In the mid-1980s, William von Raab, then commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service, exhorted customs brokers and freight forwarders to “automate or perish.” Customs, he warned, was dropping its paper-based, error-prone, manual operating system in favor of a faster, more efficient computerized system in order to keep pace with the country’s growing international trade. Brokers and forwarders not electronically linked to the agency’s high-tech system simply would be unable to do business.
At the same time, as the amount of money Americans spent importing goods from foreign countries began to dwarf the amount earned from sales of U.S. products abroad, triggering the now infamous “trade deficit,” Washington launched into “Export or Perish!” mode. Relentless trade deficits can be disastrous for an economy: more cash goes out than comes into the national jar; domestic manufacturers that are losing market share close plants; jobs are lost; consumers buy less; and more manufacturers slash production. The circle gets vicious.
Facing this threat, federal agencies, joined by state and local government agencies, began an aggressive campaign to open reticent overseas markets, with a view toward selling them more U.S.-made goods. America would “pry them open with a crowbar” if necessary, then U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills declared. A host of programs, services and Web sites subsequently came into being to support the successful entry of U.S. exporters into global markets. The result: small- and medium-size businesses now make up 89 percent of the nation’s exporters.
Today, idiom and mood have swung to “Globalize or Perish!” In a world shriveled by time-slashing communications, delivery and transportation technologies, American companies, entrepreneurs and professionals are being urged to take advantage of business opportunities beyond America. Their very survival depends on the extent to which they do so, some say. Professional and business organizations that cater to African-Americans and other minorities are joining this march toward globalization. Some, like the National Minority Business Council, saw the writing on the wall decades ago and began to move accordingly. Many of these organizations are helping their members go global through dialogue with peer organizations overseas and such activities as trade missions, providing business leads and export training and education workshops that disseminate information about government resources.
The cover story of this issue of The Network Journal profiles two men who have risen to senior management rank in one of the country’s most famous companies—The Coca-Cola Co.—by taking positions in the company’s Africa division. The personal and professional gratification they derive from their experience abroad reinforces the notion that success does not lie solely within the territorial boundaries of any single country. Our industry focus on investment strategies and financial planning also strikes a global theme with Bevolyn Williams-Harold’s article on opportunities in Africa and the Caribbean. K. Emily Bond’s sidebar to her story on supplier diversity trends describes one organization’s effort to take minority—or diverse, as they are sometimes called these days—suppliers into the global arena, while Inés Bebea’s feature on the next phase of hip-hop looks at a genre that impacts product development, marketing and lifestyle worldwide.
Go global, even if all you do for the moment is check out the possibilities.
By Rosalind McLymont