I am truly blessed with a multitude of amazing experiences in both my personal and professional life that have led me to global destinations. From those interests and travels, I have amassed an extraordinary number of experiences that put me in a unique position to be able to understand events and happenings as they unfold on the global stage. The current flap over an American business person asking for an introduction to a business in a foreign country that might meet his company’s specific needs, which may have included finding a supplier of goods/services, finding a customer for his company’s products/services, find a partner to help grow his business on other continents are all functions that the US Government willingly, robustly, and gladly provide for US businesses. And I know that because the US Government assisted me . . . yes, me(!). . . in my quest to globalize the company in which I played a key role for almost 16 years prior to 9/11. The company was a leader in its category as a franchisor of travel agencies, something I contributed handsomely to propel that company to grow. We were the “McDonald’s” of the travel agency franchise world and when I was at an IFA, International Franchise Association meeting, chatting with a top executive of a restaurant franchise company whose brand you would recognize, telling him about the globalization plans I was spearheading in which I had already sold countries, that you didn’t know were for sale, selling the Master Rights so that strong entrepreneurs in the global destinations could develop our brand within their territory, he asked me if I was using US Embassies to do that. I had no idea what he was talking about and, frankly, the last thing I wanted to do was introduce the US Government into our daily business lives as that didn’t sound like that was such a good idea. His question, a suggestion in disguise, did not make any sense to me and I hadn’t a clue what he was thinking or trying to share with me.
The incident nagged me. What could he have been trying to tell me? What was he thinking? Maybe I needed to know something he knew but I didn’t know what that could be. As is my M.O., I couldn’t let it go until I found out what he might be referring to and what I might be dismissing that might be a great opportunity. So I set about, prior to the internet playing a role in every person’s business and professional life, to find out what he was referring to at this point in time in the early 1990’s.
What I found out led me to be introduced by the US Government to entrepreneurs who had the financial resources, the knowledge of the laws and customs of doing business in far-flung global destinations where they lived, some understanding and interest in travel and tourism, and a desire to work with a strong US brand to bring the services we provided to the locals in that person’s country. . . and all I had to do was ask! Just ASK the US Government to introduce me to people who could become our joint-venture partners with our company.
Because of these introductions which were, in general, made face-to-face around the world, I traveled and met the people that the US Commercial Service in each US Embassy in each foreign country had organized to introduce me to potential investors in our system in Madrid, Barcelona, Milan, Paris, Argentina, Chile, Mexico City, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur for the purpose of education them on what our company did and answering their questions as well as evaluating each of them to determine if they would make a good partner for our company . Every now and then, somebody launches a campaign to save the US taxpayer money by eliminating the Department of Commerce (DOC) and every time that happens it sets my brain on fire as those folks clearly have no idea of the wonderful services provided by the US Government and the DOC to aid in US companies in their efforts to grow their businesses.
The Trade Missions I did to the nine (9) destinations mentioned above were generally composed of key executives of from other companies in travel, tourism and hospitality. During these trips I met executives from A&W Restaurants, Holiday Inn Hotels, and a variety of car rental companies and other lodgings and restaurants all looking for international area developers to purchase the master rights for their country. The way the system works, much like the much discussed phone call asking for an introduction in a foreign country, is that the US company that wants to do business in a foreign destination, needs a joint-venture partner, is looking for a customer or a supplier, contacts the US Government and explains what you do and what you are looking for. For years, my key contact was Mr. Sam Dhir, who I am hoping to track down and have on the air with me! After providing essential information on your US business and explaining what kind of business or entrepreneur you wish to connect with and what country/countries you are interested in working with, the DOC will contact the US Embassy in that destination and ask them to research what company/companies would be good matches for your company to chat with. There’s no collusion or underhandedness in play! This is so normal in a day’s work as it is seen as one of the features and benefits that our tax dollars support to help businesses grow. Such a sane idea!
The DOC publishes a list of trade missions dates and provides missions focused on various industries which may include garment manufacturing/buying/selling fabric for US companies, energy related companies such as those involved in wind and solar power, technology companies, food industry companies, manufacturing sectors and you can find out easily . . . don’t be afraid to make a call to Washington, DC to speak with someone specifically about how our government can help your company. . . what the calendar for 2016-2017 looks like so you can plan to participate. Just the way that someone called or sent an email asking for the name of a company and introduction for a specific business need, I called Sam Dhir at the DOC on a regular basis and I’m sure he remembers me more than a decade later even though he has retired!
So companies in travel, for instance, who want to see their restaurant chain, car rental company or hotel chain grow in Europe, South America, Africa, Asia and/or Pacific Rim, would, through the US Government, look for introductions to hoteliers, car rental company owners and restaurateurs who are successful in their country/region and want to grow by being associated with the marketing distribution that American brands can bring to them, the training and other associations with group buying and other features that could be beneficial as well as giving them the opportunity to grow the brand in their own company and earning fees from new owner and service fees paid within their own country that the US company and the master franchisee in the country will benefit from.
