The Christine Spray Show

Successful CEO Stories and Insights

Ep001: Global Success with Jorge Squier

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Christine: Joining me today is Jorge Squires. Thank you Jorge for being a guest on our show today, and thanks for being a client too. How are you today?

Jorge: Morning, Christine. Thank you for having me today.

Christine: Awesome. I'm so glad to be with you. And I appreciate you sharing your time and expertise with us. Please start with sharing some of your background and how you grew up, where you're from, education, training? Give us an insight to that part of your life.

Jorge: Sure. I was born in Lima, Peru. I came to the United States twice. First, as an exchange student in 1974, with the AFS organization, American Field Service. And then three years later, I obtained a full scholarship to Fulbright, to study at the College of Charleston, in South Carolina, where I obtained my bachelor's degree in Business Administration and Economics.
And then after that, I went to get an MBA, international business, at another school. American Graduate School of International Management, in Phoenix. It was known as Thunderbird, which is now part of the University of Arizona. And then after that I moved to Houston in 1981. I went to work for an European company, doing petrochemical chemical trading. And I worked for this company for three years. And in 1983, then I left to join another one for the next 10 years, so.

Christine: Interesting. Congratulations on you not only coming to the US twice, but going to Thunderbird, and your education before that. It's amazing, and obviously explains why you're so successful, and you're so smart. Tell us how you got into the business? You said your first job, when you came to Houston, it was in international trading, in the chemical business, but you also started your own business, Panachem, correct? Tell us about that.

Jorge: Yeah, the company I worked for from 1983 to 1993 closed its doors, and I found myself without a job. And I had two small kids at the time, and we were right on the process of buying our new home. So, it was a dire situation. But I had a choice, and either I could leave, and start over again somewhere else, or turn it around. So, I decided to start my own company.
And that was American chemical marketing, and we found some investors, and friends, that helped me start the business. And we managed it for the next 20 years. So, the company grew to the point where eventually, three years later, one of my main distribution partners, we merged our companies, and we became GTM. And then later, we even actually brought private equity, in 2014. And the company now is one of the top chemical distributors in Latin America.

Christine: Wow, amazing. So GTM International, one of the largest in Latin America, tell us what the company does? And who are your clients? Who's your target market?

Jorge: Yeah well, we are a full liner distribution company. We have 11 offices in Latin America. We are in most countries, from Mexico, down Central America, West Coast South America, and Brazil. We're not in Argentina, or Venezuela, or Guyana, but pretty much we cover the whole continent.
Today, GTM manages industrial chemicals, which we manage from Houston. They're all in bulk by ship. We manage also specialty chemicals, performance chemicals. And we also have our customer solutions, which are blends. So, we not only distribute, but we also work closely with our clients to create solutions for them, with the specific blends. And this could be in the paint industry, as well as in the inks industry, that's so roughly.

Christine: Interesting. So I have to ask, has COVID helped your business, or hurt your business?

Jorge: Well, like everybody else, COVID was a challenge for everyone. But the way our business is, we were actually, we did very well last year, in 2020. We had one of the best years ever for the company. And I think it had to do with the fact that in the industrial side, it is all about the logistics and the supply chain. We've had a very strong supply chain with our partners in the US. And having infrastructure like terminals in Latin America, allows us to store material.
And so, at the beginning I was really concerned, because at the beginning of the pandemic in March and April, we've had a load of inventory in our tanks. And the economy slowed down, and then it turned out to be actually something that turned out to be good, because suppliers were starting to reduce capacity. And we were in a position where we had enough inventory to service the market, which bought us a lot of loyalty with clients. We were able to supply their needs, as well as we were able to give them flexibility in terms of the credit concept, that ensued.

Christine: Wow. Amazing. So, you had probably one of your best years yet then?

Jorge: Yeah. Sometimes the challenges, makes everyone step up to the next level. And my team and everybody in the company did that. So, it was really good.

