Elizabeth Little: Little Goes a Long Way

For Elizabeth Little, success lies in the details. There’s always a fresh piece of legislation moving through Congress, a revised rule, or a new security or safety requirement that affects the way companies ship goods across the border. “As the importer of record, I need to know what’s currently happening with everything related to shipping,” she says.

Little is senior manager of customs, U.S., for Reebok International in Canton, Mass. It’s her job to stay on top of all details concerning import and export regulations and make sure the company applies them correctly.

Part of the Adidas Group, Reebok sells footwear, apparel, and sports gear around the world under the Reebok and Rockport brand names. Serving both the Reebok and Adidas divisions, Little is responsible for four areas.

First is the customs compliance team, which ensures that the company reports its merchandise properly for entry into the United States. Second, she oversees the export team, which prepares documentation for products that Reebok and Adidas ship from distribution centers in the United States to international markets. Third, at Foreign Trade Zones (FTZs) in Boston and Spartanburg, S.C., Little ensures that the company complies with federal rules for importing and re-exporting goods through these special facilities. Finally, she oversees Reebok’s and Adidas’s participation in the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism program.

Little learned the customs profession from the ground up, spending 27 years at Chadwick-Miller, a family-owned importer of general department store merchandise. She honed her expertise by reading, networking within the industry, and earning her customs broker’s license.

In a field where the rules change constantly, Little continues to rely on networking and on reading all kinds of materials—newspapers, newsletters, Web sites—to keep up with the latest information.

For example, “I read the Federal Register notices to stay informed about new regulations,” she says. “I have to understand the impact to the business and the departments they affect.”

That flood of information is a challenge for anyone who works in customs. Little faced a more particular test in a former job as import manager at New England Pottery in Foxboro, Mass. As the supplier of pottery and planters grew through acquisitions, Little was tasked with bringing the import operations of four businesses, based in different parts of the country, under one umbrella.

“Each business used a separate customs broker and ocean forwarder,” Little says. “I brought all the companies under one service contract, so we had better controls, opportunities to negotiate more favorable rates, and more visibility into the supply chain.”

Customs compliance requires continuous, painstaking attention, but Little says it’s a pleasure to work with her team at Reebok.

“As a member of the Adidas Group, I work for a global company in a great environment. Adidas offers its employees many opportunities to excel, improve themselves, and grow with the corporation,” she says. “I find that rewarding and encouraging.”

The Big Questions

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I enjoy gardening, going to the beach, traveling, and cheering for the New England Patriots and Boston Bruins. When I can work it into my schedule, I volunteer as an English as a Second Language teacher.

Ideal dinner companion?

Edward Kennedy, senior senator from Massachusetts. I admire the years of dedicated service he has given our state, and his passion to improve our health care system.

What’s in your carry-all bag?

I usually carry my day planner, a to-do list, the Boston Globe, and some snacks. I also carry work-related reading materials.

First Web site you check in the morning?

First, I scan my e-mail. I work with people in time zones all over the world, so if they’re looking for an answer the same day, it’s critical that I respond. I also check the U.S. Customs and Border Protection site to see what’s happening worldwide.

Business motto?

Educate, engage, execute, excel, and then you enjoy.

If you didn’t work in supply chain management, what would be your dream job?

Teaching children.

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