Francois Remiche is president and managing director at CIB American Hardwoods in Brussels, Belgium.
Seeing the Forest and the Trees By P.J. Costello
Brussels, Belgium—It’s a two-kilometer walk from the train station to the corporate headquarters of CIB American Hardwoods in Brussels, Belgium, and most of that is uphill. There is plenty of old European charm in the building architecture, sidewalk cafes and very friendly locals to ease the burden. To this writer, this is a topography that contrasts sharply to the more familiar lowlands of Western Europe. This includes Holland, where thousands of small canals cut through vast areas of green farmland, and, absent tall buildings of the inner cities, it is only the occasional church steeple in a small village and a plethora of trees that serve to break up the horizon.
The erudite CIB president and managing director, Francois Remiche, appreciates trees as well, especially those grown in the United States. The recurring theme of the booming timber industry of the 1960s through late 1980s, giving way to the slump of the 90s and slightly beyond, had its predictable affect of forcing some out of business completely and causing others to adjust their business strategies. Remiche focused on finding a niche market; the ongoing demand for only high quality hardwoods—American hardwoods, to be precise. His decision to import American timber exclusively turned out to be sound enough, but the slumping worldwide industry was just one problem for this university-educated economics major and entrepreneur. He also had to deal with a near-socialist environment that was pervasive, and still is to some degree, throughout Western Europe. This means that the cost
Remiche personally inspects a shipment from the United States.
s of private business ownership, specifically, maintaining a payroll, are higher than a California Redwood.
Many European countries have very strict labor laws that unduly favor the employee. Once an indefinite contract is established it is nearly impossible to get rid of an undesirable worker, or a non-worker who is also otherwise undesirable, if you prefer. Even the lawyers that specialize in employment law tell their troublesome clients, when controversy erupts, to simply call in sick, as they cannot be fired if they make that claim. Safeguards that are designed to help the employer are impractical if not downright useless, and one need look no further than the recent riots in France to see just how problematic the issue of permanent employment contracts has become. The near 10 percent unemployment rates in both France and Germany speak to the issue quite clearly. Yet, in spite of the patently obvious ill effects, and in those nations zeal to counter perceived social injustices as demanded by an ever-growing dependant class of people, they have all lost sight of the much larger picture. Not everyone shares these views, of course. But there are still sufficient numbers of young people willing to burn cars and businesses, that the unsound philosophies go unchallenged by some governments.
Remiche believes better communication between the government and the governed is needed to make people understand these derogatory effects. He has found a way to circumvent the problem though, and still makes a nice living importing coveted American hardwoods. His education has served him well.
The team at CIB is comprised of (back row) Remiche; Stefanie Brein-Honselmann, sales manager for Germany; (front row) Rita Massei, sales manager for France and export markets; Marina Theis, account manager and Benelux sales; and Stéphanie Ergot, sales administrator.
CIB employs only 6 people on a full-time basis and all of them work in sales or administrative capacities. The hard work of properly handling the pre-dried, 1.2 million board feet per year of inventory that is shipped to the facility in Antwerp is sub-contracted out. The contractors maintain a 4,500-square-meter property near the port that operates 40 to 44 hours per week, with Remiche personally taking care of the quality control. The contractors also make deliveries by truck to others parts of the continent and do so virtually error-free. All deliveries are made between 24 and 72 hours.
The contractor arrangement also allows CIB to place a stronger emphasis on providing superior service for their customers. Francois believes that outstanding service, aided by excellent communication, is a critical tenet of now widely-accepted free market economics. Naturally, all of his competitors boast of great service as well. The only way to prove it is to consistently apply its principles and achieve its objectives, when reputation begins to speak for itself.
With an annual turnover of 2.5 million board feet per year, the contractors aren’t the only people who stay busy for Remiche. The sales staff, led by sales manager, Rita Massei, clearly has a lot to do with CIB’s success. Included in her job description are follow-up sales to the French market and those outside of Europe, overseeing execution of orders, visiting prospective customers, stock management and follow-up on purchasing. She is also resp
CIB Hardwoods has warehouse facilities in Antwerp, Belgium.
onsible for press relations. She is bright, kind and every bit the outstanding communicator Francois was undoubtedly looking for in filling that position. Massei is worth a permanent contract, but it is Francois who gets the long end of the stick.
CIB imports a variety of species from New England to as far south as South Carolina, which are: Cherry, Black Walnut, White Oak, Red Elm, Hard White Maple, Red Alder, Ash, Yellow Pine and Yellow Poplar.
All timber is ordered in prime and super-prime (FAS) grades in 4/4 through 6/4, as well as 8/4, 10/4 and 12/4. The company offers ¾- inch and 5/8- inch thicknesses.
CIB recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. The firm has survived those 20 years in an economic environment that hasn’t been altogether friendly to entrepreneurs. High tax rates, dealing with groups of people that seem to think businesses exist simply to provide paychecks and benefits to them, and governments that are overly sensitive to that dubious notion, are just a few of the issues. Indeed, meeting the ordinary challenges of business ownership as we know them isn’t easy, though ordinary people do rise to meet them often enough, everywhere. Overcoming the extraordinary challenges, such as those posed by operating a very successful private enterprise in a largely, anti-capital
The company has an annual turnover of 2.5 million board feet per year.
ist climate, requires people with extraordinary ideas. A solid formal education helps, for this is where one obtains the necessary vision to see both the forest and the trees, and stimulates the imagination into seeing what lies beyond the horizon.