Christine: Right. Well you, I think you're a great leader, just from what I've known you in the time I've known you over the years. You've looked for the opportunities when something doesn't go well, and you guys have always continued to maximize that opportunities, when things weren't going exactly well. Whether it was oil and gas prices, or the shipping channel, or things like this, and people, supply and demand.
Tell us some of the challenges when you started Panachem. Let's go back to when you started Panachem, you grew that business for over 20 years, and grew it well. Tell us some of the biggest challenges, and lessons learned in starting your own business then?

Jorge: I think the biggest challenge was managing the cashflow, selling products into Latin America, 20, 30 years ago, wasn't easy. Even today, sometimes it's difficult to sell internationally, because of the issue of credit. But in the nature of this business, most clients required payment terms.
So, we are dealing with, we have to wear several hats. One is supplier, another one is banker. Not having enough capital at the time, we have to figure out how to monetize the receivables that we had into something that could help us with the pending credit lines.
And what we did is, we got insurance. We started where we use a bank at one point, and then later we used some private insurance, to be able to use that insurance as collateral with the banks, to get credit lines. And that allows us to finance the operations. There was a process, there were periods where we were really tight on cash, but overall we were able to be successful.

Christine: And so, that's how you started in group Panachem. Do you still use some of those best practices today with GTM International, now that you continue to grow, and diversify, and get bigger?

Jorge: Yeah, the company now, we have GTM now is, the majority of the company's owned by private equity. So, we have more resources today. It's a different situation, although we have had moments where we had to come up with, we have ways to also extend our financing. We have used this tool as well with GTM. It's a good way to finance receivables, and get some cash. And that has been helpful for us.

Christine: Interesting. And you had quite the ride from being a startup, an entrepreneur, and then continuing to work with, merging with GTM, or partnering with them, I should say. And then merging with them, and then taking on private equity. And now, like you said, you're one of the largest in the world, and certainly the largest in Latin America for what you all do. What are some of the goals you're still focused on with the business, and what are you trying to accomplish now?

Jorge: Well, right now, probably at one point, the core private equity businesses, they exit the company. We're looking forward to that moment eventually. And then continue the growth of the company. The company serves a need, the Latin American market, and especially the chemical market is very fractured. There's over $12 billion worth of business in Latin America. It's pretty large. And there still is a lot of room for consolidation of businesses.
So, as the company grows, we're probably going to acquire other businesses, and make our company more resilient in the sense that we expand as well our specialty platform. For example, we're looking at getting into nutraceuticals, pharma, food products. And for those specific lines of business, are very highly specialized. It's very hard to get the knowledge on your own, in-house. So, the best way to expand on those areas, is working with other companies that have expertise, so you can grow.

Christine: Wow. And that's a huge market in itself, right? Chemical division on one hand, but pharma and pharmaceuticals, and all of those things, good luck with that. I know you guys continue to accomplish your goals, since I've met you. I think I've known you for about 10 years, give or take. It's been a long ride, but I never thought you guys could get busier, but you keep getting busier. It's amazing what you have accomplished.
Tell us some of your hidden opportunities that you've discovered along the way on this path, from an entrepreneur to the merge, into taking on private equity? What are some of the hidden opportunities that you've discovered as a business leader and owner?

Jorge: Just looking at it from a philosophical standpoint, I think I would say three things. First, there's always people willing to help you, if you let them. I think that's very important. We have to realize that we do not have to know everything. I think sometimes as entrepreneurs, it's hard for us to let go, but we need to bring people also smarter than us. I think that is a part of the secret sauce here.
Another one would be, you always have an opportunity to change the outcome by being creative with a problem. And as you know, as a hobby, I like to paint and play music. So, I have a creative streak. And I found that having that ready, as well has helped me in finding solutions for problems, looking at it from different angles. And that goes in hand with the third thing. I think that convention would be the way we look at things. Our perceptions tend to be biased, based on our experiences. So, it's very important that we can step out of our perception, and challenge them, by bringing in other perspectives. I think those are very important.

