One woman’s impact on the trade
Mary Jo Muoio’s rise from secretary to industry leader
By Peter A. Buxbaum, AJOT
Unusually for the mobile and fluid 21st century America, Mary Jo Muoio has spent her entire 27-year career in the same industry and with the same company. Maybe that was the best way she could make her mark.
Fresh from a year-long stint teaching English in Japan and armed with a degree in international relations form St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Muoio landed an interview with Barthco International, a customs broker and forwarder, now an OHL company, through a personal connection. She got the job, but not before completing a crash course in typing at the Katherine Gibbs School. The job she was offered was a secretarial position.
Muoio was attracted to the importing side of the business, thanks to the attentions of an in-house mentor and she began attending meetings of the Philadelphia Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association accompanying her boss and taking notes on his behalf. Eight years later, she was the president of that organization.
Of course, Muoio’s rise within the trade organization was accompanied by promotions at work. She didn’t last very long as a secretary.
“Not two years after starting, they encouraged me to go for my broker’s license,” she said. “I was always dealing with problem shipments and I became aware of regulatory issues and how problems were resolved. That was a good basis for studying for the exam.” Muoio passed with the highest score in the country.
When it came to being handed her certificate, the port director of Philadelphia refused to do so because Muoio is a woman. His assistant stepped in and did the deed in his place.
Back then, there were few women in the customs brokerage and freight forwarding business. That situation has changed dramatically.
“Within the last several years, we have more female managers and executives at Barthco than male,” Muoio said.
Two and half years ago Barthco was acquired by Ozburn-Hessey Logistics, a Brentwood, Tennessee-based company, as part of the latter’s efforts to develop into a global third-party logistics provider. Barthco, still based in Philadelphia, now operates as a division of OHL.
After leaving Philadelphia, Muoio headed for New York, where she headed Barthco’s Manhattan and Newark offices. For the last 12 years, she has headed Barthco Trade Services that provides consulting services.
“At Trade Services, we advise clients on how to classify their products so they know what the appropriate duty and taxes are,” she said. “In the best case, we do that preproduction. Sometimes, small changes in a product can have a dramatic impact in the rate of duty being charged.”
Once Muoio landed in New York, she sought out the local trade organization, and was eventually appointed as its liaison to the national organization, the National Customs Brokers and Forwarders Association of America. Eventually, she was elected president of that organization, and is now serving in her second term in that capacity. Muoio is NCBFAA’s first female president.
At NCBFAA, Muoio deals with customs and other governmental regulatory issues. “The main issue captivating our membership is still the 10 + 2 rule,” she said. “We continue to have semi-weekly conference calls with Customs and Border Protection concerning implementation issues.” These issues primarily revolve around system bugs.
Enforcement of the Lacey Act is also top of mind for NCBFAA members. That legislation requires importers to declare any imported product that contains a plant-based ingredient. It is aimed at illegal harvesting of timber and illegal importations of rare and exotic plants.
“It is well intentioned,” said Muoio, “but if it is implemented overnight and to the letter of the law it would be an overwhelming requirement. A huge percentage of imports have plant-based components.”
CBP and the US Department of Agriculture have agreed to a gradual implementation of Lacey Act enforcement. The trade is pushing for electronic filings.
Muoio is optimistic that President Obama will move to fill vacancies on the Federal Maritime Commission. Right now, the commission is operating with only three out of five positions filled and no chairman. One of the serving commissioners is expected to be retiring soon.
Muoio is hoping a revitalized commission will take up the issue of NVOCC tariff filings. “The way business is right now, no one has extra money or people to do needless work,” she said. “This may be a good time to look at the issue of whether tariff filings serve a valuable purpose.”
The NVO business in general and OHL in particular are feeling the pinch of current economic times. “We are certainly not immune to the economic challenges facing us out there,” said Muoio. “There have been declines in volume and transactions. We are striving to be as efficient as we can be and are cutting costs where we can.”
OHL is also being more proactive with its customers—which are concentrated in the fashion, retailing, forest products, chemicals, steel, and jewelry industries—to find areas where the company can provide additional services.
“The first we do is to make sure clients understand everything we do for them,” said Muoio. “Then we sit down with them and see how we help them more with additional services. This leads to additional volume and that can help drive costs down. We want to make sure they understand all of the services we can provide as a global 3PL and we encourage them to pick our brains on supply chain-related issues.”
In any event Muoio is hopeful about the future. “In our OHL Philadelphia office, headquarters for our brokerage and forwarding services, there is a large oil painting of ships in a harbor,” she related. “The inscription around the painting I have memorized and I think it is very appropriate for the current economy and our industry. Every time I am in our board room I read this and find it rather inspiring and hopeful.”
The inscription reads: “At ease, oh mighty ship, wake softly now and witness fortunes born upon thy bow. The industries our fathers sought to know are legends now, but tides that ebb must flow.”