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How this Charleston startup is filling a niche in the supply chain industry

Jenny Peterson //October 11, 2022

How this Charleston startup is filling a niche in the supply chain industry

Jenny Peterson //October 11, 2022

Frank Szewczyk and Juerg Gege, both retired international freight forwarders based in Charleston with nearly 100 years of combined experience in the industry, launched The International Forwarding Academy after they saw the massive supply chain disruption caused by the pandemic.

Co-founders Juerg Gege, executive partner, and Frank Szewczyk, managing partner, of the International Forwarding Academy plan to deliver their services across the country. (Photo/Jenny Peterson)Their academy is modeled after a two-day retreat and teaches employees at global firms in a classroom setting about the nuances and best practices of international freight forwarding, using their own experience as real-world examples. Gege, from Switzerland, worked for 42 years with Nord Transport AG. Szewczyk worked for KYFI Inc.

They said the academy fills a gap in the complex world of business-to-business international trading by training employees through an engaging and entertaining curriculum.

“(Current logistics training) teaches domestic supply chain, but they don’t touch the international forwarding side of the business. It’s a very complex and complicated business,” Szewczyk said. “You’re dealing with 190 countries and there’s a lot of rules and regulations. A professor can’t just go teach this stuff; it’s something you have to work in to be able to teach it.”

Businesses pay for their employees — ideally freight forwarders, logistics managers and importers/exporters — to train with experts. Classes can be held on-site at a business or in a local conference room arranged by the International Forwarding Academy.

The curriculum was created by both Szewczyk and Gege with topics like “Freight Forwarding 101,” “Import Process 101” and “Export Process 101” as well as advanced “201” classes for those who have completed the first level of classes that include specialized military logistics, niche markets, cross-border Mexico shipments, international supply chain and customized classes specific to a company’s need.

Szewczyk often brings in additional experts and consultants to educate students during the two-day intensive training, pulling from the academy’s board of directors — all experts in the import and export field.

The ideal International Forwarding Academy student is a beginner to five years with a company in international forwarding, logistics and warehousing departments.

“International freight forwarders arrange to get cargo on a vessel, arrange to have it picked up, warehouse it if need be, handle all the export clearances and import clearances. Companies often hire people with no experience and only teach them systems on imputing data into a computer or put them in a silo with one account,” Szewczyk said. “They often don’t understand the business as a whole, like the forwarding end, how to prepare airway bills, how to deal with indirect carriers, how to route and compliance issues.”

The academy teaches that and more, including how to comply with government agencies related to the products being shipped internationally, like the Department of Agriculture for food items.

Szewczyk says the training helps companies save money in the long run by equipping employees with best practices in the highly logistical field.

“By training within their company, we end up saving them $150,000-$200,000 a year,” Szewczyk said. “They see an increase in productivity and savings, as well as compliance.”

Savings can even be realized for companies that contract out international shipments to third party vendors.

“You have to have (trained) employees to manage those contracts, so you don’t just take their (third-party) word for it on pricing,” Szewczyk said.

Gege adds, “If you know the details and how to handle transactions, you know what you need to pay for what.”

The duo have flown across the country to conduct the training, using connections from their previous careers as freight forwarders to drum up business as well as attended trade shows and conferences to spread the word about the academy.

They hope to expand the International Forwarding Academy to other markets, including Miami, Atlanta, Houston, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

“We’re cutting our teeth here in Charleston,” Szewczyk said.

In addition to businesses paying for employee training, the men also are open to induvial enrollment for those looking to independently further their careers.

Szewczyk and Gege, along with the board of directors, have a passion for the industry and a major part of this venture is looking out for the future of the industry and making sure the United States remains competitive in the international freight forwarding industry.

“International freight forwarding is an art; it’s a gut feeling. The same shipment today is not the same shipment tomorrow — you miss a cutoff day, a truck breaks down, it arrived at the airport and they didn’t pick it up and load it in the pallet,” Szewczyk said “We want to be the academy where companies send employees first, before they go to work. We need to be investing in importers and exporters, and we’re ready to get to work.”

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