Christine: Yeah. You hit the nail on the head. You reminded me of Dan Sullivan, who is a founder of Strategic Coach for independent consultants or entrepreneurs, a lot of fellow entrepreneurs as well. And what Dan says, as leaders, we need to take clarity breaks. Well, everybody really should, but particularly business owners, and leaders, that are so busy, and in a hamster wheel. And Dan says, those clarity breaks that we have, really help us come back, and be more recharged, and refocused, and energized, and innovative. And it sounds like through your oil painting and music, and other things that you have hobbies and interest in, that you've been able to do that. Is that correct?

Jorge: Yes. I think it is important that you exercise both sides of the brain. Because problems come in all flavors, and shapes, and forms. And to me, having the situation with COVID last year, for example, I felt like... I don't know. I knew we had a problem, but I also felt like I was in charge of what we were going to do, our destiny. And I think it helped having that perspective to keep my team calm, and focused on what we were doing, and finding solutions for the problems that we were facing.
And with these creative things, with financing, we are getting into a lot detail for someone. Sold our inventory, bought it back, with longer payment terms, for example, was one thing that we did. Which allowed us to give us oxygen, for example. And those are not normal business practices. But we came up with all creative ways to tackle the problem.

Christine: Right. Well, speaking of your team, let's talk about your team for a second. I've had the opportunity to know you for a number of years, and meet several members of your team, and work with your team members as well. And I find you're an extraordinary leader in your best practices, and how you treat people, and care about people.
Tell us your philosophy on being a leader, and being a manager, how you believe you've been successful to build a team? Obviously you've built a great company. But you obviously have a great team, that's been with you for a long time as well. Tell us about your best practices on how you see yourself as a leader, and what that role is, and how it is important to you for the success of the team you have built?

Jorge: Yeah. Well, leadership is hard, but it's very rewarding, I think. I see a big difference between managing and leading. Managing is a day to day task-oriented activities. Leading is about inspiring. I think when we see people that follow us because they want to, and not because they have to, that right there is a telltale they're doing something right. I hope I inspire my people. I am a hardball sometimes. I want things done, but at the same time I want my team to grow.
We hear about several leaderships, it is not an easy thing to do, but it's something that we should all strive for. And I try to do that. With all my good and my bad, I always like to do good for my team. And I think that is important. And you have to be honest as well, because people see through you. You have to be honest. And if you do that, and give people a chance to thrive, you're going to do well.

Christine: Yeah. That has to be one of your proudest accomplishments and achievements, is building the team you built. But in addition to that, or if you want to elaborate on that, what are some of your proudest achievements from the time you started Panachem to where you are today?

Jorge: Oh this, I have a lot of war stories, Christine. We could be here all day. Specific about businesses, I have created crazy things that have worked out. But I think going back to a little bit more recent, the thing that comes to mind is the COVID situation, which is something of course for everybody, was something that big for everyone. Is the fact that I was able to keep my team together. When the pandemic started, I sensed some of my employees, I won't say panic, but getting very, very nervous about the situation. And I hope I gave them a sense of calm and direction, by acting calm as well. Being positive about how it look, I think helped them also calm themselves. And actually we had a great year.
So to me, that's one of the proudest achievements I have made, or I feel like that I contributed to my team to stay focused, and to stay calm, and weather this storm that we have. Besides that, well, I've got so many more moments where I have been in situations where the company... In Panachem, for example, when we started, there were moments where I thought we were going to lose the business, and that we were able to pull through, keeping our team together, and having a positive outlook. I think that is very important.

Christine: Yeah, I do too. And obviously your values come through who you are as a leader, and that's shown through as well with your team. So, let me ask you another question. Related to your senior vice president role of strategic global sourcing with GTM International, what does your ideal day look like? How do you spend your day, and what is your focus? Because I know you've been a part of, you've been in charge of supply chain as well. What does your day look like? Give us an idea of in the life of Jorge Squire, as strategic global sourcing, as senior VP?

