July/August/September 2020

Culture, Community and Connections

GM Business Connect have recently caught up with Paul Whitnell, president of the British and Irish Trading Alliance (BITA). The membership organisation has been growing over the past few years, and recently has established a Manchester chapter chaired by Christiane Hutchinson. We asked Paul about BITA’s plans for the future and how they intend to fuel growth:

“We are ‘the people who know people that help people’, a motto that encapsulates our ethos, and one that makes our organisation truly unique. BITA promotes and grows our member businesses; successfully increasing trade, creating opportunities for business, and improving the relationship between the UK and Ireland. We want to help our members achieve their goals and work to create pipelines and opportunities for SMEs to work with our supporters and patrons who often head large multi-nationals, offering the right providers of labour, contractors and supplies.  I founded BITA in 2012, with a view to create a not-for-profit organisation that would work with businesses and business leaders closely, to offer advice and introductions.”

Everyone who has been a member for more than a couple of months knows Paul Whitnell, he is regularly heard making ‘ch, ch, ch’ noises to quiet the room at their packed events and always busy making introductions for different businesses. Far from having lots of time to socialise however, Paul usually has a packed diary filled with meetings and events to push BITA forward into their next stage, and to benefit member businesses.

“In a normal pre-pandemic week I used to travel around 5,000 miles, by train and car, and I can easily work 18 hours a day. Although I think I’ll be replacing a few of these with Zoom calls in the future! As we grow, I go further afield to keep up with what our chapters are doing, and I split my time hopping between England, Isle of Man, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. I want to make sure our members are getting the best from their membership and me, so when meeting with new businesses I make sure I promote them and our sponsors. Over the past year I’ve been lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time in Manchester where I’ve been working with Christiane Hutchinson and other board members to help set up their chapter of BITA.”

Paul will usually have three to four meetings a day forming connections, promoting member and sponsor businesses and signing up new members. He is passionate about ensuring their community gets value for money so he’ll also spend two days visiting a different area. Based in Kent, he makes sure that none of the chapters are neglected and ensures that they are well equipped to support their chapter members. It’s an incredibly busy life, and although there are enjoyable lunches and interesting meetings, Paul is keen to stress that under the fun is a strong business core with a very clear ethos. “What I’m most proud of with BITA, is that we can offer people something that wasn’t available when I arrived in the UK back in 2012.

“When I meet someone new to this country, or looking to expand their connections, it’s wonderful to be able to offer them the connections and community that we have built”; says Paul. “When I can clearly see the effect it has on their business, that’s what makes me proud. It can be difficult for people to know how to network effectively, and they can believe that knowledge is something that needs to be hoarded. Of course, in some instances this is right, but businesses that fail to share information about what they do and what they want, will miss out on opportunities. Sharing information is very powerful, especially when part of a community that wants to help others achieve their goals. 

Paul Whitnell, President, BITA

“With this in mind, we are pleased that our new initiative, the Procurement Hub, is steaming ahead. When launching BITA we intended to provide connectivity and business for our members, as well as a friendly community. We have achieved this, but we are always seeking to improve and provide greater value to our members. 

“Although BITA is not industry specific, we have started creating sector specific hubs of business, and we want our members to be able to use these to their best advantage by providing the framework for a supply chain that is interconnected and quality checked. Ultimately our members will be able to work together to create an alliance of businesses working collaboratively to access bigger contracts than they would be able to secure on their own. This will also create a so far untapped interconnected supply chain, able to offer full services to organisations struggling to fulfil their skill requirements.

“Our mission as an organisation is to offer a helping hand to people of both countries who are seeking new business, relocating, or adapting to cultural changes in either country. The Procurement Hub is the next stage of this mission and has the potential to provide organisations with a supply chain that will deliver savings, retain quality and fulfil skill requirements. Sharing information is crucial to the success of the Procurement Hub, and will lead to business growth for our members, but BITA is also about networking and enabling people to forge their own connections.”

Does Paul, the networker extraordinaire, have any tips to help people develop those business connections? Paul laughs; “People often want to burst into a room and spray their cards everywhere. I’ve had people tell me they’ve handed out 30 cards in 30 minutes; I tell them they won’t get a single person looking to connect with them. People worry about making first meetings count, especially as they may only have a few minutes with that person, but it can be a mistake to jump into business. I think the best way to network is to do two things; listen and understand. You don’t need to show everyone your business cards, you need to show them your personality. We all have shared interests, so find that thing that you’re both passionate about, whether it’s rugby or flower-arranging.

“Whatever happens you need to make sure that there is a relationship first, and a solid grounding, before you even think about talking business. If a person demonstrates integrity, passion, and generosity of spirit to our members and to BITA, then they’re going to do well in business as people will want to work with them. As BITA grows, it’s important that we offer the right resources for our members and adapt to their developing needs; it’s important that our members help us achieve this by telling us what they want. We want members to see and grab the opportunities that BITA presents.”


The BITA Manchester Chapter was started up last autumn by appointed Chair, Christiane Hutchinson, CEO of Biramis Management Partners. Since opening the chapter has enjoyed 6 regular networking events taking place on the second Thursday of every month at 5.30pm, in Brown’s Bar. With an attendance level of around 30 CEO’s, C-suite decision makers, the Manchester network has been growing from strength to strength. Christiane commented: “Manchester has a rich fabric of networks, hence the dynamism and fertile ground for business. Our Chapter has three streams and we are working on developing all three, as they are complementary in their outreach to our various communities:

Business:  We are connecting CEO’s and Business Owners from construction (a strong core within BITA as a whole), tech, financial and support professional services to those sectors, and not excluding any other sectors! We want to represent Manchester.

Education:  One of our Board Members is the University of Salford, and there is a program to support industry and education. Students looking for placements can tap into our networks.

CSR:  Our chosen charity is Barnabus, the homeless charity, working tirelessly in and around Manchester to reinsert homeless people into society.

“One of the unique differentiators about BITA as a local network is the international opening it offers businesses keen to go beyond the regional boundaries post Brexit. Our planned luncheon in the Brooklyn Hotel on 4th April attracted around 100 participants. Unfortunately, it had to be postponed due to the pandemic. We now have a provisional replacement date on 30th October. We are currently working on opening our Manchester BITA web page so we look forward to seeing you all soon!”

If you would like to learn more about BITA and membership, which is from only £250+VAT a year, please contact our head office on 07587 035740 or email laura@bita.ie, who will be available to answer any of your questions or to put you in touch with your Chapter Board or Paul.