BY LINDA BAKER
A legacy brand. Geo. S. Bush is steeped in some pretty impressive history. One of the oldest freight-forwarders and customs brokers in the country, the Portland-based firm was founded in 1888 — and issued the 38th customs brokers license in the United States. “Our CHB license number is 38,” says president Brian Welsh. “There are a few companies out there that have a number that is less than 38, but not many.” In the 1970s, small, regional brokers such as Geo. S. Bush dotted the Portland landscape; only a handful exist today. Instead, large multinational corporations — FedEx, Expeditors International of Washington, Deutsche Post — dominate the freight-forwarding and logistics industry. “They are our biggest challenge,” Welsh says.
Old-fashioned values. To stay competitive, Geo. S. Bush focuses on customer service — not market share. “The goal is to accommodate our clients’ businesses as opposed to funneling our clients’ businesses into a predetermined process.” He cites an example: About 40% of the company’s business comes through the Port of Portland. “The product is unloaded in the container and put in a 53-foot trailer that goes back to the Midwest, potentially by rail,” Welsh says. It then goes to either a handful of stores or to another distribution center — and a customer might ask Geo. S. Bush to track the cost of each move along the way on a per-unit basis. “That’s something we can accommodate but that not a lot of brokers or forwarders are doing a lot of.” With a staff of 48, Welsh observes, Geo. S. Bush is small but nimble, handling an average of 300 import and export customers per year.
A regulatory age. Geo. S. Bush streamlines the process of shipping goods by clearing products through various government agencies: Customs and Border Protection, the Food and Drug Administration and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, among others. Ramped-up security has led to a corresponding increase in the documentation required by those agencies — and in growth opportunities for Geo. S. Bush. Programs such as the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, and Importer Security Filing “will continue to evolve and be part of our future,” Welsh says. He singled out the Importer Self-Assessment, in which the importer is allowed to self-police via internal audits — an electronic service offered by Geo. S. Bush. New regulations are also springing up around the importation of food products, Welsh says. “All these programs continue to evolve as international trade continues to increase.”
The more things change … Automation, free-trade agreements, industry consolidation — Geo. S. Bush is buffeted by economic change. But for Welsh, at least, the attractions of the business haven’t altered much since he came on board in 1997. “What I like about international trade is the constant dealings with different cultures and different countries, and understanding how culture plays into business,” he says. Despite the “constant threat” posed by multinationals, Geo. S. Bush is on solid footing, he adds. Declining to reveal revenues, Welsh says the company, which moved to new offices in the Lloyd District this past spring, has recovered losses incurred during the recession and is now on a “nice” growth curve. “There is a certain amount of loyalty in the marketplace that you don’t take for granted; you earn [it]. But when you have earned it, you get to bear the fruits.”