Exporter Neal Asbury is on a Trade Mission
By Patrick Danner
Exporter Neal Asbury operates a Weston company that represents 40 American manufacturers in the commercial food service industry in 130 countries.
He also owns a handful of companies that make commercial and home appliances, everything from heavy-duty mixers to drink dispensers to blenders.
And he just spent millions to buy two iconic companies: Omega, which makes juicers, and Zeroll, whose novel ice-cream scoop earned a place in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Yet Asbury says he has a more pressing purpose. ”I’m on a mission,” he says. “I’m on a mission bigger than running a couple of businesses and making a couple of acquisitions. [I] want to change the world.”
Asbury, president of Greenfield World Trade and the Small Business Administration’s reigning National Champion Exporter of the Year, believes fixing global trade inequities that favor other nations would go a long way towards curing the economic ills that now plague the United States.
So he’s spends much of his time spreading the word. He writes a regular column for an online news service. He blogs. He pontificates on a weekly radio show now broadcast in six major cities. And he’s writing a book tentatively titled Trading Up he says will offer solutions to such problems as unemployment, poverty, failing schools, and a crumbling infrastructure. It’s set for release later this year.
”This is fundamental to who I am and where I’m going,” says Asbury, 51. “We just can’t keep making bad decisions and wasting money and resources and think this country is going to live happily ever after.”
Working for 21 years overseas in the export business representing American companies, Asbury says, gave him a bird’s eye view into what he calls a “corrupt and skewed trading system.”
”Countries like China, India, Brazil, Japan and others routinely manipulate and distort markets to their benefit, and conversely, discriminate against American exporters,” Asbury charges.
Take KitchenAid, the appliance maker, which Asbury represents overseas. Getting approval from China late last year to sell KitchenAid products took two years of effort, Asbury says.
China requires companies to submit manufacturing drawings and other intellectual property to be able to sell there. That has scared off many manufacturers who are afraid their property rights will be pirated by Chinese companies, Asbury says.
Asbury cites U.S. government’s statistics that show intellectual property theft by Chinese companies costs American companies $250 billion a year in lost sales.
”We need to invest in our trade enforcement under the U.S. Department of Commerce, because the magnitude of the problem is so much greater than the manpower that we have working on it,” he says.
So what does KitchenAid have to say about Asbury’s effort on its behalf?
”Neal Asbury is one of our favorite people,” says Larry Simpson, KitchenAid’s export sales manager. “He just does a lot for KitchenAid. He clearly has our interests high on his list as he works on his many, many projects.”
Asbury didn’t start out as an exporter. He was a music major at New Jersey’s Rowan State University but decided he didn’t want to pursue a music career upon graduating in 1979.
”It just dawned on me that I wanted to be in international trade,” he says. So he moved to New York and got a job as a mail clerk for an export company. It was a fortuitous decision, even though the company told him he was overqualified.
That’s because a colleague later recommended Asbury to a recruiter. That led to Asbury’s hiring as a sales manager in Singapore for Amimpex, a food-service equipment company. He learned the business before starting his own company, Asbury WorldWide, in the Philippines, in 1987.
Asbury WorldWide and its manufacturing subsidiary equipped commercial kitchens around the world for McDonald’s and other restaurant and hotel chains. Asbury, who built the companies to 500 employees, sold them to Middleby Corp. in various transactions throughout the 1990s for about $7 million. Middleby makes cooking equipment used in commercial restaurants and institutional kitchens.
Asbury left Middleby in 1999 and moved to South Florida, where he opened Greenfield World Trade. He says besides starting his third export business, he wanted to establish a food service equipment business serving the U.S. market.
LOOKING FOR A NAME
Greenfield hired a group of industrial designers to create a family of products. Among the first: a blender under the Maxximum name. Asbury concedes it was slow going.
”I could come up with a really great product at a great price that blows away the competition, but if it’s not a branded product, a lot of people won’t even look at you,” Asbury says.
So last year, Greenfield started looking to buy companies with well-known products. Its first deal was for the brand name and intellectual property of General Slicing, a company started in the 1930s that produced food-preparation equipment, including slicers, mixers and food processors. Asbury declined to disclose the price.
Greenfield followed that up by acquiring Zeroll, a Fort Pierce company that makes ice-cream scoops and other utensils, for $4.3 million in December.
”I can take the Zeroll brand name and put it on all kinds of gadgets and high-end accessories and utensils, and people will buy it because it’s associated with Zeroll,” Asbury says.
In January, Greenfield bought Omega, a Pennsylvania maker of juicers, for $4 million. Asbury expects to put the Omega name on the Maxximum blenders and other products. He also wants to move some of the overseas production of Omega’s higher-end products (over $200) from Asia and elsewhere to Zeroll’s plant in Fort Pierce.
Asbury proudly notes he completed the latter two deals with bank loans despite the tightened credit markets and ”the world falling apart.” With the recent deals, he says, his companies generate $60 million in annual revenue and employ 100 people.
Asbury says he’s on the lookout for other companies to buy. In the meantime, he’s preaching about the importance of trade on his radio show and elsewhere. On a recent edition of The Neal Asbury Show, he voiced his disbelief over President Barack Obama not making any mention of trade in the first address to Congress.
”How could he miss something so big?” Asbury, a Republican, wondered on the show, which airs locally on WZAB-AM (880) at 5 p.m. each Friday. Asbury pays for the air time. It also can be heard on his website, thenealasburyshow.com.
The show is produced by Coral Gables-based Atlantic Radio Network.
”For a guy that runs some very successful businesses . . . one would think he would be all consumed with that,” says Andy Korge, Atlantic’s president. “But I tell you he devotes a lot of time to the radio program. I think it came somewhat naturally to him.”
Korge says it’s difficult to gauge the size of the audience on the fledgling station, but he estimates it’s between 4,000 and 5,000 listeners. The program also airs in other cities big in international trade, including San Francisco, Seattle and Houston. The goal is to air in 20 markets by the fall, Korge adds.
Meanwhile, Asbury is collaborating on a book with author Lou Aronica. Asbury is represented by New York literary manager Peter Miller.
”What he’s writing about is particularly relevant, in terms of the trade imbalance that exists between us and the rest of the world,” Miller says.