Marjolein Coonen, Coordinator at Export Development Canada
How long have you worked in International Trade & Investment?
I have been working in International Trade and Investment for approximately 4 years. I currently work at the Canadian Consulate in Sydney as a Coordinator at Export Development Canada (EDC), Canada’s export credit agency and provider of financial and risk mitigation solutions.
How did you get into the sector?
I am Dutch and work for the Canadians in Sydney. People ask me all the time how that happened… My degree in International Relations at the London School of Economics exposed me to the theory of IR and international trade. However, the international environment of the university motivated me most to seek a career in a multicultural context.
Having previously studied at the University of Sydney as part of an exchange program, my dream was to come back to Australia someday to work. After graduating I moved to Australia and started at the Delegation of the EU to Australia in Canberra, where I was a trainee at the Trade and Economics section.
Then I moved to Sydney and applied for roles at commercial sections at various Consulates. I was fortunate to be selected by the Canadian Consulate to join their trade team on a temporary basis. I moved on to a new position at the Austrian Trade Commission where again I focused on trade in (timber) construction. Since 2017 I rejoined the Canadian Consulate in my current role.
What do you think are the biggest challenges of working in international business?
One thing that I learned over the years is that you need to be very versatile, e.g. you need to quickly learn about developments in various industries in Australia and the home country you represent (in my case Canada). In my current job I focus on various sectors, namely O&G, Mining, Power and Infrastructure (mostly renewable power generation). In a rapidly changing environment, you’ll need to keep up your knowledge on developments and projects in these industries to identify opportunities for Canadian businesses. You’ll learn most on the job by talking to industry professionals, clients and by expanding your knowledge and network by attending meetings and conferences.
Depending on what country you work for in Australia, be prepared for many phone calls very early or late in your day. I experience the extreme version of this, as Sydney is between 14 to 16 hours ahead of Ottawa, Ontario.
Do you have any funny stories to share from your experience working across different cultures?
We launched our EDC Sydney office in November 2017 (the 20th internal representative office for EDC) which was the first time for me to meet the Headquartered based senior executive team. What I love about Sydney is the beach culture and the casual attitude of Australians. Coming from a snowy Canada, my colleagues jumped feet first and embraced this culture fully.
What do you enjoy the most about your current role?
Working for a financial organisation makes me look at international trade from a new angle. There are many things for me to learn in trade finance, and EDC provides training to meet your objectives and to progress in your career. Being challenged every day keeps me motivated.
The role is varied with a multitude of tasks to keep things very interesting: meet with clients to identify financial needs and interest in Canadian solutions or technology, conduct desk research to gain market intel, work on planning executive visits, attend sector focused events to meet with experts in the field, amongst other things. Accompanying Canadian companies on trade missions and matchmaking events across Australia is also interesting, as you get to meet many new people and to learn about industry trends and new technologies first hand.
I love working together with my colleagues at EDC’s offices across the world. EDC’s presence in Sydney consists of a team of two (myself and my colleague), however we are working closely on deals with our Ottawa and Singapore based teams. The annual employee conference held in Canada each February is a great way to engage with everyone face to face, which I am excited about, despite the crazy winter temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius!
In your opinion, how can one best succeed in a career of international business?
Staying up to date on market developments is key, so make sure you read the papers and subscribe to news outlets. You also learn by engaging with industry professionals at networking events, webinars and conferences.
Speaking multiple languages is definitely a bonus and having a mentor within your organisation who is willing to share experiences and knowledge is very valuable.
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