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Total Commitment: Import-Export in China

For 9 years Gabriella and her husband Marco have been successfully exporting goods from China to their native Brazil.  Starting from nothing, they have built up a small company ‘Total Import & Export’, based in China. The company handles research, negotiations, quality control, logistics and shipping arrangements on behalf of their Brazilian clients. Most of their income is generated in commission, as a percentage of the value of the goods exported. Other income sources include the company’s hospitality services and product research services.

To date Gabriella and Marco have exported over 200 containers and have been profitable since the beginning. They export a diverse range of goods, everything from industrial sewing machines to floor tiles, from power tools to fashion accessories. Their company has grown through referrals from existing clients, with recent approaches from new clients in Singapore and the USA, as well as ever growing interest in South America.

However, in the past Gabriella and Marco have been somewhat reluctant to embrace this growth, in fact they have been reluctant business people. Gabriella admits, “I have actually asked some clients to keep quiet about us, I have told them I don’t want the business to grow too much!” However, recently everything has changed and as Gabriella puts it, “I have had my thinking turned completely upside-down.”

Developing the Business

Gabriella and Marco have lived in China for 18 years. They are part of a large mission organization and moved to China with the focus of reaching out to Chinese people with the gospel. After a friend needed help sourcing and exporting a product from China, they saw the opportunity to continue in exporting and to generate some income for their family and ministry.

As the business has developed, Gabriella and Marco have instinctively brought strong values into their company.

One of the most important aspects of their business is the mutual trust that they have built with both their clients and suppliers, a crucial element when dealing with large shipments worth between US$100,000 – 200,000. “In six years of operations we have never had a loss on a container. In one instance when there was a problem with a shipment, the supplier found a way to cover the loss themselves in order to keep the business relationship intact,” relates Gabriella.

Total Import & Export has also become well known for the hospitality services that they provide, going out of their way to look after the needs of visiting clients. Understanding cultural differences is vital to client-supplier relations and with their long experience in both Latin and Asian cultures, they pay great attention to detail regarding cultural protocols and customs.  Gabriella shares, “A really important part of the business is to provide the very best hospitality service to our clients and suppliers and to be a cultural bridge between them. This is good for our business and it really makes people feel loved and special, it can help soften people’s hearts”.

Another unique selling point for the company is their language ability, as they are able to negotiate in Portuguese, English, Mandarin and Cantonese.  Overall, their reputation for being knowledgeable and dependable has meant that they have been able to grow their client-base largely through word of mouth.

But despite their early success, there has been an underlying resistance to the idea of doing business. Coming from a culture where being a missionary is well understood and valued, Gabriella felt that business was somehow secondary, a necessity that perhaps got in the way of the real purpose for being in China. She shares, “I had resisted business, I didn’t want to admit that I was a business woman! In our organization whenever there was a meeting for those involved in business, I kept away.” However, despite her misgivings, Gabriella saw some benefits to being in business, she says, “What kept me going were the opportunities I had for sharing the gospel through relationships. I could be a witness through my natural life and be in places, with people that I would otherwise have no contact with, such as other business owners and Communist Party officials”.

A Revolution in Thinking!

After 6 years of being in business in China, Gabriella came to do the IBAM Prepare course in 2011 to learn more about God’s purposes for business. She got so much more than she expected.  She shares, “I was completely shocked! I mean my thinking was turned upside-down. I realized how limited I have been in my thinking and my mind was really opened to how God can use business for His Kingdom. Wow, I discovered that it is really possible that God has called me to business!”

It is not an overstatement to say that Gabriella’s way of thinking has been completely revolutionized since the time she started in business. She says, “I was working, and doing the best I could, but not with the mind and vision that I have now”. When you talk to her, you realize what a naturally gifted and entrepreneurial business woman she is. The sense of freedom and excitement with which she now shares her vision for the business is contagious!

Prepared for Growth

The training Gabriella received was also highly practical, including teaching, workshops and one-on-one mentoring on core business topics. She says, “It helped me realize what stage I was at in in the business and what I needed to do next.”  That next stage includes implementing new systems in the business, including financial planning and accounting systems. It also involved second stage funding through a bank loan, acquiring new premises and employing two Chinese administration staff.

Gabriella shares, “I didn’t expect to come out of the IBAM Course with a business plan, but that is what happened, a business plan for growth”.

Working with coaches and mentors Gabriella has worked on risk analysis and a risk management plan, financial analysis, including cash flow projections and profit and loss analysis. She now has a marketing plan, an HR plan, an operations plan and a plan for implementation! Alongside these is a Kingdom plan, showing how the hoped-for impact of the business in the community will be integrated with the day to day operations of the company.

New Vision

All this work analyzing scenarios and crunching numbers was fueled by a renewed sense of vision for their call to business in China.

Gabriella and Marco’s vision is to reach out with the gospel to people in the business world and to bring transformation to society through their business operations. Their desire is for Total Import & Export to provide an opportunity for business people to know God, and to show that it is possible to have a business that is operationally excellent, profitable, honest towards the Government and just towards their employees.

Through their business relationships Gabriella and Marco want to demonstrate that God blesses us with wealth and power so that in turn we can fight in favor of the ones that have no wealth and no power. They want to create an impact first by providing jobs and a stable income for their employees, with a specific goal to employ 30 staff within 7 years. In addition, they will actively share ideas and encourage business people to create businesses in areas of poverty. From their profits they hope to be able to be a blessing to those in need and they will aim to support at least 5 different ministries that are working with the poor and displaced.

Embracing the Future

Although realistic about the weaknesses and threats that will challenge their business model in the coming years, Gabriella is positive. With the recent World Cup in Brazil and the Olympics in 2016, there are growing opportunities to export to Brazil, as well as expanding sales to other countries.

Armed with practical tools and a deeper understanding, Gabriella and Marco are now embracing the opportunities that are before them in their business. Building on an established foundation of trust and experience, they are poised for growth.

Above all they are getting ready to take steps of faith, to dare to go where perhaps they haven’t before. Gabriella says, “Many things about what we have already done have seemed impossible. With a genuine faith and a lot of tears and hard work I always believed I could learn, we could do it and that everything is possible with God!” Part of their vision now is to use their business experience in import and export to help others fulfill what might seem to be impossible dreams. Gabriella leaves a parting thought, “I believe that nothing that God calls you to is impossible when you are in the center of His will for your life!”

 Jo Plummer is the Editor of the Business as Mission website, with thanks to ‘Gabriella’.