Offset & Countertrade: How a Recent Alum Revived a Classic Thunderbird Industry

By Nash Wills, Co-Editor

The informational session
The informational session

If I had to pinpoint a single defining characteristic about Thunderbird, it would have to be that, simply put, it’s just plain different—always has been, and always will be. Being different is an integral part of the institution’s heritage. From the way it was founded, to its rather inconvenient location in the middle of the desert, and everything else in between, it’s all, well, different. I don’t think anyone who chooses to come to Thunderbird arrives at his or her decision by chasing after something customary. I know I didn’t. There are plenty of other schools that can take you down that path. This is just a prelude, however, to say that I was thoroughly excited when I received an email a few weeks ago informing me that an alum, Julie Goodman (MBA 2012), would be coming to campus on September 26th to give an informational overview on an industry that was previously unknown to me called “offset and countertrade.” To say that my preconceived expectations were eventually exceeded by the actual presentation would be an understatement. I was enthralled by it. It switched a light on in my head, enlightened me to new career possibilities, and provided me with a much-needed reminder during this taxing job hunt season as to why I came to Thunderbird in the first place: to do something different.

My fascination with the industry and presentation left an impression that followed me into the night, where I found myself singing its praises to a few friends who had been unable to attend. They echoed my curiosity, and their interest is what gave me the idea to write this article. So, with that in mind, I reached out to Julie the next day to see if I could borrow some of her time for an interview in the hopes that those who missed her presentation would have a second chance to hear her voice through Das Tor. In what follows I’m going to tell you about Julie’s story, the offset industry, and some advice she gave me on the career search.

Julie about to take on the world
Julie about to take on the world

When you first meet Julie you probably wouldn’t immediately jump to the conclusion that she’s a defense industry entrepreneur with close to a decade of experience in international business—even she will admit to that. Don’t be fooled though–a simple 5-minute conversation with her is enough to yield a glimpse into why she’s been so successful. Although her story is unique, it’s also not all that dissimilar from those of most T-birds. For instance, before coming to Thunderbird, she always knew that she wanted to be involved in international business, but didn’t quite know what that looked like. This led her to bounce around for a stint, pursuing jobs that were international, and that would help her to develop the skills needed to succeed in an global career, whatever form that might eventually take. This included jobs in sales and marketing, and some time spent abroad in Brazil and Mexico, eventually culminating in her learning to speak Spanish and Portuguese. Sound like a T-Bird?

Listening to her story though, it quickly becomes apparent that it deviates slightly from the typical T-bird path in two important regards. The first has to do with her grandfather. He was a Texan pioneer in the international business realm and exerted a powerful influence on both her childhood and future career decisions. Julie ultimately cites him as the force that challenged her to think differently, and to eventually apply to Thunderbird, once telling her: “If you’re going to go international, you’ve got to go to Thunderbird first.” The second deviation has to do with the fact that she’s undoubtedly a natural born entrepreneur, having started her first business during her Junior year of college at CU Boulder. After writing a business plan—a task she actually enjoys doing—and pitching it to her grandfather, he ended up liking the idea so much that he agreed to give her a small loan. She’s never looked back since, and if you ever rented a bike or Kayak in Massachusetts between 2006-2010, it just might have been from Julie’s “Cuttyhunk Bike and Kayak Rental.”julie-photo-logo

After graduating from Thunderbird and spending a short spell abroad refining her Spanish, Julie moved back home to Dallas. A little unsure of where the universe wanted her to go next, she decided to follow her entrepreneurial intuition and start up her own freelance consulting firm that specialized in providing market research for businesses trying to export internationally. She would name it Goodman Global Consulting. When I asked her if she was nervous about starting the business at the time, she told me: “I enjoyed working with companies on real projects in school, and I always wanted to start my own business. It all just turned out to happen a little earlier than I thought.” It was also around this time that she was first introduced to the world of offset.

Julie dressed as Dilma Rousseff at a costume themed offset event in Brazil
Julie dressed as Dilma Rousseff at a costume themed offset event in Brazil

One thing about Julie that anyone who knows her will tell you is that she’s consistently involved in a broad spectrum of activities and organizations. This has paid dividends for her. Just to name a couple, she’s currently on the TELC Committee and is also the president of the Dallas alumni chapter, which is home to around 700 T-birds—an ideal setting for building a wide variety of beneficial relationships. One day, while speaking with a fellow alum, the topic of offset surfaced. Julie had never heard of it before, but was demonstratively curious, so the alum arranged for her to meet with a guy who works in Lockheed Martin’s offset department. The meeting was a success and left her hungry for more. She called around to a few defense contractors to find out more about the industry and slowly began to see an attractive opportunity, and, to make a long story short: Goodman Global Consulting soon thereafter began offering its services to the defense industry as an offset service provider.

Julie isn’t the first Thunderbird to have worked in the offset business, though. In fact, because of the nature of the job, which involves international travel, negotiations, navigating complex international regulations, needing an entrepreneurial spirit, and enjoying cross-cultural communications, the career field has attracted T-birds for a relatively long period of time. Back in the late 1980s, Thunderbird actually offered an offset class. It was the only school in the world to do so, and because it’s a niche industry that requires a very particular set of skills, defense contractors were eager to hire T-birds right out of school. This history has led to a situation in which, as Julie put it, “everyone knows T-birds in the industry.”

