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For some Inc. 500 companies, growth in global trade is more than just a revenue booster -- it's their whole reason for being
If you need proof that international trade is expanding, you can find it in the growing number of Inc. 500 companies that now do business overseas. Or you can get it from DRI/McGraw-Hill and other economic researchers that tell us that world trade is surging at more than 6% a year (more than twice as fast as the world gross national product is growing). But even more telling is the emergence of new companies whose business is the business of global commerce. We found quite a few of those newcomers on this year's Inc. 500 list. Here are three of them:* * *
Passport Purveyors Six years ago business-school pals Brad Cary and Penn DuPuis were looking for a business to buy. "At that time everything international was hot," recalls Cary. Contacts led him to CIBT, a mom-and-pop shop that specialized in obtaining passports and visas, mostly for the tourist trade. Seeing greater growth potential and more stability in the business-travel market, Cary and DuPuis snapped up the little company and aimed it squarely at major corporations, many of which were steadily outsourcing "noncore" functions such as handling employees' travel arrangements.
Today the $4.5-million company (#265 on the Inc. 500 list) works with about half the Fortune 500, charging up to $50 for a business traveler's visa. CIBT uses seven computer-linked offices and a voluminous database of worldwide entry requirements to track the status of visa requests and to provide other professional services. "We get things done faster than our customers could," says Cary, "because we know the process and we know the people who are issuing the documents."* * *
Latin Pipeline Cyrix -- one of Intel's prickliest rivals -- has less than 10% of the worldwide microprocessor market. But in the group of Latin American countries in which it competes, its aggregate share is 32% -- well ahead of Intel's. For that, Cyrix has Mark Jimenez to thank.
For many high-tech companies, Latin America is a dumping ground for obsolete products. For Jimenez, it is a rapidly expanding economic region in need of respect. "I've proved to my clients that I am committed to giving them current technology and supporting that technology in-country," says Jimenez, whose five-year-old company, Future Tech International (#327), racked up $265 million in sales of computer parts last year. His game plan is simple: approach high-tech manufacturers that have no presence in the region, negotiate exclusive distribution rights, and then sell and support their products with a sophistication rare in Latin America. Jimenez's first customer, Korean electronics giant Samsung, saw its sales of video monitors there go from zero in 1989 to $120 million today. Jimenez maintains in-country inventory, helps his customers establish and manage credit, and offers education in technology. Building on his reputation, he's now manufacturing his own computers for Latin American markets.* * *
Freight Master As an executive in the cargo-shipping industry for nearly 15 years, Robert M. Ryan was all too familiar with how shipping lines kept track of price lists, rate quotations, and space bookings. Think of clerks with green eyeshades and stubby pencils poring over reams of documents, and you've got the picture.
Ryan knew he could do better. He also knew that shipped-freight tonnages were increasing. Teaming up with two software developers in 1987, Ryan founded DXI (#249) and created systems that would let shippers come up with the total cost of transportation for a commodity simply by typing in a description, the origin, the destination, and the weight of the cargo. "It completely automates the back offices of steamship lines -- and gets rid of the green eyeshades," says Ryan.
Still, the shipping industry is conservative. It took Ryan 24 months to land his first client: Crowley Maritime, near San Francisco. Today Ryan's $5-million company boasts 42 of the world's top 50 shipping lines as customers. DXI can install a turnkey system -- desktop computers and all -- and provide up-to-the-minute reports on competitors' pricing and other topics. Or it can simply sell information as it's needed. "We've made it as convenient as possible," says Ryan.* * *
DONNA FENN is the author of Upstarts! How Gen-Y Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit From Their Success, an exploration of the ways Gen Y is changing the entrepreneurial landscape.
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