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The export awards season recognises the hard work and commitment Australians have to this industry, and casts the spotlight on some lesser-known export stars. Writes Ian Murray.

November is always a good time of the year to be involved in export because it’s the export awards season. All states and territories in Australia go through the process of judging excellence from what is usually a very large field of entrants in a wide range of categories. State category winners then go through to the national awards run by Austrade and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Although I’ve been involved in the awards for over six years, I will never fail to be amazed how good Australian companies are at capturing and hanging on to valuable export markets in every conceivable field you can imagine. And not only are these companies good at it, the people who drive the export business love it! They are without doubt some of the most courageous business people around because they take on the best the world has to offer and win, and keep on winning.

But becoming a success on the international stage is not easy. Most top exporters spend time away from home, often in far flung parts of the world, driving deals and working the market. The amazing part about it is that more often than not, they keep at it, sometimes for years.

Back in 1997 the huge contribution of these dedicated Australian’s commenced being recognised through the Australian Export Hero Awards. Aimed at individuals not companies, the awards, run by the Australian Institute of Export, aim to showcase people who have demonstrated outstanding vision. Vision which results in making a significant and unique impact for their organisation and Australia in the international marketplace.

Since then, the Institute has recognized over forty men and women, some household names and many of whom few of us would know. But when you read though the register of the Australian Export Heroes Awards recipients, you cannot fail to be inspired.

Take for example Geoffrey Thompson. At the end of World War II, Geoffrey’s export activities commenced with the export of onions and potatoes from Warranambool to supply French troops stationed in Vietnam. Geoffrey built his reputation on reliability and integrity and on branding, having bags marked, "Shipped by Geoffrey Thompson & Co, Melbourne Australia". Since these humble beginnings in Warrnambool, Geoffrey’s company has shipped a wide variety of fruit and vegetables all over the world. And at last count, aged 89, he was still at it.

Two other Export Heroes I find quite amazing are Alf and Nadia Taylor, the husband and wife team that own and operate of a company called TNA Australia. Since 1982, Alf and Nadia have built TNA from a two person operation to a global leader in design and manufacture of vertical form fill and seal machines, used mainly in the snack foods market. Through tireless enthusiasm, TNA has captured over 40 percent of the available world market. If you speak to Alf he will tell you that "about 95 percent of our physical, human, psychological and dream time resources are all focused on the world market".

Finally, while people don’t always associate inbound tourism with export, but it is and it has become a very important earner for our country. One of the best examples of tourism success is BridgeClimb. Developed by Paul Cave, this has to be one of the finest business success stories anywhere in the world. And if there was ever a project or business driven by one totally dedicated person this has to be it. In 1998 Paul launched Bridgeclimb. In its first year 30 percent of bridge climbers were from overseas; today over 60 percent of climbers are from international origins.

In May next year, more Australian export achievers will be recognised at a ceremony at Government House in Brisbane. To me it’s simply great to be part of a program that puts the spotlight on those special people who play and win in one of the hardest games of all on the international stage.

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