Jorge: Yeah. Well to that, I am more focusing in strategy than day-to-day. But in the global sourcing, in the distribution business, you have two components. You have the supply, and the sales, right? If you don't have both working in sync, you don't have a successful business. So, we have people on the ground in Latin America, working on the sales side. I'm here working on the supply side with my team.
Our businesses is, our sourcing is the world. So, I do have an office in Asia, in Shanghai, that manages our Asian sourcing. I have people in... here in Houston to managing all the bulk roles that we've got in the Houston area, which is quite significant. We manage close to 40% of our industrial chemicals.
And I have people in South America as well. In Brazil, and a lady that manage our region in Peru. And a gentleman that is managing Mexico, and Central America, out of Guatemala. So, this is my direct reports. I also participate with the executive team on the strategy. And also in the innovation that the company's taking, and becoming more... We're looking to become more strategic with suppliers. That is important. So, we have to be close to them. The same way we have to be closer to the markets, we have to be close with the suppliers. So, I am focused on that. And how we're going to do that, what is the strategy that we have to follow, and how do we get everybody aligned under the same direction?

Christine: Okay. That's a lot. That's a full plate, for sure. So, remind me, how many direct reports do you have? You mentioned that there are multiple locations across the globe, of course. But how many direct reports do you have, and how many total employees in GTM International?

Jorge: Today I'm managing, have 11 direct reports. I want to keep them at 10 maximum. Another then in the whole team that I manage in procurement, we have 68 people. And as a company, we are, I think today we're probably close to 1200 employees.

Christine: Wow. That's amazing. It gives me goosebumps, just thinking about the size, and the number of people that you lead, and all the different pieces that fit together, to make it all work. Tell us, what do you do, how much of the business is run in-house, how much of it is outsourced? How you look for strategic partnerships? Explain some of that, and how that works within GTM, and in your role?

Jorge: Yeah, well, since we have private equity also as our partner, they have a lot of resources. They have helped us a lot in how we manage our business as well. And so, a lot of the staff is all in-house. But we do hire from time to time, we have consultants also helping us on the specific projects, as the company has become more efficient. For example, the IT systems, right now you hear about artificial intelligence, and that's something that is coming into our business world, is reality, right? So as we predict, for example, our forecasting, managing our inventories, all these things that are not sexy, but they are very important to run your business. The back office. Even dirty management impacts your cashflow. So, you need to know what are you doing with products. Do you have products sitting in your warehouse, that you've ordered a year ago, and you're not moving in there.
So, these things that we're getting support on, in these kind of processes, to get ourselves to become extremely efficient in our business. All of this that we're doing is to create a company, make it a... Supply chain. We imagine a chain with the connections, and less of the that pieces together. It becomes more streamlined, the better your supply chain is. And that's something that, at least realized with my team, how do we make our supply chain? Which is at the value that we provide our suppliers, is that we are an efficient company bringing the products to market. So, the leaner we can make it, the most efficient we can make it, the more competitive we make it also for our suppliers. And for our customers as well, right?

Christine: Interesting. So, those are probably some of your differentiators that... Don't let me put words in your mouth. What do your customers and your suppliers, what do they think and believe your differentiators are? Why do they do business with you then?

Jorge: I think that we have this approach of being chemistry user centric, which means that we want to know the consumers who are customers. And that is a tall order, because what does that mean? It means that we have to know, not only the guy that places the order, but we need to know all the people in their organization. We need to speak to the lab technicians, to the people that are trying to develop products, how can we help them? And at all levels.
And this is something that our company's focusing on now, that we all have to learn how to get closer to our customers, consumers as well, and support them. So, we have to view our, the same way we look at our principles as our partners, to customize the products, we need to look at our clients also as our partners, and how we help them get to their markets.

Christine: Interesting. So, obviously you're putting your customers first, and understanding what their best needs are. But you guys go above and beyond for your customers, don't you? There's lots of different things that you do for them.

Jorge: Yes. For example, we have 11 laboratories in Latin America. So for example, application labs. We have customers that need a specific solution. We have made specific solutions, for example, in the inks business, where we in flexography, equipment is an example. Now, a lot of the equipment in Latin America comes from different manufacturers. Either European, or American, or Asian. And each machine has a different kind of setting.
So for example, they're cleaning the rollers when they're printing boxes, or printing paper, or something, the downtime of those rollers is money, right? Because they are not being able to print. So, how can we help them feed that process? What kind of products can we provide? And we have managed to make tailor made solutions for these customers. For each specific customer we create a formula. And we have gone to that level of detail to service our market.
Another example is also with the paint industry, we do not just sell the chemicals to make paint solvents, we actually make also paint thinners. And yeah, so we also make different kinds of paint thinners for different applications. For lacquer, for wood, and so on. And we support a lot of our clients in that way.

