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Thoughts from a global perspective; Yousif B. Ghafari reflects on term as U.S. Ambassador to Slovenia.

Yousif Ghafari is a well-traveled and well-versed man. Born in Lebanon, Ghafari immigrated to the United States in the early '70s and founded his business, GHAFARI Companies, in 1982. What started as a small architecture and design firm in Dearborn has now expanded to an international giant with multiple offices throughout the world.


A highly successful company and numerous philanthropic awards is enough for most people to call it a career. Ghafari on the other hand, was just getting started. In 2008, former President George W. Bush appointed Ghafari as the United States Ambassador to Slovenia, where he spent the past two years improving diplomatic and business relations between the two companies.

Earlier this year, the Detroit Regional Chamber named Yousif Ghafari the 2009 World Trader of the Year for his significant contributions to the promotion of international trade and exceptional involvement in promoting Michigan as a great place to do business.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Ghafari about his thoughts on the global marketplace and the opportunities that exist for companies in Michigan.

Tell us about your role as U.S. Ambassador to Slovenia and how it helped spur economic growth.

Part of my objectives as Ambassador was to increase the United States' investments in Slovenia and improve the trade of goods between the two countries. We would often host American companies and service providers at our embassy to help answer their questions about the Slovenia; typically questions about laws, the country's investments and the current markets. Whatever we could do to help these companies, we would do it.

We also ran trade shows where franchisers from all over the world would exhibit to find partners and investors and help bring the franchise model into other parts of the world like Slovenia.

Can you give us an example of a company you worked with?

One that comes to mind happened during my last few weeks in Slovenia. The Westinghouse Company, who is doing a big push in nuclear energy, knew that Slovenia had a need for that type of energy and inquired about doing business in the country. Slovenia has had a great experience with their existing nuclear plant and would love recreate it.

With interest on both sides, our job at the American embassy was to help Westinghouse position their company in Slovenia and get acclimated to the country's surroundings. We were certainly happy to help. Projects like Westinghouse are typically long term investments and can take 10 to 15 years to complete from the time it's first talked about it until the plant is built.


What do American companies need to know when investing abroad?

It is important for American companies to not only consider the size of the country, but they also need to look at the entire region as a whole and make sure they understand the culture, laws and other determining factors that influence investment.

My advice for American companies is that if you want to do business in Slovenia, you better have something to offer and be able to differentiate your product. Slovenians are very smart and sophisticated buyers who know what they want and you have to be able to fit their needs.

Many common brands throughout the world like Coca Cola and high tech companies like HP and IBM arc already in Slovenia and doing quite well because they offer quality products and good service.

What are the differences you see in the American economy compared to the rest of the world?

The size of the U.S. economy is 13 trillion dollars, which can sometimes be intimidating for small countries whose purchasing power is less than a third of ours. However, I believe all of our economies are interconnected and when we go through an economic crisis like we are now, it is felt throughout the entire world; not just here in the states.


When I left Slovenia, they were just beginning to feel the pinch we've been feeling here for quite some time. Their main trading partners are Austria and Germany and their automotive sector is beginning to suffer as well. Mercedes and BMW are not producing the volumes they used to. That hurts their suppliers, which than affects the local economy in Slovenia.

So as you can see, the world's economies are very much interconnected. There is even more evidence in Japan where Toyota just announced its first profit loss in 50 years.

The economy is creating a lot of challenges throughout the world. Do you see any opportunities arising from these challenges?

Absolutely, where there is a challenge there is an opportunity. My company, GHAFARI, is a good example. Traditionally, 65 to 70 percent of our business originally came from the automotive sector.

Over the past few years we have been able to diversify our client base and move into the international market. We now have offices throughout the world and are receiving a substantial amount of work in growth regions like the Middle Eastern Gulf and India. It is really helping us weather the slow down of the economy in Michigan and the United States. As a result of this business, we have recently opened offices in the Doha, Qatar; Baroda, India and have plans to open another office in Abu Dhabi.

What specific industries do you think have growth opportunities in Michigan?

Michigan has many opportunities in health care. We have excellent health care systems, hospitals and doctors, which we can use to our advantage and export our knowledge in these services to other areas of the world. There are also great opportunities for foreign companies to invest in Michigan with our strong education and technology base. The traditional economy of Detroit no longer exists. The old story of three generations of family all working for one of the automakers is a thing of the past. Today's youth need to learn a high level of scientific and mathematical skills as these are the skills the world is looking for. We now live in a global marketplace and now compete with the Chinese, the Indians and other growing countries.



Enrollment in engineering programs at Michigan universities increased substantially over last year's numbers. Why? These are the jobs that are in demand for the future. There is a tremendous need to make our country energy efficient and many excellent opportunities exist in the development of alternatives fuels and energy. Michigan's universities are some of the best in the country and can play a major role in developing and retaining talent to do work in these areas.

What makes Michigan attractive to foreign companies looking to invest in the United States?

Michigan has long tradition of leading the automotive industry, which is attractive to investors. Our location, great universities and work ethic all work in our favor. When I tell people overseas that Americans often work long days, they look at me like I am out of my mind. In Europe, people do not work 12 to 14 hour shifts like many of us do here. Europeans place great value on having personal time for themselves and with their family. The American work ethic is definitely something many countries find impressive.

Michigan also has some of the best universities in the world. The more students we can graduate in engineering fields, the more companies will invest here. Logistics is also a key factor for our success. Great airports, water ways and available land for development are all assets that make it easy to export goods, which is a major contributor to our success and a selling point for foreign companies who want to manufacture goods in the region.

Steve Poole is marketing manager for the Detroit Regional Chamber.

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World Trader of the Year Award

Past World Trader of the Year winners include:


Robert A. Ficano, Wayne County Executive


Timothy M. Manganello, BorgWarner, Inc.


L. Brooks Patterson, Oakland County Executive


Charles "Chip" McClure, Arvin Meritor


Nick Scheele, Ford Motor Company


Dieter Zetsche, DaimlerChrysler Corp.


Richard E. Dauch, American Axle and Manufacturing


Larry Yost, ArvinMeritor


George N. Herrera, Masco Corp.


Thomas Stallkamp, DaimlerChrysler Corp.


J.T. Battenberg III, Delphi Automotive Systems


Jacques Nasser, Ford Automotive Operations


Timothy Leuliette, ITT Automotive


Kenneth Way, Lear Seating Corporation


Michael Monahan, Comerica Bank


Al Checchi & Gary Wilson, Northwest Airlines


Bronce Henderson, Detroit Center Tool


Nicola Antakli, Intraco Corporation


William Flynn, National Bank of Detroit
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Title Annotation:World Trader Preview
Author:Poole, Steve
Article Type:Company overview
Date:Apr 1, 2009
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