An Interview With Maureen Longoria at The Paxton Companies

Success tips for shipping internationally

Maureen Longoria, Director, Global Business Development, The Paxton Cos.

How do you avoid mishaps when shipping goods internationally? That’s the million-dollar question. Last week I sat down with Maureen Longoria, former director, global business development for fourth-generation family-owned The Paxton Cos. to discuss the history of Paxton and other best-kept secrets to achieving a smooth international shipment process. Below is what came out of the interview, edited for clarity.


Laurel Delaney: What’s Paxton all about (e.g., mission, locations, etc.)?  What sets you apart from other companies?

Maureen Longoria:  We are now a fourth-generation family-owned-and-operated business based in Washington D.C. with facilities around the world. Our overseas operations include London, Singapore, Doha, three in Afghanistan, two in Iraq and one in South Sudan, Africa the world's newest independent country.

The Paxton Cos. are committed to providing superior relocation, information and logistic management services in our local worldwide communities. With a dedication to quality and focus on improvement, we strive to serve our clients in a manner that is both honest and responsible.

As far as what sets us apart, that's easy, it's our people and their skill sets. Our core focus has always been to service the most difficult and challenging of projects. The degree of difficulty can reside with the locations themselves, like maybe Africa for it's lack of infrastructure, of Iraq/Afghanistan for their security problems.

But degree of difficulty can also come from the kinds of shipments we move, or who we move them for. Some clients have more specific needs which can be tough to meet - that's our core really - doing what any one else said can't be done.

LD: How does your company stay up to date on all things related to international logistics?

ML: That can be a challenge and no one can rely on a trade association or central depot for their news - industry news or otherwise. Our teams are in daily contact with most agents we work with in more than 150 countries and a good deal of it comes directly from them. When a railroad line is flooded out in India, we know it; when China changes a tax law that affects imports, we know that too. The most import thing is that we catalog the information in a central location for all staff to access quickly and easily to communicate to our customers.

LD: When individuals are ready to transport goods across borders, what are key areas they should focus on to ensure the process goes smoothly?

ML: Listen to the professionals. Remember that every country treats each commodity that might be in your home differently. Russia and some of the former members of the USSR, for example, have very strict restrictions on the importation and exportation of musical instruments. If you want to bring your guitar to Moscow, you need to follow the protocol to be certain you can export it in three years when you come home. That means take photos, get an appraisal, get an import license permit, etc. It sounds silly, but these are their rules, and no one is exempt.

LD: Who prepares the required documentation on an international shipment, Paxton, your customer or do you work together to make sure everything is done accurately and timely?

ML: Paxton is a licensed freight forwarder in addition to being a mover. We obtained these credentials specifically so that we could control the export documentation, which is the primary source of problems when shipping abroad. We complete all the necessary paperwork in conjunction with our clients and our agents in the field to ensure accuracy.

LD: Is there best-kept secret that guarantees your customer’s shipments arrive safe and timely to their customer’s doors? If so, what is it?

ML: I guess I'd say to use the same guidelines as you'd use in dealing with your attorney: Follow the instructions of your transport company - do not try to hide anything.

If we don't know the facts, we cannot counsel you properly. Over-the-counter medication in the US can be considered a controlled substance in other counties, Christmas decorations are to be avoided when moving to Muslim countries, and beer/wine/alcohol is a red flag in a lot of the world including the US where we still have many states that regulate it heavily and some counties that remain "dry" to this day.

And then there is patience. Your mover has no control over some elements of the move. Steamship lines and airlines, for example, take cargo in a predetermined priority order.   Airlines take passenger bags, then mail, then perishables, and only if there is space left will they take unaccompanied used personal effects or general cargo. It's almost like all shipments move as a standby passenger who has no confirmed seat on the flight.

Customs is also a wild card. Clearance even in the most advanced of countries like the US might take a day or it might take several weeks depending on what other government agencies are interested in random inspection … USDA, FDA, etc.

LD: Can you give us an example of a recent success story involving one of your customers who moved goods from US to another country? What made everything go right?

ML: Sure, actually this happened about two months ago. We moved a small shipment of personal effects for a repeat customer to Africa - Niamey, Niger. All went well with the packing, and the customer was happy. Our teams tracked the cargo daily always knowing where it was to ensure we could respect the transportation plan we outlined. The goods made it to Casablanca, Morocco, safely where they were to catch a flight to Niamey, Niger. But that is where things got hairy. The airlines in Morocco lost the shipment. It just literally disappeared. Our efforts to resolve the problem by phone and email, even with the airlines senior manager went nowhere. In fact, their staff gave up and suggested that we file a claim and close the file. 

At Paxton we do not lose shipments. In the last 20 years when we have been keeping these records of the tens of thousands of shipments we move, we have successfully located all misrouted cargo but for five consignments. We are persistent and have the trouble-shooting skills to find just about anything.

So our trouble-shooting team put together a plan, which included pulling our warehouse manager (Moroccan by birth) who speaks both French and Arabic. We dispatched him to Casablanca where he was to 1) file a police report with local officials 2) submit a letter of complaint addressed to the chairman of Royal Air Maroc the airline headquarters 3) conduct a thorough warehouse search at the airport using photos we had of the consignment and 4) view the security tapes. 

Our hard work paid off! We located the cargo, which had been misrouted to Istanbul, Turkey, and immediately re-routed it to Africa to the consignee. This type of approach is unique to Paxton and is the cornerstone of our success.

LD: If there is one sentence to sum up Paxton, what would it be and why?

ML: The Paxton Companies are a global organization with the heart and nimbleness of a family-owned business.  

LD:  Anything else you’d like to add?  

ML: Our employees make up a melting pot of cultures with over 26 languages spoken in our office, but the commonality amongst us all is that we care about our customers and want to do the best job possible.