock the potential of the region’s businesses and help take them to the next level.

Eric Hawthorn, managing director and founder of Radio Design in Shipley, is the LEP’s newest board member.

Hawthorn launched his global telecommunications business in 2007 with 11 people. He worked for Yorkshire-based designer and manufacturer of microwave electronics products, Filtronic, but when it closed down its UK engineering site, decided to establish his own enterprise.

Today, the business, which manufacturers and supplies equipment to wireless communications infrastructure providers globally, has just over 260 people, and is adding to the team every week. Radio Design will report a £20m turnover this year, up from just under £14m last year. The firm, which has operations in the UK, Finland, China and India and also has a presence in France and the Czech Republic, found its success when it manufactured the world’s first filter technology to enable network sharing by major telecom companies.T-Mobile and Three subsequently rolled out the world’s largest shared network using Radio Design technology.

“I’ve built a business through the downturn, which is quite a unique experience, and I’ve faced a number of challenges along the way, but we have grown our business,” Hawthorn said.

“As a LEP we are looking at what we can do to support the business development in the region over the future, I have been through an experience that can hopefully add some value.

“I have had experience of running my own business and if I can share that and influence measures being put in place, then other businesses can benefit. If we are helping businesses get off the ground and grow, that’s got to be good.”

Hawthorn said the objective of the LEP is pretty clear – and the organisation is focused on the question – “can we turn this region into an economic powerhouse?”

“We want to look at how we can grow the region and unlock the potential. When you look at the potential for growth, often, SMEs can grow more quickly. If we can support an environment to help these companies grow, then we are doing something right. And I think I can contribute to that because of my own experiences.

“I think I am bringing something a little bit different to the group – a different angle in an area that’s near and dear to the LEP’s objectives.

“This new role has opened his eyes to see there are some strong, capable people in the public sector. There’s been a lot of value in the private sector involvement to set strategy and provide guidance. The public sector might not have been exposed to that in the past.”
Radio Design, which in the early days went from a £1m turnover to £8.7m in one year, now says 40% of the business will be export this year, increasing to 50% next year. It has also doubled the size of its manufacturing area at Salts Mill, which is a second base to its head office on Wharf Street.

Hawthorn, who says next year will be another year of substantial growth, said one of the reasons for success has been due to investment in the team, as well as in business management systems. “We’ve had to work hard at managing suppliers and materials and had to spend money on more sophisticated systems,” he said.

The entrepreneur has served three years on the LEP’s Business Innovation and Growth Panel, where he helped spearhead the successful We are International export campaign. He acts as the lead export ambassador for the campaign, set up to boost overseas trade, and said in his experience, going into new countries is an expensive process.

“The government and UKTI are really trying hard to help SMEs export. Anyone who says exporting is easy is wrong – it’s not,” he said.

“For us, we need experienced people, which often means expensive people. It takes a couple of years to develop a new market and there is a limit as to how much you can risk.

“It can cost thousands of pounds to sell in another country. There are big decisions to make so I can help others and I can bring in that smaller business perspective.

“We had to grow to get to where we are today. We had great success in the UK but the growth came from exports and the international trade.”

Radio Design, which is a recipient of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation, said now, its growth plans for the business are based on international trade and entering more markets. The business said there is “massive” investment opportunities for it in India.

“Growing the business is all about where are we going next?” Hawthorn said.

“There is scope to go into more countries. There is still lots to do. The mobile networks are global, so one of the only ways for the business to grow is to stay focused on the technology and take into as many countries as can.”