Women in Business Q&A: Deborah Dorsett, Director of Compliance, HNM Global Logistics

As the Director of Compliance & Business Development at HNM Global Logistics, Deborah Dorsett is responsible for the areas of trade compliance, compliance consulting, internal compliance audits and performance reviews, employee training and niche industry marketing and business development. One of the founding members of HNM Global Logistics, Deborah brings with her an impressive 24 year career in the Transportation and Logistics industry. She has held management positions in warehousing, operations, logistics, trade compliance, marketing & business development with numerous manufacturers and logistics companies in the U.S. Dorsett's core niche is within the defense industry, where she has played a key role in logistics and trade compliance with such companies as Boeing, NASA, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and DRS Technologies as well as program support for contracts with the U.S. Marine Corp., U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and various foreign Ministries of Defense.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I left home when I was 17, moving from a small borough of 489 people in rural Pennsylvania. I was certain I wanted to do more with my life than I could accomplish in such a small rural setting, and knew I would have to move to the city to do so. Moving to Florida also served to put enough distance between my family and I so that I couldn't simply run home if the going got tough. Believe me, it got very tough.

Two and a half years after leaving, my doctor found cancerous cells in my uterus, and I spent the next several months going through treatment. During this time, I opened a daycare in my home, which allowed me the flexibility to visit the doctor when necessary. One of the gentlemen I sat for showed up one day without his 5 kids, and asked me to please come to his office and help him out as one of his warehouse people had quit without giving notice. Six months later I was the warehouse manager. That's where my career started.

My life has been a series of figuring out how to fix challenging problems, and logistics has certainly given me a lot of experience in that arena. I'm also a bit of an adrenaline junkie who some have referred to as either "fearless" or just plain "crazy." Whether I'm shark diving, driving a race car, running the "Warrior Dash Mud Run" or travelling to some dicey destinations, I do so without fear because my Christian beliefs tell me that only God will decide when it's my time, and hiding away at home won't change that.

I believe it's important to live and love every day that you're given, and that has made all the difference. I have travelled to 14 countries and have seen places that many Americans have never seen, such as Israel, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia and Armenia. I feel that travel always makes you a more effective leader, as it opens your eyes to different cultures, and shows you that we are not so different, no matter where we call home.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at HNM Global Logistics?
Over the past 28 years in this industry, I was fortunate to have exceptional leaders who believed that the more you learned, the more valuable you became to your customers and your company. If I was willing to learn, I was given the opportunity, and learned everything I possibly could on the subject. Whether it was driving a forklift, managing inventory, processing letters of credit, reading up on Export Administration Regulations, or transporting dangerous goods such as pyrotechnics and other energetics, I studied every aspect of the business.

My leadership had me learn every department in the company - accounts payable, accounts receivable, collections, warehouse, air freight, ocean freight, domestic freight, dangerous goods, sales and client consulting. This combined to give me a base of knowledge that made my customers feel confident that they were in good hands. Quite often in this industry, people only learn one skill such as domestic less than truckload freight. But I learned early on that a customer who has domestic less than truckload freight, likely also has imports and exports as well. Being able to speak to the full realm of logistics needs my clients have, has fostered a sense of trust, which has left me with a number of exceptional clients who have been with me for more than two decades.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at HNM Global Logistics?
When we started HNM Global Logistics, it took nearly the entire first year to get everything we needed established. Freight forwarders are required to obtain so many licenses and permits in order to do business, it can be a daunting task. So we set about getting our corporate broker's license, our national permit, our FMC license, our IATA certification, C-TPAT Certification, US Department of State Registration and so on. Going through this process made our management team even more effective as it allowed us to build an incredibly strong foundation on which to grow.

Our commitment to exceptional customer service took us out of the realm of "cookie cutter forwarding" and we became known for being able to move difficult cargo to impossible locations in a manner unlike many clients have seen. There is something to be said about having a good many clients seek us out on the recommendation of other clients. Whether we were chartering an Antonov to Kazakhstan and escorting the freight to its final destination or going to the port to supervise a crane lift, we don't see our customers as "customers" but rather as "partners" who we can grow with. That mentality changes how you manage your business.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
If you enjoy a challenge, love to learn and can multitask, this industry may be a good fit for you. I would never be able to work on an assembly line, because doing the same thing over and over again bores me silly. Logistics is extremely challenging, and can be stressful, but it's also incredibly rewarding. When you successfully help a customer achieve their goals, you feel like you made a difference and that, after all, is what life's all about.

Be forewarned though - logistics carries with it a tremendous amount of regulatory requirements, and not understanding those can cost you and your clients millions in fines and penalties. If you are interested in a career in logistics, there are a number of resources online that can enlighten you as to what's involved. You will either hate it, or love it though - there seems to be no middle ground. Freight forwarders will tell you - once you get into logistics, you never really get out again.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Success is a choice you have to make. If you want to have a successful life, you have to choose to be successful, and align yourself with like-minded people.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
That can be very difficult in this career. Working in international logistics means working within the constraints of other time zones. This is not a 9-5 job by any means. At least, it isn't if you're good at what you do. But it is important to take the time to enjoy your personal life. I try to take two vacations annually. One to see my family back in Pennsylvania, and one with my daughter to someplace new and exciting. Last year, we went shark diving in the Bahamas. This year we're climbing Mount Esja in Iceland.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Definitely trying to manage a career and a family. It's a delicate balance that takes a lot of work, and can be exhausting. But in the end, it is worth the effort when your child becomes an adult and succeeds in their own career.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentoring is something I will always have a soft spot for. I very much enjoy that "lightbulb moment" when the individual I'm mentoring grasps a concept or process I'm teaching them.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Marie Curie - she had an amazing scientific mind and opened the door to the world of science for future generations of women. She was also the first women to receive the Nobel Prize. Quite impressive. I also admire Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mother Theresa, who was loved the world over for her charitable acts towards the "poorest of the poor."

I admire these two women in particular because they are the perfect combination of a brilliant mind and a compassionate heart.

What do you want HNM Global Logistics to accomplish in the next year?
I want to see us continue to grow and expand our service offerings, strengthening our commitment to success. I would like to see us exceed our budgetary goals and expand on our service within the community. I have no doubt that our team can accomplish that.