Those planning to go on a Trade Mission with the DOC will be asked to provide anywhere from 30 to 50 kits of information on their company and ship that number of kits to each US Embassy to the US Commercial Service at that destination for each country you’ll be visiting. The folks in the Commercial Service at each destination will go to work to identify people for you to meet with, generally putting together a one or two day agenda of back-to-back meetings so that you’ll be introduced to about 6, sometimes as many as 8, entrepreneurs, business owners, and those whose business interests match the interests of the US business person. The meetings are generally set up at the headquarters of the local Chamber of Commerce (you should see the one in Madrid. . .gorgeous, historic and all-around amazing) or it may be set up in a hotel or other government building in the destination the trade mission participant is visiting. Generally, at the end of the event, or sometimes on a 2-day event it will take place on the first night, a reception is planned and all of the local entrepreneurs and trade mission participants have a chance to mingle in a social setting, often at the home of the US Ambassador to that country or the home of a US attaché associated with the US Embassy in that country. If you want to see amazing, get yourself invited to the home of the US Ambassador to Thailand. . . right out of a Hollywood movie!
The DOC evaluates the US companies who wish to participate to be sure that each company is solid and is a credible company and the same is done to research the business backgrounds of the companies requesting introductions to US companies at the US Embassy in their county. If you want to do this kind of outreach to grow your business but you don’t want to wait until there is a trade mission focused on your specific industry because you need to find your international connection now, check to see if the DOC is still offering the Gold Key Program. This program allows for the Commercial Service in the destination(s) of interest to set up meetings customized for one specific company to take place at the convenience of the US company. Additionally, with the advent of SKYPE, the meeting(s) may be set up so that there is no need, initially, for the US company’s representative to travel to the foreign destination as that connection can be made electronically. Ultimately, it’s a really good idea for the US company to fly to the destination, meet all the people involved, check out any offices, warehouses, plants, physical locations of the potential foreign partner as part of the US company’s due diligence before you sign anything.
Fees? Yes! I haven’t done a trade mission in 15 or 16 years so you’ll want to find out the going rates. In the dark ages of 1994-2000, most DOC trade mission fees paid by US companies to be a participant, not counting air transportation, hotels, meals, taxis, car rental fees, was about $2000-$3000 per destination. Often, there were multiple destinations put together like Brazil, Argentina and Chile or Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and discounts on participation fees were offered if you chose to do multiple stops on that trail. You could also buy into one or more destinations for trade missions without doing all of them. Special hotel rates were often offered as part of group rates that made the trip more economical for participants.
You’ll want to check with the rate for the Gold Key Program is today. In decades past, the rate for the Commercial Service for each day that they needed to invest in sorting out the people they would introduce you to meet your special needs was in the range of $500 to $1000 per day of their work and the rate depended on whether they needed to contact 100 people of 30 people and how much time needed to be devoted. The SKYPE program was less than that.
But when I had a question that someone in a foreign destination could answer for me if they were steeped in the travel/tourism industry, because the folks at the Department of Commerce knew so many people in so many sectors of business all over the world, I wouldn’t hesitate to call and ask if someone could think of a hotelier or a travel agency owner or tourism minister that they could give me a name, in the worst case, and contacts in the best case for the type of person I needed to talk with to get credible answers to questions or to suggest that we work together with them to head up our local training and support programs we’d need to set up in the foreign destinations to support our emerging travel agencies that we planned to open through a master franchisee program!
So simple. . .not underhanded. . . nothing sneaky. . .just people who know people acting like ‘directory assistance’ to save American businesspeople weeks of research to find someone reliable and trustworthy to do everything from have a chat to act as a support system, provide ground services for arriving travelers from the US, be the local tour operator with receptive services from VIP meeting at airports to sightseeing and local transportation to being investors in bringing this franchise to their country. Somebody ought to applaud the people who go out of their way to help US businesses grow globally. It’s not an easy thing to do all by yourself!
At the end of my career at that company a month and a day after 9/11, I had sold 21 countries you didn’t know were for sale! Ten (10) of them were the result of introductions made by the US Government. They included: Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia (all sold to one buyer) which represented the eight nations of the ASEAN at that time in the 1990’s . . . and that down-payment check was for $237,500usd. . . what a gorgeous sight(!), Mexico, and Spain. Here’s my applause for all who get it and all in our government who help the wheels of US business move forward by assisting in hand-across-the-ocean programs! And this is my invitation for all who don’t know what they are talking about to take a deep breath and learn something before you express an opinion.