ETC International Freight System a true story from our founder
Part # 1 The beginning
Although, I incorporated in 1984, my involvement in the international freight forwarding started when I immigrated to the USA from France in 1981. I was employed by Marshall Brownfield a freight forwarder that handled wearing apparel near the LAX. I was then 24 years old.
With my broken English, Marshall had me in the warehouse where I took upon myself to re-organize the incoming shipments of wearing apparels with receiving, manifesting, warehousing, inventory, in a nutshell the in & out. Luckily, my family background was in the textile manufacturing & I grew up in that environment working on & off for my father. This position did not last long, as Marshall & his French agent namely TTA, thought I would better be used in a sales capacity.
I was sent for training to New York for several weeks to work with the TTA office & came back with my new international freight forwarding skills. Working with the French importers in Los Angeles, obviously, was of no issue for me, I must say I did struggle with the all American customers importing from France. I can capsulate the feeling with one customer’s remark: “Call me back when you speak English". I thought the sarcasm was well deserved, not that I felt at the time like laughing, but, from that point on-ward, I was committed to become articulate in English. Of course, over the years, there were other times, when I was corrected or made fun of mostly by my kids, but never, was the sting as vivid as the first time.
Several months after my employment, I was fired. We know the French have certain arrogance about them; you can add a good dose of spontaneity from my personality fueled by comments directed at Marshall (the owner). I acted as I was Captain America, when Marshall’s exploded with anger at employees, which I felt was shockingly inappropriate above and beyond his company status. In his defense, I must admit that my lack of timing was enormous, as had I waited for a more inconspicuous place and time, adding more deference, I would surely have avoided what ensued. Marshall was a good man that gave me a job, a shelter and lent me his old Mercedes Benz from the 50s (gear shift next to the steering wheel). I repaid him with an un-timely remark and blew a piston on his Mercedes Benz, not knowing how to get to his 4th gear… I did get my driver’s license with that car, parallel parking on a hillside (Parisian trained driver), impressing the placid inspector. I am grateful to Mr. Marshall Brownfield & would apologize for the behavior should he be still standing. I had a few repeats of a similar nature that pursued me many times over in the years that followed.
2 years of struggle ensued. Out of a job, threaten by Marshall Brownfield to call the INS. I was doing menial jobs to earn a living, while learning the language and the many cultural differences seeking to assimilate. I will spare you the details, but, I may amuse you sharing a couple of them. Looking for jobs when you are so foreign and perhaps a bit strange for the main stream America forces you to get out of your comfort zone. So, I was in my life time a basic construction worker sent to retrieve various tools coming back with the wrong ones (lost in translation), for a punishment or their amusement, I was directed to work underneath the bottom of homes in Palos Verdes, using crawling spaces, seeking among dead rats, spiders, dirt and pipes the area to work on, discovering in the process what claustrophobia is like. A massive panic attack would surge, just about un-controllable, thinking, I was sent there to be buried alive, a magnified worse nightmare. For sure, my work there was incomplete.
To make ends meet, I was living in houses in Beverley Hills waiting to be sold or tear-down (I knew the listing agent), she was a caring listing agent. I was a home decorator for a short while, but, this did not pan out. I was not climbing the social ladder & left Los Angeles for some fresh air, living in Aspen in Colorado for a few months working as a busboy, a waiter, as well as being part of the work force on the slopes before the world ski cup started. This time in Aspen ended abruptly when I was asked by the judge that it would be best to leave the town. Yes, you guessed it; I had another Captain America episode. Here is the story: After being insulted up & down for returning a food platter from an un-satisfied patron & joining a waitress picking up a morsel off the returning platter (mea-culpa), the chef, which I recall was Middle Eastern, yelling insult at me, then got me fired for telling him how poor was the choice of words were. The injustice felt overwhelming and after I received my small severance check from an apologetic boss that hardly could argue my value against the value of a chef. My decision was made that there are lessons best learned by afflicting moderate pain and against the potential consequences. Going back to the kitchen, I pretended with the chef that the boss decided to keep me after all & got the chef away from his kitchen and his knives. Then, I proceeded by gently knocked the wind out of him, but, unfortunately, he landed on a table filled with clean dishes. The entire occupants of the restaurant running in to the fracas... I received a $ 70 fine for disturbing the peace & was suggested to consider leaving town. After leaving the courthouse, I had a small following, which at first worried me, but, as it turned out bought me a beer wanting to know the inside details. At some point, I did leave the town, the ski slopes and a ravishing young lady. Assimilation was rough, but well underway.
Back in Los Angeles, living with friends, I hit a wall going nowhere and running out of cash. Anxieties running high, afraid to fail, I remember speaking with my older brother, whom gave me a piece of his wisdom & it went like this; “Since you want to stay & do not want to follow the family footsteps (textile industry) and had several months of experience in the freight business, why not look into it again”.
This gave me the direction, I needed. I sold my motorcycle, bought myself a plane ticket back to France & interviewed with 32 French forwarders, which 2 of them were interested in opening an office in Los Angeles. The first one was Galax' Air International that agreed to have me represent them independently. The second was SCAC, a French conglomerate that was strong in Africa. SCAC had a relationship with an agent Radix International & offered me to work for them inside Radix International in Los Angeles. I chose SCAC, being poor and not quite qualified to open my own freight forwarding company. This was 1982 / 83. Beyond sales, I was trained to administrate an office, which was extremely beneficial when I founded ETC International Freight System.
This was a very successful employment. I hired an assistant and we moved on Century Blvd into a luxury 1 office space with secretarial front desk. My parents visited me & were impressed with the outfit. I was a happy man & married my American wife, whom gave me instant stability and a razor sharp focus. At last, I was no longer working for myself, but, for us and our children to be. But, life keeps throwing twists here and there. SCAC was happy with the success of this satellite office and wanted more. They sent a company name to re-structure a bigger office & I found myself suddenly confounded in sales with a new boss from Switzerland that used words like his people, in a context that reminding me of the old nobility addressing the serfs. By then, I had learned enough of the American way, coupled with a strong independent nature. I left SCAC & in a hurry, opening my company, next door having a few customers dedicated & the owner of Galax’ Air, Mr. Francois Dusseque with whom, I kept close contact. Francois Dusseque had trust in me & gave me advance on commission for the traffics to be, which helped me establishing my first few months in business. In addition, my relationship with my bank was great & since SCAC before opening their larger office was using an account under my name (the good old days once upon the West…). I had credit, and, let us remember that in 1984 under the Reagan era, the import was booming with a strong dollar over the Franc currency (before the Euro). And so, my little firm had the incredible advantage to receive the customers’ payments here and repay the agents (European) so fast that they were experiencing something no other freight forwarders (agents) ever offered; fast return (15 days or less repayment) on their invoices. It was the inception of P Malinbaum Company DBA Euro Transport Connections & later on DBA ETC International Freight System. What happens next is to me fantastic.
Part 2. Beyond the pathway that led me to freight forwarding over 33 years ago with the incorporation of what became ETC International Freight System in the summer of 1984.