International flavour

New seminar series helps Fox Valley professionals get their feet wet in export opportunities

Story by Amie J. Schaenzer

AS THE INTERNATIONAL CREDIT MANAGER for a company distributing clothing lines to dozens of countries throughout the world, Adam Jaehning’s day-to-day duties can range, change, and often times, present many challenges.

When Jaehning started his position four years ago, his employer, VF Outdoors, had just acquired such popular clothing lines as Jansport and Northface. It has been his job to figure out how to handle credit terms with VF Outdoors’ international distributors, as foreign countries have different, and sometimes more complex methods of payment on credit. Additionally, Jaehning has had to educate himself on the many different rules for getting merchandise through customs – especially in Mexico and other Latin American countries where borders are tightly regulated.

To help get a leg up, Jaehning joined 10 other participants in an accelerated global business professional program offered through Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton. The inaugural program kicked off in early April and consists of five day-long seminars. It’s intended to provide a well-rounded education on the many challenges professionals face in the ever-changing arena of global business.

Jaehning said the speakers in the program – seasoned professionals from the Fox Valley working in global business – provide examples of issues they’ve encountered over the years and help put the topics covered into perspective.

“It’s so beneficial just to hear the stories and the issues they have and how they dealt with those issues,” he said.

The five seminars are geared toward preparing students for certification as a Global Business Professional. FVTC will administer the testing for the certification, provided through North American Small Business International Trade Educators, which is the professional organization for the global business community. The seminars include a review-session held prior to the exam.

“These seminars are designed to help participants develop strategic international skills, become cross-trained in areas of international business, which will make each more well-rounded and efficient in their role and also more valuable in their organization,” said Nancy Peters, manager of FVTC’s Global Education Institute & Business Training department.

Offering the certification exam in Appleton is a real advantage for business professionals in northeast Wisconsin. Peters said as of the middle of April, Appleton is the only June 2010 exam site located north of Chicago.

Expecting the unexpected

ANDREA DIRKS, EXPORT COORDINATOR for Johnsonville Sausage near Sheboygan Falls, had been doing research into expanding her export education when she was told about the FVTC course. She is now enrolled in the five seminars.

Like Jaehning, Dirks said the real-life, on-the-job experiences provided by the professional speakers helped bring home many key points for her.

“They were able to give specific examples. It gives you an idea of what to look for and what to expect,” she said. “It’s just nice to hear the different stories.”

Dirks is responsible for making sure Johnsonville products get to where they need to be going within the United States and throughout the world. She tracks inventory logistics and is responsible for customer service. Johnsonville currently serves 30 different countries, including Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Canada and Mexico.

“You never have the same day twice,” she said. “In transporting, you are dealing with oceans and there can be a storm and a delay...you never know.”

Food regulations constantly change, Dirks said, and that can affect packaging and the manner in which items are transported. For example, shortly after she started with Johnsonville, Mad Cow Disease was making headlines across the world. While Johnsonville deals primarily with pork and saw only small changes compared to other processed meat packagers, regulations on many products were overhauled and then changed daily.

“All of these regulations just changed overnight,” she said.

Dirks’ primary goal in attending the seminars is to expand her knowledge in different aspects of international business. She is looking to specifically learn more about marketing and gaining new market share in a country which the company currently doesn’t have a presence.

Johnsonville currently has a director of international business who oversees that task. Dirks hopes FVTC’s training will help prepare her for assisting in more advanced roles down the road.

The course

GARY VAUGHAN ARRANGED THE LINE UP of speakers for the global business seminar series. Students also have a textbook, which covers the technical aspects of the topics, but the mix of speakers are meant to provide students with a well-rounded education in this accelerated course.

“These speakers provide huge advantages for those attending. We have speakers who have 30 years of experience. Just imagine what they have in their databases and Blackberry’s,” Vaughan said. “If you call them with a problem, if they don’t have they answer, they’ll have someone on their contact list who does.”

Vaughan is the founder of Guidant Business Solutions in Appleton, a management development firm that provides expertise in starting and running a business and offers consulting services and coaching. Vaughan also serves as an adjunct instructor for FVTC and jumped at the opportunity to help organize the global business seminars. His experience in the Fox Valley over the years made it easy for him to track down the top professionals in the global business arena.

“I met these people through the connections I’ve made over the years. They are top-notch and they are volunteering their time to speak for these seminars,” he said. “They think the whole industry will benefit from this program and that’s why they are doing it.”

One speaker, Vaughan said, discussed a situation in which a cat got into a 40-foot container that had been shipped overseas. When the container reached the customer, the cat was dead and the product ruined.

“Now your customer expects to have that product. But how do you plan for that,” Vaughan said. “The speakers are trying to emulate years of experience. You can’t just buy that experience and those speakers are one of the huge advantages to this course.”

The 11 individuals currently signed up for the seminars through FVTC come from a broad range of backgrounds. Many are with companies already selling globally while others are exploring the idea of taking their business to the international level.

Deciding to delve in to the global market is not something a business should take lightly, Vaughan said. While the move can be profitable, it can also lead to financial loss and headaches for those not properly prepared.

“We walk through the steps. How do I open a market in Singapore? What challenges do I have in opening a market there,” he said. “(The speakers) talk about some of the mistakes they’ve made and ways to avoid making those mistakes.”

There are a variety of considerations. Different packaging is required in different countries. If the product is electronic, foreign countries have different outlets and plug-ins than those used in the United States. There are language and cultural barriers and developing marketing or having a simple phone conversation can become a complex challenge.

Professional etiquette varies by country. Peters said in some cultures it is expected that the person you are meeting will be late, and you are required to wait for them to arrive, whenever that might be. That wouldn’t be tolerated in U.S. business exchanges.

“It’s not a cut-and-dry, ‘Let’s go global’ sort of thing,” Vaughan said.

Vaughan said it’s important for businesses to be honest with themselves and evaluate their business and its success domestically.

“If we are not good marketers on the domestic scene, it’s not going to get any easier on the international scene,” he said. “Say you are going to China. Marketing can’t be in English. So you have different costs and challenges involved in that.”

He also gave the example of attending trade shows in foreign countries. While such venues can provide great benefit for expanding a company’s network and market knowledge, it still might not be possible.

“Going to a trade show in Milwaukee is a challenge for some companies,” he said. “How do you afford to go to a trade show in a different country?”

For participants like Jaehning of VF Outdoors, the value of the seminar series comes down to wanting to find a way to prepare for some of the challenges he might face tomorrow or a year down the road.

“It’s great to hear how (the speakers) solved it. We face some of the similar issues and it’s good to get someone else’s perspective so maybe you can avoid such a thing,” he said.

Amie is a freelance writer who is currently living in northeast Wisconsin, Amie spent three years writing and reporting for daily newspapers in the Fox Valley, including the Oshkosh Northwestern and the Fond du Lac Reporter. Amie was born and raised in the Fox Valley area (Hortonville) and received her bachelor of arts degree in journalism from UW-Oshkosh.