Part # 1: The Beginning
I incorporated our freight company in July 1984, although, my involvement in international freight forwarding started when I immigrated to the USA from France in early 1981 at the age of 24. I was employed by a freight forwarder that handled wearing apparel and was based near Los Angeles International Airport.
My warehousing tasks were to re-organize incoming shipments of clothing, receiving, manifesting, warehousing, inventory — in a nutshell, the ins & outs of the warehousing business prior to bar codes & automated systems. My family background was in textile manufacturing & I grew up in that environment, earning my bred working on & off for my father. Working early in life gave me value & knowledge carrying me through my work life.
However, my skills were better served in sales & I was sent to New York to train for several weeks with our agent to develop my international freight forwarding skills. Back in Los Angeles, my functions with French & US importers were used as a French sales liaison.
Sales came natural to me & my department strived. My struggle was with the American language, I was rebuffed a few times, which I took as a challenge with one objective; to assimilate to my new culture & learn the subtleties of the language.
My assimilation did not happen too quickly & my French culture is known to be sometimes arrogant & spontaneous – this got me fired. I lost my job trying to mediate an issue between the boss & an employee. My timing was off & I had no concept of fear or repercussion.
Two years of struggle followed. I was out of a good job, doing menial jobs to subsist. My quest for success was questioned but I persevered making leaps & bounds learning my new environment. I had lots of friends & various interests that kept me focused. I moved to Aspen, Colorado for several months, returning to my mountains & my mountaineering background. I was still struggling with jobs but I met terrific helpful people along the way that I keep in my heart to this day. Every good or bad thing has an end, so I said goodbye to Aspen, which was not a career build-up but a substantial character growth.
Back in Los Angeles, living with friends, I hit a wall going nowhere and was running out of cash. Anxieties ran high and I was afraid to fail. Family is everything so I spoke with my older brother who gave me a piece of his wisdom: “Since you want to stay & do not want to follow the family footsteps in the textile industry, why don’t you utilize your young freight experiences & look for a job there again?”
That was all the inspiration I needed. I sold my motorcycle, bought myself a plane ticket back to France & interviewed with 32 French freight-forwarders, two of which were interested in opening an office in Los Angeles. The first one was Galax’ Air International, and they agreed to have me represent them independently. The second was SCAC, a French conglomerate that was strong in Africa. SCAC had a relationship with another agent, Radix International, & asked 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 1982-1983. Beyond sales, I was trained in the complexities of office administration, which turned out to be extremely beneficial when I later founded ETC International Freight System.
I excelled in that position & soon hired an assistant. I then moved into a suite on Century Blvd., a luxury single-office space with a front desk reception area. I was a happy man & soon married to my American wife, who gave me instant stability, razor-sharp focus & two children. As we all know, life vicissitudes through twists here and there.
The firm had a plan to expend, they sent their company man & I found myself relegated to a sales position & no longer the manager of a satellite office. To make matter worse, the company man & I were not compatible, I was seriously immersed into the American society & he imported his country here, servicing the French market alone, when I was interested in a more global approach.
I departed from SCAC and met with the French forwarder that expressed interest in a representation in Los Angeles. They offered me an advance sales commission based on my experience & performance. This was all I needed, I had a relationship with my bank & a line of credit in place. To my strategic advantage 1984, under the Reagan era, the import business was booming with a strong dollar over the Franc, a currency before the Euro. Importers would pay here & in-turn, I would pay our agents within 15 days. It was then, unheard of, as most forwarders took 30 to 60 days to repay traffics.
It was the inception of P Malinbaum Company DBA Euro Transport Connections & later DBA ETC International Freight System. What happened to me next is fantastic & rewarding on many levels.
Beyond the pathway that led me to freight forwarding over 34 years ago was the incorporation of what became ETC International Freight System in the summer of 1984.
In July of 1984 the international freight forwarding corporation was set up. The corporate name was still P Malinbaum Company with our first doing business as (DBA): Euro Transport Connections. I started as a one-man show in Inglewood having one private office inside a bigger office space occupied by a customhouse broker. The business arrangement was that I would direct as many customs clearances from the import traffics through their office under my billing against a free space. We had the warehouse downstairs and this set-up worked well. It was a time where typewriters and telephone lines were king. My biggest expenses, aside from feeding my family, were the telephone bills & the Yellow Pages ads.
