It all seems so deceptively simple — like a concert maestro who draws forth a remarkable symphony with the gentle lift of a baton. Seated in the quiet of his noticeably uncluttered office on 17 Hulfish Street, Christian Torske picks up the phone.
He calls a few old friends in China. He talks to a few new ones in the Midwest, and in California. Then a quick E-mail explains the familiar details to his trusted freight handler, and with that, the composition begins to come together. Torske’s is the orchestration of hundreds of people and thousands of tons of materials that will span the globe to their precise destination, without his ever laying eyes on them.
Somewhere in a Chinese chemical factory, the chief engineer gets the order and switches the line to process Vitamin C. Workers prepare and bag the powder into 25 kg cartons, which run about $11.50/kg in the open market. At the loading dock, other workers fill crates and heft them into waiting 18-ton container trucks. When the prescribed 10 containers carrying this shipment’s 180 tons of Vitamin C packets are loaded up, the trucks wheel them over Chinese roadways to the port of Shanghai, where tall cranes load them onto waiting freighters.
If problems arise, Torske’s agent stands on hand to cover it. Once hoisted aboard, the 20-by-8-foot containers of Vitamin C can expect a surprisingly smooth ride across the Pacific. Even though they might be stacked six high, Torske claims that a container gets washed over or experiences major water damage less than 1 percent of the time.
As the cargo enters the port of New York, the designated freight handler will swiftly ease the loads from dockside inspection to roadway — a process achieved today in high-tech fashion and completely remotely. Out on the interstates, the U.S. drivers know their routes and delivery times exactly. They log in and are constantly tracked by their central office, which informs Torske in case of some infrequent irregularity.
Just in time, the Vitamin C arrives at megavitamin company GNC’s plant, where it is processed into human-size doses. Other trucks, carrying vitamins A, E, or D3, will deliver the material to pre-mixers. They will produce ingredients for Tyson or one of the nation’s other five largest meat producers, who will use these meticulously compounded feed pre-mixes for chickens, cattle, or hogs. A call then goes out to Torske’s Hulfish Street office, thanking him for smooth delivery, and placing another order.
The company through which these things seamlessly flow is DVA America, the newest division of German commercial trading giant DVA International GMBh. Beginning 40 years ago in Torske’s hometown of Hamburg, DVA now boasts 15 global offices from Paraguay to the Ukraine linking suppliers and business customers in 60 countries. Revenues are reported well into the 500-million-Euro range. DVA’s motto of “Just What You Need” includes a “specialties” menu ranging from crop protection, pharmaceuticals, food, and feed additives, to steel and plastics. Yet despite the enormity of its reach, DVA likes to run lean.
At this point, DVA America is entirely Christian Torske. He is president and sole staff member. It remains, in fact, somewhat vague as to how much DVA’s entrance into Princeton this past August was an attempt to stake out an American presence and how much merely to recruit Torske’s talents. Either way, for the short time DVA America has been up and running, the trades have been streaming in, and the market’s already expanding.
“We are looking to hire a few other people,” says Torske, “Particularly some sales professionals.” He uses the term “professionals” as a warning to applicants. Individuals who join this elite force must be able to comfortably and capably negotiate with senior executives from the likes of $26.6-billion meat producer Tyson Foods and $1.6-billion vitamin magnate GNC Corporation. It is no league for mere sales reps.
But such well-appointed offices are very much the commercial milieu for Torske. A 30-year master of his distribution trade, it all began with a wanderlust. Torske’s family for generations tended its farm along the German/Polish border, and even when his parents moved to Hamburg, their jobs kept them fairly homebound. “But I always loved to travel,” he recalls. “So as I began to reach the age of choices, I realized I needed a career that would take me to foreign places.”
Torske entered the German Institute of Foreign Trade in Hamburg, where three days a week were spent on academics and the remainder of the week out in the field, as an intern with trading and distribution company Helm AG. His internship was to nurture his expertise for more than three decades.
After honing his craft for 10 years at the Hamburg headquarters, making the right friends, learning the logistics, the young Torske was sent to head Helm New York Inc. in Piscataway. Here, as president, he rolled out a steady, methodical continuum of trades, gained trust, and with a markedly small staff brought in annual revenues of more than $100 million. From 30 nations, Helm delivered to an ever-expanding list of clients. Neomycin sulfate and other veterinary raw materials, folic acid and lysine for animal feed, calcium ascorbate and vitamin B12 for human pharmaceuticals, and even aroma chemicals — Torske, visited, made the contacts and gained the contracts with producers all around the globe.
This is exactly the walking, worldwide Rolodex of personal partners and friends that DVA sought when they approached Torske. “It is a small world,” he says. “The owners and staff and I have known each other for a long while. For me, the move has been very natural.”
For DVA, opening the Hulfish Street office holds the potential to gain an accomplished master as well as a new range of clients. Torske admits that while DVA’s owners have always had a particular affinity for the Nassau Inn, the fact that the firm now has a presence in America’s pharmaceutical capital indeed affected the location decision.
Torske makes typically five strategic visits across the globe each year. About 80 percent of his raw chemical suppliers lie in China. India provides much of the remainder. Mexico and Brazil handle other sources. These lands are not known for easy ground transport or sea cargo shipping. Shortages in supply can bring sudden breaks in the chain, interrupting long-term orders for companies, like meat producers, who cannot wait.
“Well, of course, you always plan backups for such situations,” says Torske calmly, “but during the Olympics, getting things across and out of China was fraught with delays.”
Transfer courses don’t necessarily run smoothly just because they reach the high-tech, highly mechanized ports of San Francisco or New York. Homeland Security has exponentially increased inspections and shipping regulations. Long is the list of chemicals deemed hazardous that now require costly tracking monitors installed in all transport vehicles.
To deal with the just-in-time production schedules of many clients, Torske must warehouse certain chemicals nearby in the U.S. Here it gets tricky. Factoring in the costs of production of unpurchased product, warehouse storage, shelf life, and current market trends begs the question: How much of each chemical do you put where?
And your estimation may make the difference between red ink or black.
For vitamin C, it’s a matter of storing tons that have come by sea. For more rarefied substances, like vitamin B-12, which costs 10 times as much and has come in by air to be doled out by the microgram into .1 percent capsules, it’s a whole different quandary.
Such are the decisions toward which Torske directs a lifetime of expertise. And through it all, he has retained his wanderlust. He ticks off the number of countries still on his list to visit, and tallies them against the list of locales he will visit in the upcoming months. “In China they have a saying: ‘You are either an old friend, or a new friend on the way to becoming an old one.’”
For the professional apprentice with his own wanderlust and warm personal sense, this might be a wise and fruitful team to join.
DVA America Corp, 17 Hulfish Street, Suite 200, Princeton 08542; 609-252-0049; fax, 609-252-0115. Christian Torske, president. Home page: www.dvagroup. com.