During a 1991 business trip to Tokyo, Kathryn D. Leary says she fell in love with Japanese culture and was intrigued by the business customs. As president and CEO of The Leary Group Inc. in New York, she specializes in international marketing, trade development and executive training programs for succeeding in a global market.
With years of marketing and communications experience, she has successfully guided dozens of companies into markets such as South Africa and Japan. In fact, Leary says she fell so much in love with Japan that she began to immerse herself in the language and culture. She took classes, read books and subscribed to magazines and newsletters on Japanese business customs and culture as she readied herself to do business in the country.
Leary is one of a growing number of African Americans who have formed lucrative businesses as consultants to American firms looking to do business in foreign markets.
Herbert C. Smith, Ph.D., is chairman and CEO of Smith International Enterprises Ltd. in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a general merchandise sourcing company with an office in Hong Kong. Smith’s firm supplies premium products, from baseball caps to duffel bags and documentation services for North American companies and organizations.
Ronald Ford Jr. is president and CEO of Ronald Ford Jr. Inc. Consulting Group in Camden, New Jersey, an accounting, taxation, importing, publishing and real estate firm that also has an office in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Leary, Smith and Ford represent the small number of African American frontiersmen and women doing business overseas. According to the Office of Advocacy of the U.S. Small Business Administration, of all black-owned firms, only 0.8%, or 5,078, export goods and services from the U.S.
But with the continuing development of the global economy, now more than ever African Americans are seeking opportunities on foreign shores.
“Historically, African Americans haven’t been encouraged to think internationally, and have had our plates full trying to focus on problems here, such as civil rights and affirmative action,” says Leary. “But through connections with family and friends living in the Caribbean and other places abroad, our minds have opened to thinking internationally.”
We’ll focus on how Leary, Smith and Ford established their international businesses and what advice they have for expanding your business abroad. They address issues associated with doing business globally, such as currency exchange and the logistics of establishing a business and generating a client and supplier base.
THE FINANCIAL AIDE
As a medical logistics officer for the Army Reserves, Ron Ford, 30, first traveled to the Netherlands in 1996. With a background in corporate and personal accounting, Ford was appointed by the Army division in the Netherlands as a senior tax advisor from 1997 to 1998.
Ford, who was supposed to be deployed to Germany in 1995, had developed plans for starting a business there. But he saw an opportunity in the Netherlands, and set out to execute his plan there.
“As an officer, I made contacts by attending embassy affairs,” Ford says. “I was exposed to Americans working for American-based companies who expressed a