Belfast Telegraph

Our man in Canada

Tom Savage never forgot his roots even when promoted to a position as a senior officer of the giant

International Telephone and Telegraph Corp. Rodney Porter profiles the first chairman of the Northern

Ireland Partnership in Canada and ...

Ireland Partnership in Canada and ...

TOM Savage left his native Belfast more than 40 years ago to seek his fortune in Canada.

A former soldier, he arrived in Toronto on a spring day in April 1952, hoping to find a job in the industrialengineering sector.

Toronto in those days was brimming with opportunity and bustling with European immigrants, many from theBritish Isles, and he began his new life as a trainee industrial engineer with Dunlop.

Mr Savage focused on the management ladder, and, as his engineering skills lessened, his leadership skillsblossomed. Eventually, he joined the ITT Corp (International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation) as astaff executive, working as an in-house consultant in manufacturing and distribution.

In 1993, he retired from the position of chairman and president of ITT Canada and senior officer of ITTCorp.

Many Ulster emigrants never look back. Mr Savage however is an exception.

In 1984, he became the first chairman of the Northern Ireland Partnership in Canada - the internationalBelfast-based body set up to promote Northern Ireland's economic welfare.

The NIP was formed in 1980 under the chairmanship of Northern Bank chairman Sir Desmond Lorimer.

Other partnerships quickly spread throughout Britain, and the first branch outside the UK was set up inToronto four years later.

My personal reason for being involved in the Partnership is that I still care about the country I came from andwould like to help wherever I can."

"Given the circumstances during the Troubles when the Partnership first started, I really felt it was essentialto make sure the economy and business activity in the North stayed strong."

The organisation now has branches in Australia, New Zealand, United States, Hong Kong and the Middle andFar East.

All the Partnership's members have a connection to Northern Ireland. Most are originally from Ulster and therest have 'married' into it.

"None of the members ever asked another 'what are your politics?, what is your religion?', yet despite theirmixed backgrounds, they came together to make their contribution to the economic well-being of NorthernIreland.

"They formed the Partnership to help the Northern Ireland Industrial Development Board hold the economytogether by showing that Northern Ireland was a good place to invest.'Mr Savage said peace has heralded a greater interest in Northern Ireland, breathing new life into the Torontochapter. He points to the reaction to Ledu's Make It Back Home, initiative which was piloted in Toronto. Itaims to woo ex- patriates back to the province to invest in businesses.

The response was overwhelming. Instead of the expected 40-50 people, over 200 ex-pats turned out.

"There's definitely been a great deal of difference in attitudes to business opportunities in Northern Ireland inone year of peace,' said Mr Savage.

Currently there are about 78 professionals and business people in the Canada's NIP, predominantly located inthe province of Ontario, where Toronto is the capital and manufacturing heartland of the country.

The IDB's annual report, released last week, shows that the Partnership is playing a greater role than everbefore.

Membership internationally grew from 915 to 953 members in 1994/ 5, and participated in 246 visits to theprovince.

Last year, the NIP brought eight potential investment leads to the agency.

The IDB usually identify a potential investor in Canada or hear of a Canadian company thinking of looking atthe European market. If the agency want to approach that company, then one of the first places of contact isthe Canadian Partnership.

"We will then look to see who in the Partnership may have direct personal or professional links with thatparticular company to make the introduction and open the doors for the IDB to talk to them," said MrSavage.

A practical example of how the NIP works is the instance of a large, un-named international insurancecompany. The IDB had heard that they wanted to re-locate their back-office operation (paperwork andadministration) out of the current expensive, downtown Toronto location.

One of the American branches of the company had its back-office in the Irish Republic, so the IDB hoped toattract the new Canadian back-office to Northern Ireland.

The IDB in Chicago approached the Canadian NIP through Mr Savage, asking if he could arrange anintroduction to the company.

He was able to personally introduce an IDB representative to the insurance company's vice-president whohad the re-location assignment.

Export and import between Canada and Northern Ireland has been negligible over the years, since the IDBwas mainly focusing on green field investment. Gradually this is starting to change.

Tom Savage said he saw the initial reluctance towards export and import as there was no full- time personappointed in Canada due to IDB's preference to concentrate on the bigger US market. This resulted in theAmerican NIP being restructured into a commercial organisation.

He added: "I still have the strong belief that it doesn't matter how you enlarge the economy -you shouldwork on all aspects including export and import'.

This bears a particular relevance to Canada as 40-50% of the large companies in Canada are ownedexternally. Where they locate internationally has little Canadian input. After large Canadian companies, likeNorthern Telecom, Bombardier and CAE, there are a whole assortment of small to medium-sized companiesto whom export and import has a greater economic importance.

"I feel a better interface between Canadian companies and Northern Ireland would be in terms of export,import, technology exchange, technology transfer and sharing of licences - technological or manufacturing.

Until recently, there was no one to deal with the issue.

"Now exporting associations in Canada want to talk to me about developing interaction and new business inNorthern Ireland and particularly in the border counties," said Mr Savage.

Success of the NIPs throughout the world is impossible to measure given that the Partnership reacts to IDBrequests and no attempt is made to track the results. However, the IDB itself has had notable success inattracting new investment to Northern Ireland.

Mr Savage is nearing the end of his tenure as chairman, and plans are now underway for Torontobusinessman Michael Harrnett to take over.

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