William Gregory: Into Africa
William Gregory has served as global supply chain coordinator at VT iDirect, in Herndon, Va., since 2012. VT iDirect is a global vendor of technology for satellite-based Internet Protocol (IP) communications.
Responsibilities: International shipping, customs, and regulatory compliance; liaison with freight forwarders; subject matter expert for Middle East and Africa.
Experience: Intern, Samuel Shapiro and Company; international logistics coordinator, 180s LLC.
Education: College of Southern Maryland, A.A., Journalism, 2007; University of Baltimore, B.A., Jurisprudence, 2009; Georgetown University, M.A., International Affairs, 2012.
I found my way to supply chain management through my undergraduate studies in maritime law. At first, I was mainly interested in tank ships. But while interning at Samuel Shapiro and Company—a non-vessel-owning common carrier, customs broker, and freight forwarder based in Baltimore—I found that container shipping can be just as interesting and fun.
My current company, VT iDirect, provides satellite communications hardware and software for customers around the world in industries such as energy, mining, maritime shipping, and telecommunications. Some of its products—including remotes, modems, and routers—are manufactured in Malaysia.
Many of the company’s high-tech products are made by contract manufacturers in Idaho, and we contract with manufacturers in Texas and North Carolina for dish antennas—some of which are about the size of a small car.
Filling a customer’s order usually means coordinating shipments of components from multiple locations. We work with freight forwarders to ensure the best shipping options in each region we serve.
When I joined VT iDirect, the company already did business in Africa and the Middle East, but didn’t have a set of standard operating procedures for that region. Documenting those procedures was among my first tasks.
It was challenging because Africa is such a dynamic environment. I spent six weeks writing the manual, which totaled more than 100 pages. And I needed to edit it soon after, because Africa’s business conditions change so quickly.
A key part of the challenge involves trade compliance. Each country in the region has its own requirements, and you must understand them all. For example, while most European countries eliminated pre-shipment inspections decades ago, many African countries still require them to ensure vendors don’t sell them obsolete or broken equipment. But arranging an inspection by Bureau Veritas—a testing, inspection, and certification services provider—or other certified organization can take up to one week. That poses an obvious challenge when customers want product delivered in 10 days.
In early 2012, I spent two weeks in Dubai, meeting with VT iDirect’s partners, identifying challenges there, and taking a continuing education class. Connecting with the partners that handle our products, and discussing the challenges they face every day, helped us put together a fulfillment and logistics plan for that region.
In an area where business depends so much on relationships, it’s important for your partners to know that you have their best interests in mind. If they know that, they’ll trust you, and they’ll help you when needed.
Some exciting new developments at VT iDirect are making my job even more interesting and complex. We’re introducing new hardware and software that will make our technology affordable to smaller customers who want to maintain connectivity in places where they can’t rely on landline infrastructure. I’ll determine how to meet the growing need for connectivity in challenging parts of the world.
The Big Questions
What do you do to recharge your batteries?
Work out—I have a strict gym schedule that helps clear my mind. I also cook, and now that I’m done with grad school I want to get back to sailing.
Scariest career decision?
Enrolling in grad school full-time while continuing to work full-time.
What’s your alter ego dream job?
Captain of a tank ship.
To go to the Monaco Grand Prix. I’m a huge Formula One fan.
What’s on your Bucket List?
Sailing around Cape Horn. It’s the Mount Everest for sailors—it tests everything you have.