This savvy set-up succumbed to a lease termination too quickly and led the way to a Japanese freight forwarder moving in. I lost the private office & rented some desk space near the bathroom. The broker was gone & I re-established a rapport with a new customhouse broker. My wife joined me, and mostly sat at the desk handling the accounting while I was standing by her on the telephone and typed up my air way bills & invoices. At that time, I successfully applied for my International Administration Transportation Agency (IATA) license & slowly began adding some air export shipments to my air import shipments. I do not remember how long we survived parked next to the bathroom … but the business grew everyday along with my wife’s belly, pregnant with our daughter.
Sometime in 1985 I moved down the street to a one-story new office building & warehouse. I added an employee … and our new baby in her play-pen next to my wife in her office for 1 year. We evolved into some ocean import freight & purchased our first word processor — a typewriter with a screen to its side. I was my own warehouse worker and used to off-load ocean containers of latex gloves (among other commodities) all by myself. I had to do this after regular business hours to keep the sales & documentation going during the daytime. Over time, employees joined the firm & in 1987 our newborn son Dimitri jumped into his play-pen located by my wife’s office for the first 6 months of his life. I had to fire him, sent him home as he was too loud and disturbed our telephone communications! By then we had a telex machine to communicate with the agents, but this later perished with the birth of the facsimile machine and our first archaic computer, it was the late 80s.
By 1988, we became licensed by the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC). Around that time, we also obtained our Non-Vessel Operational Common Carrier (NVOCC) bond offering import & export consolidation as well as straight container load services for industrial, commercial, & household goods customers. I believe that was the year I obtained my US citizenship.
In the years that followed, we added several employees & handled quite a few more monthly shipments; before long we added warehousing & packing services. There was a natural progression to offering packing & loading using our own crew on-site or in-house. Then came the trucking, insurance, warehouse, packing & loading, shipping, letter of credit with overseas clearance & delivery. We also shipped household & commercial goods, industrial shipments as well as oversized permit cargo.
In 1993, we moved to our new purchase location in Compton, CA with about 12,000 square feet of warehouse. We were loading weekly containers of autos (multiple cars doubled decked) among other products & were involved for years with the auto wheel & medical industries. We shipped an entire plant (Tatabanya, Hungary) and followed up with handling their import & export shipments that followed. At that time, we also were involved in partial chartering. The 90s were fabulous under the Clinton era for most businesses. Our first hard hit was, like the rest of the country, on September 11, 2001. Our air department saw sales decreasing by 1 million dollars. We had to regroup from that and adjust like many other companies with many new expansive regulations. The ocean exports had grown & kept us afloat through 2005. Then, under the George W. Bush era, we started to feel the decline in business and by 2008 through 2010 a severe recession hit the country. We lost 50% of our personnel with sales over 60% down. We then sold the commercial freight building and regrouped in a smaller office with the emphasis on marketing & sales, keeping our overhead down.
In 2009, my son Dimitri joined the firm, he was 22 years old. Dimitri experienced the hard times as well as the re-building we experienced since then. Like myself, he was trained in all the venues of ETC. In 2015, we had two directors one day that walked out of our company, as they already had started their own forwarding company & subsequently, we lost several large accounts.
How sudden it hit us, leaving a small family firm with hardly any trained employees, all we could do was fight. We went to bat again and after 6 months of long hours, we stabilized the firm. I was tired & the losses were affecting my own welfare so in 2015 I retired & gave Dimitri ownership of ETC International Freight System. To this day, Dimitri stays in high gear & is responsible for $1.8 M in added sales with 40% in gross margins, which is phenomenal! I am now the Senior Managing Consultant & work closely with them. In my capacity, I offer consulting services to small to mid-size companies. Also, as an avid mountaineer, I continue climbing mountains throughout the USA & abroad.
We’re now a second-generation business about to celebrate 35 years of business and are happier than ever. Under Dimitri’s auspices, our family owned business is more prepared than ever to make a difference in our lives as well as our customers’ shipments. To conclude here, we want to express our most sincere thank you to our customers, especially the ones that have been helping us since the early years by entrusting their goods to our dedicated staff.
— Reid Malinbaum, Founder
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