Introducing the new British Consul in Lisbon

in News · 08-03-2008 00:00:00 · 0 Comments
Introducing the new British Consul in Lisbon

Earlier this week The Portugal News spoke to the newly-appointed British Consul in Lisbon to discover more of the man and get an insight as to what happens behind the scenes at the consular services operations in the capital.

Mark Crathorne, by his own admission, is among the first of a new breed employed to represent the interests of Britain abroad.
While he has limited experience in the diplomatic field, this is more than compensated for with the wealth of knowledge he has obtained as a businessman in Portugal the past two decades. Besides, the foreign and commonwealth office appeared to be looking for someone with Mr Crathorne’s profile.
Appointed as Consul at the beginning of the year, Mark Crathorne exudes enthusiasm over his new role, which he terms the “pinnacle” of his career.
On a guided tour through the consular service section located within the British Embassy, the Consul was unable to conceal his pride as he introduced each member of the consular service and their specific functions.
But with no political experience, how does he explain his appointment as Consul?
“My core competences on a management level and the fact that I work and live in Portugal fitted in with the profile the foreign and commonwealth office were looking for”, he explains.
“I brought together knowledge of the country, the people and the British community along with my experience as a manager”, he adds, while stressing: “I know what British nationals look for when they are abroad”.
He further admits to being confident that he would file a successful application for the job.
“To be absolutely straight, it did not come as a complete surprise. I came from a unique background, in that I unite several experiences that the FCO were looking for.
“But there was fierce competition and this was also the first occasion in a long, long time that a locally-engaged person has been appointed as Consul in Lisbon.
“The FCO were looking for someone who can be a manager, someone who can employ management experience”, he explains.
The Consul’s experience in this area is notable, and it is easy to understand why the FCO accepted Mr Crathorne’s application.
Since leaving the UK 25 years ago, his career has taken him to New Zealand, Canada and Brazil, before finally settling in Portugal in 1989.
He started his career with a leading property management company in Britain before moving on to work for four years in Brazil as a manager for a large agribusiness multinational.
He was a management consultant for 12 years to service and manufacturing industries in Portugal and Spain, and managing director of two companies in Portugal while also having worked in the services sector including the hotel industry and tourism.
He also served as a volunteer on the board of three British organisations in Portugal (British Portuguese Chamber of Commerce, British Retirement Home and the British Historical Society.)
Mark Crathorne also stresses his loyalty to Portugal, saying: “I am committed to the country as my wife is Portuguese” and his children attend Portuguese schools in Lisbon.
Another obvious quality the new Consul has is that by his own admission, he “knows Portugal, its culture, its history, customs and the people” and is fully bilingual.
“By having already relocated to Portugal, it enables me to understand the needs of British residents here in Portugal”, he argues.
The Consul also praises what he terms the strategic sense of direction that comes out of London and the sense of belonging to something great, especially when it is borne in mind the consular service network spans 260 embassies and consulates worldwide in over 140 countries and employs 16,000 people across the globe.
Is the Consul here for the long-haul?
“To start with, which is quite common, I have been handed a short-term contract”.
Though he is optimistic that his employers will offer him the opportunity to receive a permanent contract and believes this will in part be due to the extremely clear guidance from Madrid, which is the headquarters of Iberian consular operations, led by the Director General Consular Services Iberia, Michael John Holloway, whom Mr Crathorne holds in high regard and praised his qualities as a leader, motivator and his boundless energy.
In truth, he sees himself as Consul in ten years time, confident that he will be able to live up to the strict appraisal system employed by the FCO to assess its workers.
“The FCO is becoming more like a business where performance is tangibly measured”, he explains.
But coupled with the “support from the Ambassador in Lisbon and a mature and professional team and the resources to conduct the job in a professional way”, the Consul believes he will succeed in achieving the objectives set out for him and those he has set for himself.
Most importantly, it seems, and what is an age-old recipe for success in a career, is Mr Crathorne’s emphatic announcement: “I am enjoying the job.”
“I have found my niche”, he says of his new role, “I have brought in a varied background, as opposed to someone who has come up through the diplomatic ladder.”
The FCO also seems intent to make future appointments abroad as “local” as possible.
“Localisation is the key word”, explains the Consul.
“Many of the staff members are locally-engaged. Having employees specific to the country, who know the environment in which they work, avoids the FCO from moving staff every three or four years, which is a costly exercise.”
Speaking of Ambassador Alexander Ellis, who handed in his credentials only last November, the Consul could not be more complimentary: “We are very fortunate as a team of over 70 in Portugal to have an Ambassador who is dynamic, young, who even reads Eça de Queiroz, and who has also worked with a past prime minister of Portugal on a day-to-day basis. He is a motivating and charismatic leader and has cut across barriers to unite a varied team and also leads by example.
“We know our Ambassador. He is a good man manager and hopefully we can have a few years of working together”, says Mr Crathorne.
Concerning the consular services, Mr Crathorne says:
“Consular operations are here to assist British nationals, both those living here and those visiting. That is our business.
“These services are here to support the British national abroad. We have an obligation and challenge to produce a fast, efficient and friendly service to the British citizen.
Quoting a Whitehall objective, the Consul says his team have “to be fast, flexible and focussed for the 21st century. It’s all about customer satisfaction.”
Has the amalgamation in Iberia worked, with Madrid becoming the centre of operations?
“Definitely. I think from a practical point of view we can now produce a faster and more efficient service, a classic example being passport production.
“Iberia is responsible for the emission of 22,000 passports a year which is five percent of the world total and is the seventh largest in the world”, he explains.
“All the consulates have gained from the fact that we have centralised operations. The issuing of passports is taking the same time now (two weeks)”, though Mr Crathorne predicts this period could be cut in the foreseeable future.
As for complaints, especially from Britons living in Portugal due to the changeover, the Consul believes they might have been due to misunderstandings or lack of information.
At the offices of the British Consulate in Lisbon, staff deal with five or six cases a month concerning stolen passports, while a further 1,200 visa applications are dealt with in the Portuguese capital each year.
“It was an eye-opener to see what the needs of British citizens are”, says the Consul of his first eight weeks at the consulate.
“Many inquiries are about living in Portugal, notary acts, issuing of birth and death certificates, or pension queries. Then there is case work, where British nationals need assistance, which includes sudden hospitalisation, being detained, missing persons, accidents and worst case, death”.
The role of the British Consul in Lisbon embraces the management of the Lisbon consular operation and three Honorary Consulates in Oporto, Madeira and the Azores. The job also entails the management of ten people, liaison with government authorities and other embassies, and managing large-scale events, such as football matches.
“I am also involved in the modernisation and change management of the consular operation to ensure consistency with the rest of the Iberian network”, he adds.
Mr Crathorne also deals with supporting residents and their community organisations, for which he has endless praise.
“In Portugal, we have over 40 organisations”, he says, adding: “We must be the only nation that can produce so many volunteers.”
British authorities estimate there are 60,000 Britons resident in Portugal, “though that is probably under-estimated”, says the Consul.
He also revealed that the FCO is to launch a new service known as ‘Locate’ whereby residents can register in order to assist consular services to rapidly contact a person in the event of an emergency.
“But as there is no legal obligation, only about six thousand residents are registered in Portugal.”
The British Consul’s enthusiasm once again bubbles over when asked to describe his experience as Consul the past two months.
“It has been extremely stimulating, varied and all-embracing. It is an honour to serve one’s country, while it is a stimulating and agreeable place to work.”
Brendan de Beer


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