Cleveland Bridge Image1 Umi

We meet  Fin Farrelly, Marketing Manager from Cleveland Bridge who are a nominee for the Emerging Markets Exporter of the Year Award at the PD Ports Northern Powerhouse Export Awards 2020.

What does your company do? 

Cleveland Bridge are experts in civil and structural engineering, steel fabrication, project management, installation, construction and remedial services for steel bridges, buildings and structures – on any scale. 

When was your company launched, who by and why? 

Established in 1877 in the UK, Cleveland Bridge has a 150-year history of excellence in steel manufacturing and construction. The company has long been a global leader in technology-based engineering, construction and steel fabrication, responsible for many landmark steel structures, buildings and bridges around the world. In 1911 the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge and in 1932 the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. Many more milestone bridge projects followed, including the Forth Road Bridge in Edinburgh, the Bosphorus Bridge in Turkey and Hong Kong’s stunning Tsing Ma Bridge. 

How long has the company been exporting? 

In 1905, it built the iconic Victoria Falls Bridge over the Zambezi River, which was the major stepping stone for future export growth.  

What do you currently export, and where to? 

Cleveland Bridge is a name synonymous with landmark structural engineering projects around the world. For nearly 150 years we have been exporting our steel to construct some of the most iconic bridges and buildings in the world. 

Recently we have developed modular bridge designs that can be delivered as complete bridge kits to remote areas and then rapidly assembled on site. In the five years since we first developed this type of bridge and established our export strategy, we have installed more than 1,000 into key markets, including Sri Lanka and the Philippines. 

What motivated you to start selling overseas, and how long did it take? 

Throughout our history we have always exported, however in the last few years our traditional market for long span bridges has been eroded by significant macro factors as well as improved national competitors and larger global ones. Therefore, we have focussed on an export specific bridge in order to divest some of our sales from the UK. To achieve this we have utilised lean manufacturing principles and created a dedicated modular bridge production line in our factory. The implementation of continuous improvements and efficiencies, combined with the development of a product that is easy and affordable to ship and install, has delivered exceptional results, but it has taken up to 5 years.  

What is the easiest part of exporting? 

Taking it for granted, just because you have a successful business model today does not guarantee future success. Export growth is hard to achieve, so it is critical that as an organisation you continuously improve and challenge yourselves 

What is the export challenge you’re most proud of overcoming? How did you manage this? 

Competing within a global marketplace is always tough, as a UK manufacturer it is challenging to do this in a profitable way. Therefore we are specifically proud of the measures we have taken to reduce cost, improve process and product which has meant that today, the margins in our export business are 12-15% compared to the overall margins in our UK business of 5-10%. These profitably gains help to improve the competitiveness of our export business, enabling us to compete more effectively against global competitors for international projects. 

Did you get any support when you wanted to trade abroad? Who from, and how did it help you? 

We work with the governments of many countries to help secure funding for bridge projects from the World Bank, government export agencies such as UKEF and other similar organisations. We have worked especially closely with UK Export Finance to build exports of our UK produced goods and services, and we have identified new project opportunities for the coming years.  

What advice would you give to someone just starting to explore overseas markets? 

Choose your partners carefully, be collaborative, identify what support is available and do your research. 

Where next? What markets are you looking into and where do you see the company in five years’ time? 

In our highly successful new modular bridge market, we have seen rapid growth over the past three years. We have already delivered more than 1,000 bridges and we have a strong pipeline of new projects in different parts of the world. Future growth will focus on taking our products into new countries, which we are carefully targeting, as well as developing new beam and truss bridge products to meet different requirements. 

We are focusing on specific funding models and routes to market. Government funding is available for rural development projects in certain countries, and we are building partnerships on the ground in these key markets to develop our services and raise awareness of the capabilities of our bridges. We are already working with partners in Romania and Indonesia and have good prospects in Laos, Fiji and a number of African countries – introducing our bridges to areas where they are needed most.  

How do you feel about being shortlisted for the Northern Powerhouse Export Awards and what does it mean to your business?  

At Cleveland Bridge we are very proud of our Northern roots and our position as a large exporter, so this shortlist gives us vindication that we are doing the right things to represent the North on the world stage.  

Find out more about the awards at 

Amanda Armstrong
Article by Amanda Armstrong
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