It was a truly magnificent invention. For months the American engineers had honed the design; and now their Chinese partners, after several months of toil and thought, had brought forth the prototype. With no undue pride, the Chinese packed up their model and shipped it back to the company headquarters in the U.S. Then the tragedy of blunders began.
The Chinese shippers misspelled the name of the American company on the label. Further, they informed neither U.S. customs nor the home company that this precious cargo was on the way. Thus, when the prototype was unloaded onto Port Elizabeth’s docks, no one knew where to send it. It waited. And waited. Soon, an annoyed dock manager placed it in storage. Within 90 days it was legally deemed abandoned and stamped “General Order,” and by default became property of the U.S. government, which eventually set it up for auction.
A few days after the auction, the CEO of the company that had so laboriously created this new invention received a phone call. “Hello,” said the voice. “You don’t know me, but I recently purchased your prototype at a government auction and I thought it would be only fair to give you the first bid on buying it back.”
Grinding both teeth and pen, the CEO reached for his checkbook. Within the hour, he also called Lawrenceville’s Global Trade Academy and signed up many of his staff as students. Founded three years ago by veteran customs broker and international trade consultant Suzanne Richer, the Global Trade Academy, which is now headquartered on Gordon Avenue in Lawrenceville, is a bottom line answer for those seeking supply chain knowledge and aid.
To such firms, Richer offers an alternative tooutsourcing necessary expertise to expensive consultants or wallowing in more costly ignorance. Global Trade Academy clients learn to fish for themselves in foreign waters by training their staffs to handle many of the global transactions in house. GTA has published more than 35 text books, such as “Importing to the United States, an A to Z approach”; “Letters of Credit and Other Methods of Financing”; “Export Controls”; and C-PAT & Worldwide Cargo Security Programs.”
Courses and webinars are given in 19 U.S. cities plus six foreign countries on such topics as customs broker exam prep; strategic risk planning; writing a master contract or an export manual; managing cultural perspectives; and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The list goes on, solving problems most would-be exporters never dream of. Clients often say that just visiting the Academy’s site, www.learnatgta.com, made them aware of how much they needed to know.
The time could not be better for GTA’s training. On September 9 the SBA’s Office of Advocacy released its latest Global Entrepreneurship Index. The U.S. ranked third in overall entrepreneur performance but first of the 71 surveyed nations in “global aspirations” — businesses planning to establish international commerce or partnerships within the coming year. The U.S. was also ranked world leader in startup skills. (See www.sba.gov/advo/aug-sep10.pdf for the report.)
In central New Jersey, companies are being tantalized with tales of doubled profit expectations from firms partnering in former Soviet-bloc countries. Such examples have set companies casting about for new markets abroad. But as the GTA students learn, the road to foreign riches is not always smoothly paved.
“Our goal here,” says Richer, “is to give people the necessary training before they need it — before they run into disasters like that of the lost prototype.”
Richer grew up in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oaks with two educator parents. “It was they who taught me the importance of breaking information into bite-size, logical steps,” she says. After obtaining her economics bachelor’s from the University of Michigan in l984, Richer served seven years in the port of Detroit as a customs broker.
This simple-sounding title embraces one of the most demanding links in the supply chain. In theory, the customs broker makes sure the shipper’s goods move seamlessly though the port onto their next destination, in accord with all customs laws, regulations, and tariffs. Sounds simple, but as a lady of the docks Richer had to aggressively push agents, check manifests, and know every new regulation. And its loophole. She had to be an expert negotiator, trainer of shippers on the fly, and able to make obstinate truck drivers see it her way. All while knowing that every second spent with goods standing still means a lot of money lost.
Becoming a customs broker also requires a federal certification with an exam rivaling any state’s legal bar exam. It claims a 95 percent failure rate. The certification exam preparation is one of the Global Trade Academy’s most popular and intense courses.
After obtaining her master’s in economics from East Michigan University, Richer left the loading docks of Detroit for a few years in Osaka, Japan. “It truly gave me the other side of the supply chain, and differing styles of management,” says Richer. Upon her return Richer set up shop in the Princeton area, founding her own international trade consulting firm, Customs & Trade Solutions Inc., which is the parent company of GTA. For the last 13 years the firm has offered direct advice to all-size importers and exporters on compliance, cargo management, and security.
