With more than 15 years of experience, exporter Edward Kezys knows the ins and outs of being a small-business owner in international trade. His company, North Shore International, exports gas turbine parts to countries such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia to rebuild plants. In May, Kezys was honored by the Small Business Administration as New York's Regional and State Exporter of the Year.
How did you get started exporting?
When I was 20 I went on an interview with a friend of my father, and he was dealing with Russia and South America. I started working there, and then I moved to another company and started dealing with the Middle East, and then I decided I'd go out on my own.
What's the biggest challenge for your company?
Our biggest challenge is getting paid. These letters of credit go through the banks, and we have to deal with Iraqi banks . . . it could take months. We're learning that now over the last year how poorly it's done. Another challenge is funding these projects. As a small business, we have a loan for $3.75 million . . . but I have projects we wanted to bid for, for almost $40 million, that I wanted to do and I can't do it, I don't have the money for it.
What makes your company different from others?
There are a lot of small businesses that are exporters, but we're in Iraq. We're dealing with a country that's very difficult to deal with. It's basically we're going to have to start dealing with the Iraqi government, and in 2008 we opened up an office in Amman [Jordan], and only a few months ago did we start bidding on things. So you figure it's about three years of investment to actually get to this point. You have to deal with the right banks, because when you open these bid bonds it has to be from a reputable Iraqi bank, and not all Iraqi banks will let you open up an account there. It was all this research, things are changing, and you have to adjust and adjust.
Do you have advice for small-business owners or exporters?
One problem that I've learned from my past experience is that we're the middle man, so when we get a quote from a vendor, we're relying on our vendors to make sure the stuff is right, because when we submit a proposal to the customer and it ends up being wrong, it's our problem because we're responsible. We went to place an order with the vendor because we had the contract, and the vendor said it's not $50, it's $150 each . . . we completely soaked up the loss. I had no choice, I couldn't lose this customer. It happens once in a while, and the one thing is, you can't throw the responsibility on the customer. We always want to take responsibility for it; we don't want to pass it to the customer.
What's your favorite part of this job?
The travel, but sometimes it gets a little much when it's more than two weeks.
Name. Edward Kezys, chief executive of North Shore International, New Hyde Park.
What he does. Export parts for gas turbines to plants in the Middle East.
Sales. $10 million in revenue for 2011.