International Skills: Don’t Leave Home Without Them

International Skills: Don’t Leave Home Without Them
An Interview with Paul Beretz

By Sherry Schlossnagle

Paul B. Beretz is the managing director of his own consulting firm Pacific Business Solutions, located in Alamo, California. A graduate of NACM’s Graduate School of Credit and Financial Management, he is an active member of the FCIB Advisory Council.

(Reprinted from the September 2000 issue of Business Credit magazine with permission of NACM.)

I asked Beretz to comment on the current changes occurring in the international credit industry.

“The key word here is consolidation — both international and in North America,” he replied thoughtfully. ”More and more credit jobs are being consolidated. As a result, the role of the international credit manager is not only becoming more decentralized with those managers outside the country reporting back to the chief credit manager, but it is also evolving more into the role of a risk manager that may include insurance and cash management along with the credit function.”

Beretz believes that it is imperative for all credit managers to begin to develop international skills. In light of this necessity, he emphasized the value of participating in FCIB. “FCIB can play a very important and pivotal role in the development of the international credit professional’s career. It not only attunes the credit manager to an awareness of international business; it also provides tools, and educational and networking opportunities.”

If you have not had the opportunity to read Beretz’s publication, “How to Prepare for a Systems Application Installation or Upgrade,” or his“Country Profiles” on how to handle credit and collections issues in South Korea and Singapore, then put them at the top of your To Do list. Not only do these articles offer a wealth of valuable information to professionals in the credit management field, they are also thought provoking and extremely well written. 

As a member of the Advisory Council, Beretz discussed some of the challenges that FCIB faces at this time. ”Our primary focus should be how we recruit and retain our membership. FCIB is in the process of investigating a variety of new products that will address the needs of global clients. It is also discussing the development of new educational projects, as well as how to revitalize the existing ones. The issue of `time commitment’ of members is another very important consideration — more important even than cost, I think. We must be very accurate in targeting those products and services to meet membership needs since professionals are becoming more selective in attending meetings and participating in programs.

The second challenge we face has to do with the issue of `global awareness.’ As businesses continue to expand globally, it is critical to their success that they understand what their international customers need and how to conduct business in the customer’s own environment. FCIB can play a role in assisting members who want to achieve an expanded level of awareness.

The third challenge is the continued development of the Internet application to link members to more new products and services, as well as to facilitate and enhance the online communication process. It is important that FCIB continues to update its Internet applications and solutions and expands its web site to meet membership needs.”

Regarding the value of the FCIB Certified International Credit Executive (CICE) designation, Beretz believes the new professional designation has provided an excellent vehicle to recognize and reemphasize that international credit management is a very specialized area of knowledge critical to business.“The CICE not only adds to the professional’s credibility within the company and the industry, it is respected in other cultures as well.”

Beretz began participating in FCIB in 1983 while he was working for the forest products industry. He has continued his FCIB membership in the semi-conductor and telecommunications industries in the `90s. “I knew next to nothing about international credit management when I first started out, so I went to FCIB for help. Of the many benefits available through FCIB, the two I value most are the networking and the educational opportunities. The professional network that I have developed through my participation in FCIB over the past 17 years is invaluable. I can call any number of people at any time and say that I have a client doing business in, let’s say, Ethiopia and ask them about the credit situation there. These resources have the most current and accurate information available.” Beretz was also quick to note that he utilizes the FCIB Country and Customer reports that are unique to the industry and provide very specialized information.

“I try to attend as many FCIB-sponsored regional and global meetings as I can. There is a tremendous amount of knowledge and wisdom shared at these meetings. Being privy to this very specialized information makes me more globally aware than I could possibly be otherwise. If international credit managers intend to operate successfully within a country, it is imperative that they be aware of and sensitive to the differences in cultures and customs.”

As Managing Director of Pacific Business Solutions — a consulting firm that evaluates and creates opportunities to improve cash flow for global manufacturing, distribution and service companies — Beretz has successfully capitalized on more than 30 years of business experience.

For start-up to middle market sized companies, he has initiated tactical and strategic processes, guided management to evaluate the market place and competition, established personnel performance measures and utilized budgeting and forecasting tools. For middle market and larger companies, he has formulated “best practice” strategies, reorganized departments, and re-defined and authored “desk procedures” for worldwide operations. On the international level he has provided guidance to several multi-billion dollar companies in the recognition of economic, country, and cultural issues fundamental to selling products and services internationally, particularly in Pacific Rim countries.

Beretz received his BBA from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA from Golden Gate University. He has been an adjunct faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley and currently is an instructor in management and finance for St. Mary’s College, Moraga, CA and the University of Phoenix. In addition, he speaks frequently covering a wide range of topics from cash flow management techniques to customs and practices in international business. He has written articles for trade magazines such as IOMA’s Report on Managing International Credit and Collections and NACM’s Business Credit, authored a book for the American Management Association and edited books on financial management.

I remarked that a business background such as his own was probably one of the major criteria for hiring someone to work in the credit profession. “On the contrary,” Beretz replied, “I place great value on a strong liberal arts education. It is becoming increasingly more important for credit professionals to have well-developed verbal and writing skills, as well as an acquaintance, if not a familiarity, with other philosophies and cultures. A good liberal arts education should provide all of these. I can educate bright employees on the technical side of the business, but I can’t teach them to be articulate or good writers or make them critical thinkers. If I can have both, then I have the best of both worlds.”

Regarding his greatest professional challenges, “Two immediately come to mind,” he replied. “First is the constant `selling’ of credit within the organization to make certain that it is understood. The astute credit manager will always keep going back to ensure that upper management understands what the credit manager is doing with the receivables. You can’t take that understanding for granted. It is an ongoing challenge to keep the appropriate people educated.

The second challenge deals with the issue of isolation. Credit people are often very alone because the company in general doesn’t really understand what they do. There is this `shroud of mystery’ surrounding the credit operation. To address this isolation problem, management should support credit managers in their desire to join professional associations where they can network, share problems and discuss common issues. FCIB, of course, is the perfect example of an association that offers such networking and education opportunities for credit professionals.”

Over the years Beretz has been a speaker at numerous FCIB and NACM conferences and meetings. He will be leading a panel on International Credit Scoring at the FCIB Global Meeting in New York City in November 2000.

Sherry Schlossnagle is a freelance writer based in Laurel, MD.