Looking Back While Looking Ahead as a Successful Exporter

Receiving the SBA’s Champion Exporter of the Year for 2008, it seemed like a good time to relate how I entered into the arena of international business. I write this for our young people considering a career as an American exporter. One of the most important decisions I made in my fledgling career was to move into Manhattan immediately after graduating from Rowan State University in New Jersey in 1979 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.  I got a cheap studio apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, and landed a job sorting mail for an export management company located on 5th Avenue and felt I was in heaven. As a child, I remember being mesmerized by the world map. I would stare at it for long periods of time trying to memorize the geography. I envisioned what it would be like to sit in these far away lands.

I was now employed by a company that did business in all these places. It did not matter I only played a minor role. I was involved in providing the world with American made products and that made me excited and full of pride.

By just doing a little more than what is expected, it is amazing what a difference it can make. In a matter of months, I was headhunted out of my job in New York City and on my way to work for a competitive Miami-based export management company in a sales management position in Asia.

My new boss and mentor was an incredible man. He spoke 7 languages fluently, was an engineer, designer and a natural salesman. He was a true citizen of the world with a never ending repertoire of spellbinding stories. Upon hiring me, he said I had two choices. I could be the sales manager for either the Asia/Pacific or the Middle East/Africa regions. I had just turned 23 years old and could not believe I had landed this opportunity. I did not have any basis from which to make an informed decision so I asked him what he would do. He said if I wanted to have fun, take the Asian position. That settled it for me: I told him Asia was mine.

I was instructed to obtain visas for each Asian country and to get numerous shots for every imaginable disease before starting my new position. Upon arriving to the office for my first day on the job, my heart was pounding. I was quickly called in the boss’ office for my first formal instructions.

He gave me an index box full of business cards and a large binder of the American manufactured product brochures that I would be selling. He then handed me an airline ticket that was about an inch thick for a trip that took me around the world and lasted for six months. My departure date was just three days away.

As his flight time was fast approaching, he suggested that I drive him to the airport so we could extend my “training” another 30 minutes. I was frantically asking questions as we drove up to the departure terminal at Miami International Airport. As he was getting out of the car, he told me “I think you can do this. That is why I hired you.”

As he turned away the last words of wisdom he imparted were: “Sink or swim.”

Many years later, I’m still “swimming,” and Asia continues to be an emphasis for my business.  And that’s what came to mind as I received the Champion exporter award in Washington.  It’s been a great ride, and if you want to be part of the challenging world of exports, I urge you to make it a career.  And have some fun.

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