Christine: Interesting. Thanks for sharing that with us. I appreciate the detail, so that people that aren't familiar with GTM International gets an idea of more what you guys do do. Obviously, you do a lot. And that gives us some of the detail behind the scenes.
I'm going to switch gears on you now a little bit. I'm going to go back to asking you some questions about your own leadership, and your own growth. What do you do for professional development? How do you continue to be a great leader, and things like that. Besides the stuff that keeps you balanced with your painting and other hobbies and interests, what do you do for professional development?

Jorge: Well, first thing I started to do was to meditate, Christine, that doesn't sound like professional development. But actually meditation has helped me also with perspective, and introspection. I think it's very important that we have time to do that. I am a high D personality, and I need to have... That was good advice that I got from our CEO in the company, that, "Jorge, you need to meditate and to eat," he has helped me.
So, that's one way internally. But at the same time, keeping up with the trends. We have to keep learning every day. The moment we stop learning, then we become irrelevant. I think that's a strong comment, but I think it's true. You have to be current with everything, and participating in a lot of industries, seminars, and conferences, and well as read books, or try to keep up to the latest things that are happening.
And I think I keep myself flexible. I think I'm a person that adapts. We have had many changes in our company, and I'm still here. And trying to learn, every day is new for me. And that is the key. You have to have an open mind. So, I keep myself busy by reading, talking to people, participating in industry shows, talking to suppliers, talking to customers. And that is very important.

Christine: All right. And you and I met originally when I started working with you and your leadership team, as an executive coach. But you also have since joined as a CEO of Vistage group, that I lead. And you have multiple people of your leadership team, and multiple Vistage groups as well. How has Vistage been a resource for you when it comes to growing you, growing your people, and using as a resource from a standpoint of leadership, or growth, or thinking outside the box?

Jorge: Yeah, I think it has been... When I started Panachem, my business was more focused overseas. At that time, I did not have a... What do you call it? Like an advisory board to help me with ideas. So, it was a little bit lonely. But we have spoke to all the CEOs, with other people that were running businesses. It gave me some perspective. It gave me some great ideas, some insights. And as the company grew, of course, I have move along with the different groups of people, and I have made great friends.
And I think this is the fact that it is managed in a circle of trust, where people can be open about certain things, it is a great venue to be able to learn new things, to see how others are doing. And at the same time to contribute. Because I don't think it's there to take, but also to give. Funny enough, I think I have enjoyed more giving than taking, as you know. I am there to provide some advice. And that is also very rewarding, Christine. I think we want to serve. We want to help. And by helping others, we help ourselves.

Christine: Well said. Well said. What do you wish you had known when you started out? When you ventured down this path to become an entrepreneur, and grow Panachem, and then obviously continue to grow with, emerging with GTM, and have private equity, et cetera. What do you wish you had known as you started out, and other lessons you've learned along the way?

Jorge: I think one thing that comes to mind, Christine, would be that there's always an opportunity to change the outcome of things. And sometimes we get paralyzed by fear, or not knowing what's going to happen. And then we have to fight against that. So, I think when I started out, I have to admit, maybe the circumstances at the time, having two small kids, got caught in the middle of building a house, and trying to find, to start the business. Also, a reluctant entrepreneur at the time. I worked for a company, and then it closes doors. And I found myself in a situation that I needed to lose something.
Maybe if I would have to do it all again, maybe how it would have been if I started by myself. But at the end of the day, sequence is different. Even with partners, it is your business, you run it, you develop it. But don't be afraid of it. I think life throws you so many different opportunities, so, we should not have fear. There's always, the sun comes out every morning. Right? And that's how you have to live, that things come up. Even when you have tough situations, or difficult situations, something is going to turn around, and turn it for the better. You have to believe that.

