need for someone to help them take care of affairs stateside, such as property management and taxation. With the six-hour time difference between the Netherlands and the East Coast, they only have a two-hour window to conduct any business with U.S. firms operating from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.”
Today, Ford’s company has revenues of $1 million, a staff of 10 overseas employees and numerous clients, both military personnel and civilians, in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. The firm provides tax, legal, real estate and business management as well as importing services. “I put together a sales team of largely African Americans to find Americans who need help,” Ford says. A minimum retainer is approximately $1,200.
One client, who served in the Army, needed to find someone to rent her home in Florida while she was in Germany for a four-year tour. Ford found a property manager by networking with his contacts in the real estate industry.
Setting up his corporation in the Netherlands required filing with the city of Rotterdam and other agencies. His overhead expenses were low (less than $5,000), because much of his business is based on creating partnerships with foreign and government officials and Americans abroad. His employees work from home and most of his business is conducted by phone via a 24-hour, toll-free number. Placing ads in American newspapers, such as Stars and Stripes, that are sold abroad also helps drum up business.
“One of the keys to success is that you have to have people that you can trust in a country,” Ford says. “From meeting people, they can show you the inner workings of their country and find people to work with you. If you don’t understand the culture, people will take advantage of you. It also helps to speak the language for better communication and relationship-building.”
PARTNERING FOR SUCCESS
Prior to launching Smith International Enterprises Ltd. in 1991, Herbert Smith, 50, founded H.C. Smith Ltd. in 1984, a $7 million nationally renowned executive search firm. Smith was able to use his expertise as a management consultant to undertake an international venture. He also studied Mandarin Chinese and worked with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Ohio Department for International Trade for East and Southeast Asia in Hong Kong.
In 1990, Smith bought a Hong Kong-based import company from Schiller & Associates, a Detroit firm, that distributed products to discount stores. He found key suppliers in Hong Kong for products American firms needed and expanded his client base. He accomplished this by forming a joint venture partnership with a Hong Kong firm, Kar Lai Enterprises Ltd., in 1994.
Under the agreement, Smith International is the exclusive North American distributor of all products manufactured by Kar Lai Handbag Manufacturing and handles sales, marketing, financing, research and development and distribution. Kar Lai is the exclusive representative in East and Southeast Asia for offshore procurement for Smith International and handles preproduction, manufacturing and purchasing. Both concerns handle shipping, logistics and advertising.
“The biggest challenge at the beginning was convincing companies that hadn’t gone