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Raising the bar through exporting

'I try to inspire staff to go above and beyond. Being able to share the award with them is invaluable.'
Alan Oppenheim, Ego Pharmaceuticals

Health and Biotechnology award winner, 2015 Governor of Victoria Export Awards

Top tips

  • Before entering a country for the first time, meet with international government offices to discuss cultural sensitives
  • Consider your unique selling points for your customers - the stronger these are the stronger you will be in international business
  • Talk to others - finding out what others have done before you can help you to be far more strategic

Q&A with Alan Oppenheim of Ego Pharmaceuticals

Ego Pharmaceuticals won the Health and Biotechnology award in the 2015 Governor of Victoria Export Awards.

What do you export and when did you start?
We manufacture, research and market products for the skin. We manufacture everything for treating and maintaining healthy skin.

My family started the company in 1953 and started exporting in the 1960’s.

We now have 131 staff outside of Australia in 11 nations around the world. Their job is to educate their customers on the benefits of the product and ensure that they build on the reputation that our company has earnt over the years.

What made you decide to start exporting?
My father made the initial decision to export. At that point in time it was largely driven by an interest in travel and the world. There was also an element of ‘why not?’

We are far more strategic in our decisions regarding where to go these days.

Why and how did you choose your markets?  
Early markets were chosen largely through proximity. We started in New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, Singapore and Hong Kong. These were the focus for quite some time.

I have been running the business for the past 10 years and have looked to grow the business into the Middle East. I started in 1993 through a relationship with a local consultant. At that point in time people thought going to the Middle East was like going to another planet. Now we have 79 staff based there and it is a huge part of what we do.

We now focus on 3 main regions for further expansion. Asia, the Middle East and the UK.

What was your biggest obstacle and how did you work through it?
Probably the most consistent issue is the varying government regulatory requirements in every nation we deal with.  

As a consumer we are very supportive of governments having a team of people controlling the industry. Although we are not supportive of new rules being introduced where there is little value to the consumer but add great costs to the supply chain. In every country we deal with, changes are often made without looking at the value to the customer that really impact our costs. These changes are difficult to navigate and of course you have to be across all of them all of the time.

We have 12 full time people working in regulatory affairs within our organisation. Their job is to communicate with regulatory bodies and work with the different nations around the world.

In addition, having built my own team outside Australia has made an enormous difference to our growth and reputation outside of Australia.

The difference in language and culture is also very difficult to work around. Every country has its own unique quirks. Different communication styles and ways of doing business can be very challenging. Before entering a country for the first time I meet with international government offices to discuss cultural sensitives. I find it can be enormously helpful and you can really learn a lot through taking the time to do this.

What is it that you like most about exporting?
Whilst it’s a challenge it is also one of the things I enjoy the most, dealing with people from around the world and their different cultures. Every culture surprises me.  
Although the most satisfying thing about my business is helping people. I really believe we can make a difference in people’s lives. This can be through preventing skin burn or simply looking after the skin to give people added confidence.

We invest a lot of time in training our staff in selling, marketing and developing relationships. Seeing people grow through the business is a great feeling.  

What’s been the business result with exporting?
I believe that exporting has really helped us to raise the bar in every part of the business.

It has made us more complicated, but it means that we have a team that is working hard to ensure we are performing well across the world.

We are producing more, which means we invest more into research and development. It has raised the bar in innovation. Each country you deal with raises new challenges and new customer needs. That has helped us to develop products that we have been able to take global.

Not having reliance on any one country also makes us more sustainable. There are always ups and downs with any business. Exporting allows us to ride through those with greater ease.

Australia is still a very big part of our business, but we are on track to have our international division account for around 50% of Ego Pharm by 2020.

Our export growth for 2016 is sitting at 38% and we are anticipating a further 43% growth the following year.

What advice would you give to businesses thinking about exporting?
Make sure your business is robust. You need good quality attitude and processes throughout the entire business.

Consider your unique selling points for your customers. The stronger these are the stronger you will be in international business.

It will be challenging. But this is something you need to encourage staff to take on at all levels of the business.   

It is also important to talk to others. Finding out what others have done before you can help you to be far more strategic.

Why did you enter the GOVEA awards?
Initially we entered the GOVEA awards for the PR opportunity.

We have entered a number of times and have 4 awards. The previous awards were commendations and last year we won the category which we were extremely pleased about.

What has been the change, if any, to your business since receiving the award?
We find it is often difficult to find opportunities to really thank staff and be able to show something that has come from their hard work. I try to inspire staff to go above and beyond. Being able to share the award with them is invaluable. We used it immediately for internal marketing across the entire business. It is really nice to be able to share this with all staff and distributors and give us all something to really be proud of.

The result

Exporting has encouraged Ego Pharmaceuticals to raise the bar across all parts of the business. The team at Ego is constantly striving to ensure that their product is innovative, and that it delivers against the needs of their customers world-wide. They expect exports to account for around 50% of their business by 2020.

Ego Pharmaceuticals has used the Governor of Victoria Export Award as a way to build morale amongst staff and reward them for all their hard work.