Financial & Professional Services
An international outlook
As the Welsh Government’s Director for International Relations and Trade, Andrew Gwatkin is the first point of contact for businesses seeking a presence in Wales. It’s a position he’s held since 2015, when he moved back to Cardiff from Barcelona – ending a six-year spell as British Consul General.
The link between being “our man in Barcelona” and spearheading the Welsh Government’s drive to encourage inward investment may seem tenuous. But as Andrew explains, a Consul’s role involves a lot more than helping holidaymakers to replace mislaid passports.
“Working with business was a fundamental part of the job,” he says. “I was responsible for a UK Trade and Invest team, helping British companies who were exporting to that part of Spain, and also businesses from the region who were investing in the UK. That ability to spend time with a customer, understand their needs and then provide solutions is exactly what we do now on a daily basis.”
Andrew grew up in Cardiff and studied modern languages at university – he speaks fluent Italian and Spanish. Before joining the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he worked for a large multinational bank in London, Milan and Madrid.
He now leads a Trade and Investment team that can draw on a wide range of skills and talents. He says: “It’s really important to have people, as we do, with solid private-sector and public-sector experience, and who have worked with inward investors and exporters. We have people who are members of the Institute of Export, and have a long history of doing that sort of work in the commercial world. I also look after international relations for Welsh Government, which includes our 20 overseas offices and staff from all backgrounds.”
Investors’ needs are similarly diverse, and the Trade and Investment team take pride in offering a bespoke service. “Some businesses are looking for the right skills – often very specialist ones,” he says. “Or it can be about finding the right place, so we help with location search. Perhaps they need access to transport infrastructure, or linkage to a supply chain.
“There can be any number of things on their wish list, depending on what the company is trying to do. We’re genuinely flexible: we’re willing to adapt to their requirements and work to their timescales. We’ll always find a solution, and the process doesn’t end on the day they decide to come here. We’ll help them through their whole journey.”
He believes that one of the refreshing things about investing in Wales is the lack of bureaucracy and red tape. “Immediate and direct access to decision makers is a great benefit,” he says. “Welsh Government ministers are personally involved in many of our major projects, and some of the smaller ones as well. That’s really helpful, because if an investor can see there’s top-level support for their project, they have some assurance that it’s going to work out for them.
“They often need us to work quickly, and that’s when streamlined decision-making becomes even more important. A business will see an opportunity and want to go for it. They want to set themselves up in Wales and create employment now, not over five years. We have to accommodate their needs, whatever the nature of the project, and make sure it happens.”
Like a parent for whom every child is special, Andrew is reluctant to single out any of Wales Trade and Investment’s many success stories. But he is obviously – and justifiably – pleased about Aston Martin Lagonda’s decision to begin manufacturing in St Athan, near Cardiff Airport, in 2019. He says: “Everyone in the team is delighted they made the decision to come to Wales. It’s fantastic for us and for Wales, and for Aston as well.
“However, I’m also really impressed by the significant contribution that small and medium-sized businesses make to the Welsh economy. We have some amazing exporters, and it’s great to see them enjoying so much success in winning business overseas.”
And although his career has taken him all over the world – and still does, on international trade missions – he is delighted to be living in Cardiff again. “A fantastic element of coming back to Wales is that I can get out on my bike,” he says. “I love cycling and usually ride to work. When I leave the office I can ride on beautiful trails across the hills, in the fresh air, all the way home. It makes a huge difference to my work-life balance.”