TIM Harcourt’s titles and achievements are as numerous as his frequent flyer points and now the man better known as The Airport Economist is adding a new tome to his suitcase of top selling business books.
Landing on shelves in an airport near you in October, Harcourt describes Trading Places: The Airport Economist’s Guide to International Business as “The Lonely Planet for business travellers”.
In his new book Harcourt shares the lessons he has learned travelling the world as an adviser on international engagement to the Premier of South Australia, the J.W. Nevile Fellow in Economics at UNSW Business School, and the former Chief Economist of Austrade.
He will put his own advice to work this month as he travels to India and China with Jay Weatherill, the Premier of South Australia.
“We will be promoting South Australian tourism in Jaipur and we’re launching a young cricketer scholarship,” says the author who has visited 58 countries in the past five years.
Offering tips on the countries that have become his backyard, Harcourt says when considering opportunities in India you must be mindful that 50 per cent of the population is under 25
“So education, sports and fashion is very popular,” he advises.
As to waking the sleeping dragon, Harcourt says it’s much easier to do business in China than people think.
“More people lose money in America than China! Consider looking to second and third tier cities, which still have populations of around 15 million people. They are growing fast with plenty of urbanisation. Think construction, landscape gardening, education…” he says.
He also warns not to overplay the cultural issues.
“Even if you don’t speak Chinese it doesn’t mean you won’t be good. You just need to have a good niche, product,” Harcourt says. “But be realistic. Just because it’s China, you’re not going to suddenly sell 1.3 billion pairs of socks.”
Harcourt says that to succeed overseas you can’t rely on luck.
“There is no trick to finding opportunities,” he says. “Be well prepared, flexible and do your homework. Don’t be afraid to ask for government help too.”
Preparation is key he says but adds that being flexible is also important. “Try not to overcook your strategic plan,” he says.
“Innovation often comes from random thought. Over-thinking can hinder action. Get out there, try things and do it!”
Harcourt says there are some great examples of Australian companies going gangbusters overseas and specifically taking advantage of the rapid urbanisation of China.
“Adelaide film maker Scott Hicks is a great example of someone who has backed himself and gone international yet stayed true to his local environment,” he says.
Harcourt credits his international outlook to his family and his upbringing in Adelaide, South Australia.
Harcourt’s father, a high profile economist at The University of Adelaide and Cambridge University and government economic adviser, was from a lineage of Eastern European Jewish refugees. Harcourt’s mother, who ran for parliament in 1968, a trailblazer for women’s politics, came from a mixed French, Scottish, Irish and English family.
“Because I’m from such a mixed background, ironically I’ve always felt 100 per cent Australian,” he laughs. “From an early age I wanted to represent Australia, and I also wanted to work for the Australian Council of Trade Unions.”
He later went on to achieve both and those formative influences inspire him today. “What drives my enthusiasm for economics is making sure that globalisation and trade benefits ordinary people,” he says.
He learned his first international lessons at The University of Adelaide.
“Many of the students I lived with were from Singapore and Malaysia. They were very smart at maths and econometrics and helped me get good marks!” he jokes. Harcourt went on to become a prized scholar at Adelaide, then Minnesota and Harvard University, but he credits those friends for enlightening his interest in South East Asia.
With a good story, and country specific practical tips Harcourt says that Trading Places will help businesspeople wanting to take the next step in international business get started.
“I hope people reading it will become more knowledgeable about the world and more confident about going offshore. They may even have a laugh at the same time!”