June 2015 What's Hot

Area Workers Weave Global Web of Business


Written By: Chris Eversole

Andrea Holbrook grew up in international business, accompanying her mother, Giovanna Holbrook, on trips to exotic locations such as the Galápagos Islands and Costa Rica.

Now, Andrea is president of Holbrook Travel, a 40-year-old Gainesville-based company that arranges trips for 4,500 travelers annually to 33 countries including Madagascar, India and Cuba.

“It’s cozy and comfortable to be next to the University of Florida and close to Latin America,” Andrea said. “UF also provides us with a good pool of job applicants with interests related to what we do.”

Holbrook is one of many people in Gainesville whose work has a global reach.

Four Decades of Helping Travelers
Giovanna Holbrook arranged a trip to the Galápagos Islands for a group of UF professors and others in 1971. Inspired by the success of this venture, she established the travel company in 1974 with the help of her husband, Juan.

In 1984, while on a birding trip to Costa Rica, she visited a 500-acre property in a rainforest that was in danger of being timbered.

She bought the land in 1985 and created the Selva Verde Lodge and Rainforest Reserve. Today, the trips to the lodge and other locations in Costa Rica account for more than one-third of Holbrook Travel’s business, Andrea said.

The company has expanded beyond its original emphasis to include student travel. The majority of its travelers come through the Road Scholar program (formerly Elderhostel).

Andrea Holbrook especially enjoys arranging travel for high school students and takes pride in being what she calls a “global ambassador.”

“What a profound impact we make on young people,” she said. “Our travelers are incredibly appreciative and respectful of local culture and wildlife.”

Holbrook Travel has been licensed to offer travel to Cuba since 2000. Currently, the company is working with local organizations such as the Sea Turtle Conservancy to arrange programs to Cuba.

“We’re looking forward to working with many other people and organizations to help them expand their global outreach,” she said.

Optym’s Melting Pot
Rapidly growing company Optym employs an international workforce that represents about 20 countries among its 75 employees in Gainesville, with another 45 in India, 40 in Armenia and five in Australia.

The international nature of the workforce seems natural for founder Dr. Ravindra Ahuja, who himself has global ties. A native of India, he was a professor and researcher before moving to the United States in 1986.

When he joined the faculty of UF’s industrial and systems engineering department in 1998, many of his students came from overseas.

Those students as well as international students from other universities have been attracted to Optym since he founded the company in 2000. Together, they have helped him meet the growing demand for software and consulting based on his unique approach that uses complex algorithms to improve scheduling for trains, planes, ships, trucks and other forms of transportation.

Natives of Armenia and India started the company’s offices in those countries since qualified employees were available in the regions. Optym also established its Australian office to serve its customers there.

The company was sensitive to the international nature of its business when it changed its name (formerly Innovative Scheduling) and developed new company graphics, said Janice Kaplan, the company’s senior marketing writer.

“We needed a name that was positive and easy to pronounce in most cultures, (and) one criteria for our colors was that they didn’t have a negative connotation,” she said. “We realize that we’re not just marketing to America.”

Navigating Time Zones
John Hartnett gets up at 4 a.m. and checks global currency exchange rates. Some of his days end with an 11 p.m. call to a supplier in Hong Kong or a customer in Italy due to the differences in time zones.

The schedule is routine for Hartnett’s job as Vice President of Global Business Development for Endoscopy Replacement Parts.

International sales account for 65 percent of the business for the company, which supplies repair shops with aftermarket parts for endoscopy machines — a niche market that is growing as endoscopy testing expands. Hartnett maintains in-depth knowledge of international markets in order to best support his company.

“An example of this is understanding how U.S. sanctions and a strengthening dollar are making it more difficult for Russian small businesses to buy our components, which they need to keep their operations going,” he said.

Harnett enjoys adapting to the cultural preferences of his customers.

“I use Skype with many customers in South America,” he said. “They want to see who they’re talking to.”

IFAS Researcher is World Citizen
Carlene Chase is a native of Trinidad and Tobago and a graduate of the University of the West Indies.

She earned her doctorate in horticultural sciences from UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and she is now an associate professor of horticultural sciences there.

Chase’s work took her back to her native country as a Fulbright Scholar for the 2010-2011 academic year, and she continues to work with University of the West Indies faculty and students.

Currently, Chase is working on a project in the East African country of Tanzania in cooperation with the country’s government, the Sokoine University of Agriculture and 5 0 farmers.

The project is teaching farmers to graft cuttings from tomato seedlings of varieties that are susceptible to soilborne disease onto disease-resistant tomato and eggplant rootstocks. The idea is to help farmers located in the three villages of the Kilombero Valley who have no options for controlling soil-borne diseases, which can sometimes kill an entire planting of tomatoes.

“The eggplant rootstocks are also very resistant to flooding, which is a big problem there during the rainy season,” Chase said.

Chase conducts most of her international work through email and Skype, although she travels overseas for one or two weeks annually. Her most recent trip to Tanzania was in January.

All of her work addresses global hunger by increasing yields through controlling weeds and insects, making soil more fertile, employing drip irrigation and using high-producing crop varieties.

“It’s wonderful to be able to reach out and help address things that I think are important,” she said.

IFAS has a long history of contributing to improving agriculture in developing countries and addressing hunger, Chase also noted.

Chase credits UF/IFAS Global, the department’s international programs office, with keeping her informed about international research and grant opportunities.

The Horticultural Sciences Department is well-positioned to improve agriculture, Chase believes.

“There’s a great sense of collaboration in our corridors, laboratories and classrooms,” she said. “We’re at the cutting edge of merging applied science and basic science, and we’re stimulating each other through osmosis.”

Supplying Mining Machines Globally
Kathy Hellriegel regularly interacts with people globally for her job as director of Alachua.

Most often, this involves filling orders for the massive mining machines the Alachua plant makes.

Hellriegel has also traveled to the Sandvik plant in Shanghai, China. “It was a great opportunity — both seeing a different manufacturing process and experiencing another culture,” she said.

Sandvik Alachua conducts training for international workers, often using translators provided by UF.

Sandvik is based in Sweden, but its mining division has assembly centers around the world.

“We can leverage our global buying power with suppliers, and we can share best practices with other assembly centers,” Hellriegel said.

Hellriegel is the 2015 chair of the Advanced Manufacturing Council of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

“We want to increase international awareness of the manufacturers in our area and to let potential employees know there are opportunities here,” Hellriegel said.

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