Most recently, clients come seeking aid concerning the federal government’s Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, (C-TPAT). This voluntary program connects U.S. importers with a U.S. customs supply chain security team that examines and suggests improvements in shipping methods. The benefit for the importer is supply chain efficiency, with swifter movement through the customs process.
This was exactly the sort of problem that made Richer create the Global Trade Academy as a new branch of her services. “I kept finding myself going over and over the same things with separate clients, and I actually began putting out the manuals 10 years ago,” she says. “Bringing the training into a more formalized, group setting seemed the best way to broadcast the necessary knowledge.”
Earlier this year Richer found a right hand in Susan Waskow, who acts as the school’s director of educational services. Waskow calls herself a blend of the Academy’s administration and registrar offices. Her days are spent haunting trade shows and visiting individual companies, drawing out the kinds of courses importers and exporters require. She then designs a course, determines whether it should be taught in the classroom, at one specific client’s office, or as a webinar.
The two women stand divided as to which method of training is currently gaining favor. Waskow notes an increasing demand for webinar training. “Companies have cut their training budgets to the bone,” she says. “The no-travel learning of the webinars offers a thrifty way to obtain information, such as the new FDA regulations, which employees need.” Richer agrees, but has experienced many companies and students coming to the academy’s personal, teacher-to-students training sessions. “It offers great networking opportunities,” she notes. “Besides, many of the topics, such as NAFTA and trade agreements are far too technical to digest on a webinar.”
But whether webinar, classroom, or brought to the client’s shop, Richer and Waskow keep the same step-by-step approach. Richer has cultivated a markedly high level, steady 10-person faculty along with various adjuncts, such as government officials, who all receive compensation for their expert efforts. Here is where one of Waskow’s many talents comes into play. Her unique professional blend of actor, stage director, producer, and sophisticated events planner in past careers has outfitted her well for designing the courses and getting everyone in place, ready to go at the right time.
Her flair for the dramatic brings the spark of interest to what otherwise might be the most soporific of experiences. “Fraud Practices is one thing,” she says, “but ‘Responsibilities & Compliance Issues for Exporters’ will, by itself, not keep students panting. I’m the audience advocate who helps the faculty learn how to put on a show and make sure it’s not sagging.”
In October the Global Trade Academy held an extensive webinar titled “Doing Business in India,” the first in a series focusing on an individual nation’s commerce. It follows the school’s trend of making its programs knowledge-specific and digestible. Often companies have, or are seeking to establish, an internal compliance executive, or a supply chain manager, says Richer. “These people and their teams are the ones we can offer the best training. The more understanding you hold in-house, the better you will be able to manage outside your doors.”
It all comes down to money, efficiency, and reputation. Even a short delay at the border can cost $1,000 in warehousing fees for a small container. Having one’s goods repeatedly arrive on time is priceless. Seeing to it that the supply chain runs smoothly is worth almost any investment. But as opportunities and profits for global trade grow exponentially, so do the complexities. Homeland Security, TOXA, International Air Transport, and FDA each add continual new layerings of restrictive regulations. Risk assessment plans are now required for many types of international shipping.
You could teach yourself all you need to know. But time, money, and logistics dictate getting some expert training from those who have been through it before.
Additionally, there comes the task of selecting the trustworthy, qualified agents on whom you depend. One must select the right customs broker for every port the goods pass through. Additional agents are needed to see the goods from the foreign source through to the foreign port. A capable freight handler will make sure that the cargo, once approved by customs, gets on the truck or airplane in good order and actually arrives at the right destination on time.
The process of taking your business into a foreign land with a different culture and laws is daunting, to say the least. But as Joanna Savvides, former director of the Greater Philadelphia World Center recently remarked, “With this economy, now is the time for us to start dumping our own cheap goods on foreign nations.”
The desire abroad for U.S. goods is great. But you cannot fax an anvil to Beijing. Old fashioned fulfillment is still the only way. And while the physical risks have greatly lessened, the necessity for expert training and preparation prior to any foreign quest remains the same.
#b#Customs and Trade Solutions Inc./Global Trade Academy#/b#, 32 Gordon Avenue, Lawrenceville 08648; 609-896-2020; fax, 609-896-2025. Suzanne Richer, president. Home page: www.learnatgta.com.