Opportunities NB (ONB) is a culture-driven organization; it is our people that drive our success. Our team is passionate, confident, well-informed, and driven by seeing New Brunswick companies succeed.
Suzanne Turmel and Steve Kelly are shining examples of what our team brings to the table. This spring, both Suzanne and Steve are retiring, each with over 30 years of experience working for the Province of New Brunswick.
Suzanne retires from her final role with ONB as Director of Export Development. Her accomplishments include leading several Atlantic Outreach programs with Premiers across Canada, the US, Brazil, Europe, and China. ‘Success is in the details’ is her motto, and she has received several accolades from industry and government leaders for her hard work, dedication, and commitment to New Brunswick companies.
Steve leaves the role of Export Development Executive, ending a career in economic development that spanned three decades most notably as the ICT Trade Officer for 25 years. From supporting our ICT sector, defense industry, mining, and craft sectors to his latest assignment supporting our building and construction and cleantech sectors, Steve has helped hundreds of NB companies build their businesses.
Ahead of their retirements, we sat down with them to discuss their work, what makes successful New Brunswick exporters, and more.
ONB: With your years of experience in mind, what advice would offer someone looking to start a career in our line of work?
Steve: I was given very good advice early from someone in government that worked in this world – get some experience in industry first.
I worked for companies like NB Tel, Bell Canada, and others – all great ICT jobs that provided valuable experience. My first foray into manufacturing was with a company that made truck bodies. They wanted to sell in New England and that process really introduced me to how the public sector works with companies. That experience all prepared me for this role in export development, which I have enjoyed for 33 years now.
Beyond that, be a team player, because this role requires a ton of collaboration with industry, your own team, and a slew of public sector partners. This type of role is what you make of it, so bring a sense of creativity and individuality to the role.
Suzanne: Find your passion, and if this type of work appeals to you, you can have a very rewarding career in it. Loving what you do and having a passion for the work brings out the creativity and individuality that Steve affirms you need to make the role your own.
There is no real rulebook to the business of trade facilitation; there are many best practices and proven models of course, but every sector and every company has its own story. Be ready to persevere because this is often about the long game. Success in this world doesn’t take place overnight. Sometimes, it’s years before you see a client get that big overseas deal.
Since you began your career in exports, what do you feel has changed the most in that world?
Suzanne: Export promotion used to be the name of the game. Our role involved putting together promotional programming and collateral and getting our companies to market. Trade shows and missions would focus on promoting companies, rather straightforward sales and marketing stuff. Over the past few years, my team has evolved to become business development experts. The promotional work is still there, but we’re now a long-term resource for our exporting companies. We help them prepare for negotiations because deals are the desired outcome. Simply put, the job has become more complex and challenging, but more rewarding too. We are a long-term partner for New Brunswick businesses now, and like them, we’re in it to win it.
This past year produced the single most profound change I’ve witnessed. Nothing has transformed the business of trade like this pandemic. When everyone first shut down in the face of COVID-19, we did not know that 14 months later we’d still be talking so much about and only doing virtual trade. Last March we had to re-think how to support our companies when we can no longer get them physically in front of clients in Germany, or New York, or Boston. We have had to become much more focused on companies crafting a top-notch online presence and engaged in the right e-commerce projects. This evolution towards doing business in an online world is not going away even after the pandemic. Face-to-face interaction will return and remain important, but I do think having a winning online presence is going to stay essential to doing trade internationally.
Steve: Suzanne covered COVID which has indeed been a major transformative event, so I will highlight the change the World Wide Web brought in the 1990s. Nothing tops the internet in terms of remaking the world of trade. Yes, it’s the speed and efficiency of things like email, but it’s also the ability companies now have to do more of their own market research and intel. Things are just a click away. Free trade agreements, the Web, and the resulting globalization has made our exporters become more competitive because they had to.
What have you noticed makes for a successful NB exporter? Any common denominator(s)?
Steve: A strong domestic market base is typically a precursor to successful expansion into new jurisdictions. Strong leadership from the top too – and by that, I mean leadership that is committed to putting real resources towards developing new markets, not simply attending a trade show and hoping something comes of it. It’s also about a willingness to make a long-term investment. These things take time, every successful exporter will tell you it’s about learning the culture of target markets, familiarizing yourself with the logistics, the customs, the business environment, and everything in between. You will likely need to make several trips before you’re signing deals.
Suzanne: Yes, it’s about having that growth mindset and recognizing there are no shortcuts. I would add that successful exporters are also all innovative thinkers and are willing to take risks to reach the next level. The companies we have seen succeed in international markets have all fully understood the level of time commitment needed and understood the risks of entering new markets and were ready to handle those risks.
Do you have any favourite export success stories or career moments?
Suzanne: It’s been the best job; I’ve been deeply involved with many business-purpose trips made by Ministers and Premiers and that has taken me to places and events that I never would have imagined. I have so many great moments with business reps while in-market, helping them meet new partners and clients, hone their company stories, and making sure everyone’s schedules are full and rewarding. When you travel frequently with these entrepreneurs you uncover so much about them as leaders and as people.
Off the top of my head, I recall a trade mission to China with one gentleman. He got messaged by a potential buyer, a great contact who wanted to meet right away. We jumped into a cab in Shanghai determined to take the meeting and make a fabulous impression. Immediately, we started rehearsing his pitch right there during the cab ride. And I was really drilling him because I have a vested interest in these people and their success. It’s great to watch them tell their story with confidence. It’s thrilling to help someone in a moment like that and to be there as their rock of support, their cheerleader, and to lend a vote of confidence to a serious potential buyer. That’s just one story among many; it’s truly been a great journey.
Steve: I have spoken to our counterparts in places like Ontario and I can tell you that we really do know our companies intimately compared to colleagues from other jurisdictions. What Suzanne describes really is something unique to New Brunswick; other companies don’t get the same level of care everywhere.
I would single out being around for the flourishing of our ICT sector and working with the companies that came about at that time, many of which are still around today. I was able to work with our CEO Sadie Perron in creating an NB ICT Association, helped develop the province’s e-learning cluster, and mapped NB’s early ICT sector capabilities. We accompanied a lot of great entrepreneurs to some of the biggest shows in the world, from Los Angeles to New York to Hannover, Germany.
That trip was probably my favourite experience as it was my first time in Europe. It was the ICT World Fair and we were fortunate to be part of the Canadian Pavilion. An incredible experience top to bottom, not just the show but the world-class treatment we received was incredible.
If you could describe your career in three words what would they be?
Steve: Work, life, balance.
Suzanne: Work, passion, commitment!