Leveraging the UK’s infrastructure export effort

The UK’s leading membership organisation for companies exporting infrastructure services, British Expertise International, appointed a new CEO at the start of the year. Infrastructure Intelligence editor Andy Walker spoke to him about his plans.

Derrick Sanyahumbi, the new chief executive of British Expertise International.

Taking over at the top of such an influential organisation in the middle of a national crisis must have been challenging for Derrick Sanyahumbi, the new chief executive of British Expertise International (BEI), but he seems to be taking the unique circumstances in which he finds himself in his stride. “I took over at BEI at a time when our support to members is even more crucial, so at this important time for infrastructure we are looking at how we help members leverage the opportunities and trying to continue to build closer relationships across government departments – which is not always easy as there are always competing priorities and at times limited cross-government collaboration resulting in infrastructure initiatives that are not always joined up,” he tells me.

Like many of us working under lockdown, it has been a challenging time for Sanyahumbi. “It’s been surreal. Business is very much about face-to-face and personal engagement and I have had to meet members via online platforms and try to assess their needs in an impersonal environment,” he says.

Sanyahumbi tells me that he has enjoyed the greater access to a wider range of contacts in different geographies and time zones afforded by online working. “Remote hosting has opened up more opportunities and access to people in government and other institutions has also been easier, as they have been able to find the time,” he says.

He is focused on ensuring that BEI supports its members in uniquely different times. “There are multiple challenges, including coping with the financial and economic impact of Covid, the changes that Brexit has brought, trying to support the wellness of staff as well as growing a business in very uncertain markets where borders are closed and face-to-face meetings are not possible,” Sanyahumbi says. The Climate change/net zero agenda is also an area where he believes member companies are well placed and have the innovations and technology to deliver more resilient and sustainable infrastructure in a very competitive international market, so there is plenty for BEI members to offer internationally.

Getting the UK government more involved in the export effort is a key area and one that Sanyahumbi is keenly aware of. “We need to ensure that there is sufficient government to government (G2G) engagement for the benefit of UK plc and to support firms looking to work overseas and we are trying to do this while recognising that Brexit-related new trade deals and the pandemic, along with its economic impact, has the government dealing with competing priorities and in some cases there is limited bandwidth to deal with some of the key issues,” he tells me.

“The Infrastructure Exports UK board, now led by Mark Holmes and minister Graham Stuart, is very focused in trying to support the private sector in terms of identifying opportunities for G2G support in potential markets and trying to get intelligence on those markets and leverage these. We need to see more collaboration across government to ensure a cohesive approach to the support that the government can offer to companies. Effectively articulating the UK international offering in infrastructure is key to that and being able to realise what UK companies bring to infrastructure when they are involved upstream on projects. We have to know the markets and be there in the early stages of conceptualisation to be seen as a partner right from the start to enable companies to be able to then leverage ensuing opportunities,” Sanyahumbi explains.

A key selling point for BEI is its ability to connect its members with market insights, opportunities, key stakeholders as well as focusing on how to leverage those opportunities. “We have great relationships with relevant Department for International Trade and Foreign Commonwealth and Development office teams, as well as trade commissioners and the department’s in-country teams abroad because getting pipeline opportunities information early is crucial,” he says and BEI is working hard to further enhance its partnerships with UK and foreign governments to support improved opportunities for UK exporters.

“BEI’s role is to support our members, UK infrastructure companies to explore, assess and win business and we do this through a wide range of activities. These include networking events, sector-focused forums, bespoke international market intelligence and demand-based trade missions. Organisations that are not yet members should join some of our events and activities and see the benefit of what we do. For infrastructure firms looking to export, BEI is not a nice to have, it’s a need to have,” says Sanyahumbi.

Despite the current challenges facing all companies, BEI’s new chief executive is optimistic about the future and keen for government to offer greater backing to the sector. “There’s a huge range of opportunities and lots of interest for UK expertise and quality internationally. Many foreign government strategies revolve around infrastructure to support their economic growth, which UK companies are uniquely qualified to deliver, but the key to success will be to mobilise the UK offer through early G2G engagement with UK plc expertise to help design and shape the solutions. We need that G2G support if UK companies are going to be competitive,” he says.

Given that many of the UK’s competitor governments have been supporting their exporting firms effectively for years, Sanyahumbi feels that the UK is coming at the challenge a little late in the game and a lot more support is needed. “We need to open the doors of engagement at a very senior level and also ensure that UK companies are not left behind as they have valuable specific skills to bear, especially in innovation and technology around green infrastructure focusing on resilience, sustainability and the pursuit for carbon neutrality where the UK is a world leader,” he says.

“We look forward to the government continuing to play a growing role in infrastructure and laying the foundations for opening up opportunities for UK plc and that cannot be underestimated. What is needed is UK government support in helping to level the playing field that will enable UK companies with G2G lead to engage at a much earlier stage. Early and valuable high-level engagement is key,” says Sanyahumbi.

If you would like to contact Andy Walker about this, or any other story, please email awalker@infrastructure-intelligence.com.