BY PAUL GABRIEL
THEY came, they explored, and – they made deals! This best sums up the visit of 32 top-notch Florida businessmen who came on what was the biggest trade mission from the United States to Malaysia.
And the challenge couldn’t have rested on shoulders firmer than those of Bernhard Schutte, the CEO of leading international business consultancy firm Digital Media Network Inc (DMNI), who led the mission.
“It was a fantastic trip and it was worth all the effort put in. We handpicked some of the best companies in Florida to come, with our list made up of CEOs who didn’t mind leaving their bases for over a week.
“From what we have seen and experienced here, Malaysia is certainly the preferred place in the region for us Florida businessmen. We are all returning home fulfilled,” he said in an interview before departing over the weekend.
Also present at the interview was Rosnah Majid, CEO of Electronic Business Management (EBM), the local sister company of DMNI which assisted in preparing for the mission.
Dubbed Opportunity Malaysia 2005, the week-long mission, from Feb 27 to March 6, was organized by the Florida District Export Council in co-operation with the US Commercial Service and DMNI.
The Fort Lauderdale-based businessmen came mainly to find new suppliers of Malaysian products, sell more US goods and services, and explore partnerships for investments in both countries.
Among the Florida enterprises involved was the Florida Space Authority, International Warehouse Services (IWS), Skytruck Corporation, East West Aircraft Sales, Fox Croft Trading, Alpine Engineered Products, Cubicorp, Centre for Severe Obesity, and Nova Southeastern University.
The mission also met Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak at his office, and visited Penang and Kedah for business matchmaking sessions.
“The Deputy Prime Minister impressed us with his wide knowledge and he was very reassuring in his comments. He gave us a good hearing,” added Schutte, who certainly looked a satisfied man.
Skytruck, which manufactures a multiple-mission usage passenger/ cargo aircraft able to take-off and land in short airstrips, sold 10 aircraft in a deal worth US$30mil (RM115.20mil).
IWS, a warehousing and distribution company occupying 60% of the space at the Foreign Trade Zone in Port Everglades Florida, will be opening an office in Malaysia.
Its services include freight forwarding, order processing, inventory control and trucking.
Fox Craft, Florida’s third largest pharmaceutical wholesale company which exports to over 20 countries, will expand here to penetrate the South-East Asia and China, India and Middle-East markets.
The Centre for Severe Obesity, which performs gastric bypass surgery for the “morbidly” obese (people with a Body Mass Index of 40 and above) discussed a proposal to perform such operations locally in a joint-venture with Kumpulan Perubatan Johor (KPJ).
KPJ owns several private hospitals, including the Damansara Specialist Centre and the Ampang Puteri Centre, and also has hospitals in Indonesia and Bangladesh.
Schutte is “living proof” of how such operations can change the course of one’s life – he successfully underwent gastric bypass surgery at the Florida centre years ago. The surgery staples the stomach to reduce its capacity for food.
“I used to weigh 160kg and suffered from diabetes and hypertension. Within a year after the operation, I reduced to 99kg and I feel fit and healthy now.
“My diabetic and blood pressure complications have also been resolved,” he said, adding that the cost of the surgery in Florida was about US$30,000 (RM115,200).
Under the proposal with KPJ, Dr Norman Samuels, who heads the Florida centre, will come here to conduct the surgery while local doctors are trained on the procedure.
There were also strides made in the education sector and space-related business.
Nova Southeastern University, the 10th largest private university in the US, held a successful meeting with 50 local educationists. It plans to set up a local campus or establish partnership programmes with local universities.
Former NASA astronaut Capt Winston Scott, executive director of the Florida Space Authority, met with Director-General of the National Space Agency Prof Datuk Dr Mazlan Othman to discuss a plan to make Malaysia an Asian hub for futuristic space travel.
The Florida Space Authority is a sister company of Nasa and is a world leader in the space industry.
Schutte said the businessmen would meet with Broward Alliance, which is the economic development council of Broward County in the city of Ford Lauderdale, to report on the success of their mission.
“The council will form a special committee on Malaysia within its international unit to monitor the progress made. We intend to conduct follow-up visits to Malaysia,” he added.
Schutte also spoke of an “added advantage” of Florida in its ties with Malaysia – in the form of Governor Jeb Bush, a brother of President George W. Bush.
“Governor Bush personally endorsed our business mission to Malaysia. All the top guns, from the city of Fort Lauderdale to Washington DC, gave us their full backing,” he said.