Christine: Well, I certainly do. And I agree with you 100% on that. You can always find a gift or opportunity in the adversity that we all go through, and that's just life. And if you don't, then it's going to hold you back, or slow you down for sure. Let me ask you another question. If you could write a book, what would the book be about?

Jorge: I think it would be, I would call it, believe in yourself, you can do it. That would be summing up things.

Christine: Right. And would you share your background, experiences, and attitudes that you were talking about, that you have to have, to overcome adversities, and always continue to learn, those things. Are there other things you would share too?

Jorge: Well, I know that part, and that would take us a while to talk about, is the details as to how I managed to come here to the US. It's a long story. But I will have to sum it up in the sense that I visualized what I wanted to do. And I focused on that. And I presented things that, at the time probably didn't make any sense, but they worked. And that's why you got me here. So choices that we make at the moment. Simple as for example, when I was still in Peru, reading about the scholarship to come to the US to study. I had another friend of mine at the university, who said, "Well, I don't think, that's no good for us. It's too expensive." And I went to the meeting anyway, and it was expensive. At the time, I didn't have the money to pay for that. But I applied anyway.
They told me there was one in a million chance that I would get a full scholarship at the time. I had to put a money contribution, I couldn't do it. And I applied, because I felt like the reason of a scholarship is to give someone an opportunity, and it's not about the money. And that speech helped. Actually, I got a full scholarship to come to the US. If I would not have gone to the meeting, have that interview, and did not deter by the fact that I did not have the down payment that they required at the time, I will not have been here.

Christine: Yeah. And so, you not only had a plan, but you had a vision, and a direction of what you wanted to accomplish, and you just continued to pursue, even though it looked like the door was going to be closed?

Jorge: Correct.

Christine: Yeah. What's some of the most rewarding part of your life so far personally and professionally? What's the most rewarding part of your life so far?

Jorge: I think it's giving back. Inspiring people. I think that is one of the most rewarding things that I'm doing now. How can I inspire my teammates? Do the same thing at home with my boys. Sometimes it's difficult with time, but you also have to do it with them, the same thing. And understanding that life is a discovery, until the day we depart we always learn, right? So, we have to make the most of it.

Christine: Right. And so, inspiring people personally and professionally, you certainly are an example of that. And you've walked that talk. I can witness that, given the time and the years of working with you, and working with your team. Is there anything else I should have asked, or you'd like to share with people, to inspire others, since that's something that you're so passionate about, and what you've done so well? Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Jorge: Well, maybe you can add about what other things also rewarding for me, would be I think, one of the most rewarding things as well, is to make it happen. When you set your mind to do something, and it happens. You see it happening in front of your eyes. So, making an idea into reality, and along the way, you can also inspire other people to be their best. I think that is very, very rewarding.

Christine: Yeah. Interesting. Yeah. And on that note... I know we have to wrap up, but on that note you have, because of that, because you've been able to do that with your team, you have people that have been with you for many, many years, haven't you? Your employees, your leadership team, you have people that have been with you for a long time? What's some of the tenure that they've been with, the length of time they've been with you.

Jorge: Well, I have people that have been with me for over 20 years.

Christine: Yeah, that's what I thought.

Jorge: Yeah. And I have had people that have left the company, and they asked me to come back.

Christine: Right.

Jorge: So, I hope I was able to inspire them, and motivate them. Of course, it's not about me, but working together, trying to be not only... Before we become bosses, we become mentors. We have to mentor people. Because when you mentor them, they mentor you as well. Right?

Christine: Yeah. I love that. I love your philosophy. You're amazing. You're absolutely amazing, Jorge. Congratulations on your success thus far, personally and professionally. And all the best in the future. I know you're going to continue to do great things, and good luck with the endeavor with the private equity, and GTM International. I know you're going to do stuff even beyond that. Thank you so much for sharing your time, and your expertise, and your experience with us. I know that everyone's going to enjoy hearing your story, and I look forward to following up with you as well. Have a great day.

Jorge: Thank you, Christine. You too. And thank you for having me on the show today.

Christine: Absolutely. Take care. Bye-bye.

Jorge: You too. Bye-bye.