So how does this all connect? Well, last April, two years after having made her debut in the offset industry, Julie returned to Glendale for the school’s 70th anniversary. While talking with Dr. Joe Carter about her job and how there used to be a class taught on the industry back in the day, their conversation subtly turned into one regarding bringing it back to campus. Dr. Carter jokingly, but somewhat seriously, suggested that she should be the one to teach it. Julie wasn’t ready for anything like that though, at least not yet, and so they made a compromise: she would come do an informational session the following year.

The industry at a glance
The industry at a glance

So what is offset, you ask? As you’ve probably already inferred, it’s all based around the defense industry. When a company like, Raytheon, for example, sells defense products to a foreign country—there are 60 countries with official offset policies—Raytheon is required to pay a percentage of the overall sale as an investment in a requested economic sector within the buyer’s country. If $100 million of helicopters are sold to Thailand, and Thailand requires a 20% offset investment, the defense contractor is required to invest $20 million in Thailand as part of the deal—it’s the cost of doing business. Each of the 60 countries identifies economic sectors that they want investments in, and it’s up to the defense contractor to identify projects that can satisfy their needs. These investments range from health care, to water sanitation, to technology, and much, much more. Some areas boast a higher priority than others, and therefore any investments made in those segments can be “multiplied,” counting for more than the actual amount invested. For example, if Country X places a 3 multiplier on the tech industry, and Defense Contractor Y invests $5 million in it, then that $5 million will actually count as $15 million of offset credits.

The offset process
The offset process

What Julie does is work to facilitate this entire process, essentially “helping US companies get funding to do business abroad.” It all goes something like this: Step 1: Find out about an upcoming sale between a contractor and one of the 60 offset countries. Step 2: Identify the types of projects the buying country wants investments in. Step 3: Target businesses that would both be willing and have the capabilities to set up sustainable business operations in the buyer’s country. These potential businesses range from startups all the way to Fortune 500 giants like Merck. The better the investment and project turn out, the more likely the buyer country will continue to purchase from the defense contractor rather than switching to a competitor, and the more likely the defense contractor will want to use Julie again the next time they make a sale. The entire process can take years to unfold though, and is obviously more complex than the simplified 3-step explanation provided above.

While offset may seem a bit unusual and unique to the defense industry, plenty of companies practice the same concept, only under a different name: corporate social responsibility. What is distinct about offset, however, is that it’s relatively unheard of in the mainstream. If you try Googling it, odds are not much will come up. According to Julie, the only way to really find out about the industry is by attending bi-annual offset conferences that are hosted in different cities all over the world. Looks can be deceiving, though—anywhere between 20 to 30% of international business deals are done through offset. The industry is growing too. What does all of this translate to? Well, it means that it’s a niche industry, and if you can figure out how to navigate it, you’re in a pretty good spot. Profit motives aside though, the job is an attractive thought, requiring a rather beautiful mix of foreign affairs, business, sustainable development, and cross-cultural communication. Did I already mention it’s a T-bird’s dream?

Offset stakeholders
Offset stakeholders

As alluded to at the start, it’s that time of year again when stress levels slowly begin to rise proportionally with the reality of graduation’s ever-closer creep, so I wanted to use the interview as an opportunity to not only learn more about offset and Julie’s story, but also to ask her for some advice, and to find out a little more about her Thunderbird experience.

My first question: What would you say is one of the main keys to your success?

“It’s all about relationships and connections.” She suggests that we begin doing a couple of things in particular early on in order to ensure ample opportunities for the future. The first is to use the T-bird network. “Find alumni on LinkedIn. Set up a 15 minute phone call to hear about their story and what they do…how they got to where they are.” She feels that having a vast network is an extremely attractive quality for a job seeker to have. As a tangible example of how she’s leveraged the network in the past, Julie told me a story about how she once approached Boeing at a networking event and began the conversation by telling them that she went to Thunderbird, and inquiring as to whether or not they knew that “40 T-birds work for Boeing in 7 different countries around the world.” She then followed up by posing the question: “ If I have this many connections at Boeing, imagine how many I have in other industries.” They were impressed, to say the least.

Key takeaways
Key takeaways

She also suggested that we “find champions—people who can speak well on your behalf. It could be professors, former employers, or other people in your industry.” When I asked Julie how to tell if you are doing the right things with networking, she told me, “When I walk into a room and almost everyone knows who I am, then I know I’ve networked enough.”

To close out our conversation, I asked Julie two simple questions: Would you say Thunderbird changed your life? And, what do you miss most about being in school?

To the former she replied with an emphatic yes. “If I wouldn’t have gone to Thunderbird, I wouldn’t have near as many great friends and connections as I do now. The opportunities I have been afforded through the school would have been impossible to come by otherwise.” To the latter, well, let’s just say she wouldn’t be a true T-bird if she hadn’t said it: “I miss the pub and regional nights more than anything else.”

If you are interested in learning more about Julie, the offset industry, and Goodman Global Consulting, check out her website for more details.

Feature photo courtesy of Goodman Global Consulting. All other photos courtesy of Julie Goodman.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*