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Season 1, Episode 15

How Curiosity Can Lead To Success

Join Judy Davis and Lyle Leads as they discuss Judy’s curiosity leading to many opportunities in her business, and opening doors including using an idea called box hopping!

In this episode we will cover:

– How curiosity leads an entrepreneur

– What is Box Hopping?

– How to change your perspective on life

– Dealing with change and staying positive

Lyle: Hey, this is Lyle with Optimize Profitability, Today I’m with Judy Davis, she’s the founder of Watson Davis, which is a trade compliance group that she started in 2008. But she’s been in this trade compliance world for over 20 years. And the funny little story that I know about her is she had to classify all the parts for Big Bird. You don’t think about things like that. So, Judy, tell us how you got to become an entrepreneur and what that journey looked like for you

Judy: Well, it started a long, long time ago, and I actually started this as a second career. I got back into the market after my kids were grown and said, I want to do something different than what I had originally planned to do with my life. And a friend, actually, a friend of my son said, well, you ought to just sign up for a temp agency. You can get into several different fields that way, working temp jobs.

Well, I did. And the very first job I worked put me into the shipping business with the ocean industry, and I absolutely fell in love. It’s like curiosity got the best of me. How many pairs of shoes can you fit in the shipping container? How many jeeps can you send to Iraq, because it was during the first Iraq war, in one shipping container? How does it get loaded on a ship? I actually got to go to the port in Houston and watch them load a ship.

And I was hooked. It went from one thing to another. After being on the shipping side of the ocean for a while, the company I work for was sold and they ended up back down in Houston. I traveled to Houston for about a year and a half doing some training down there, but it was not the place I wanted to be. My family’s all in Dallas and I didn’t want to move to Houston.

So I came back with the idea of ok, so what part of this field can I get into? Because you can’t really do ocean shipping out of Dallas. It was weird that I got into it in the first place, but came back with the idea of where do I go from here? And landed a couple of small jobs along the way, almost that same project temp type stuff, and ended up at an integrated circuit company in 2006 where they actually made the integrated circuits, manufacture them right here in the United States at that time.

And I had a gentleman who was working with me on that project that we ended up hitting it off. He told me one day, I’m tired of hearing you talk about this, you need to do this, and he was right. So I went down to a lawyer friend of mine and had him help me open an LLC and we started with lots of names. At that time, the boss I was working for was a very encouraging man. I guess the best way to say it. 

He pushed and encouraged you to be not just good at the job that you were doing for him, but if you had interests in other areas, he encouraged that. He encouraged you to put yourself out there to do those things. So when I told him I had started the company, he was all for it. It was like, you know, you worked out your part time. Be sure to stay with me because I want you.

And somewhere in that next couple of months, the Department of Homeland Security opened what they called the cargo screening business. Your, from 2001 going forward, if you got on an airplane, your luggage and you got screened, right? We all walk through metal detectors. We did everything. But the cargo that was loaded onto those planes didn’t start getting screened until 2008. So there’s a big gap in there. And Homeland Security was trying to fill that gap. So they turned it over to the public… Well, private industry wasn’t really public. It’s a private industry. 

We had to sign up and qualify, and wewent through a whole lot of rigmarole with that. But we finally got into the business. We were the only independent cargo screener in the DFW area. And a lot of at that point, we stepped away from what I was doing in trade compliance and went into it all kind of the same part of the same business, all part of cargo and screening and classifying and compliance.

But you say compliance to people and they go, yeah, what are lawyers, ethics, numbers, all those kinds of things that a lot of people don’t think very much about. But to me, it was like you mentioned, Big Bird is fascinating. Disney was shipping and opening their park in Japan several years back and they were sending all the costuming over to Japan and the animatronics for the rides and stuff. Well, when you export something, every piece of that piece of equipment has to be classified.

You don’t just classify Big Bird and classify all the joints and the feathers and the eyes and the beak and all the different pieces that made Big Bird, the Animatron do what he did in whatever ride it was. So I got to figure out what made him operate, which was fun.

Lyle: But let me ask you, what was the mindset? Because you went from a temporary job to something you enjoyed and then you decided to make that a career and as stepping out as an entrepreneur, that’s scary for some people. Other people find it really comfortable. What was that mindset for you in that concept? 

Judy: It was very scary. It was not something I would have done, I think, on my own, but the push from the partner and the investment from the boss who actually put money behind it. But the biggest driver for me was curiosity.

I was so curious to know, how does cargo, how do things get from one spot to the other? Why do you have to go through so many different steps? You know, we have a FedEx mentality in the United States. You put it in a box and you send it. It’s not the way it works globally when you can put it in a box. But then there’s a whole lot of qualifications that have to go behind it.

You’re hat would have to be qualified by itself to be shipped out of the country. It has its own code. That microphone has its own code. My computer has its own code. So everything has to have its own code to go out there. And it was just the idea of being able to dig into that and find out the curiosity that says, you know, how many shoes are you going to put in a container and where is that container going?

What’s going to happen to it when it gets there? That to me, that was exciting. And you can’t teach somebody to be curious about something. It just either is or it isn’t. And it just grabbed my attention. And when it did, it was like, I used to tell people that I trained in this business, that you get to the point that the containers or the boxes or the codes are attacking you and your dreams, your hooked., because it just becomes so much a part of you that it’s curious.

It’s what am I going to do with that? And how do I. Oh, what is that exactly? I had something the other day came across my desk. 

Lyle: So you’re big on curiosity. I love that. What was your motto you were telling me a while ago?

Judy: Just be curious, just be curious, 

Lyle: That’s your motto! So how do you develop…. How do you increase the curiosity factor in your life?

Judy: In my life, a lot of it just has to do with what’s the one thing that will grab me? What’s the one thing? I look at the computer screen just like all the new technology and look at the computer screen and I say, how does that program get from here to China or from China to here, as the case may be!

And it’s all the different roads, in roadsand out roads. And a lot of it is the people we talk about. You’ve probably heard the term supply chain, which has become a buzzword over the last several years. When I first started this business, nobody ever heard of a supply chain. Now, the supply chain is a big part of how you get the materials that you need to do what you do. And you find out that the little hook that goes onto your computer laptop that hooks it into your computer bag is classified differently.

Or the one that really got me going was a bolt. It was just a huge bolt with a nut on it, big. I mean, it had to have been six inches tall and then three inches around. And I found out that it was made for NASA. And I asked because if I was just curious for me, it was like, wow, what would you do with such a big bolt. Well, it was made for NASA.

And that not only made it special to go on the spacecraft, but it put it into a whole other category of compliance. It put it into the defense industry. And so that opened up another door and it just became one thing after another. The one thing I have found in 20 years in this business is I’ve never been bored. I mean, there’s always something new to learn and to do, never been bored. Build on clients across several different industries.

I’ve got clients on the board right now that range from, they build elevators to they build trains to they make integrated circuits. I mean, you’ve got the whole game or medicines. I’ve got a pharmaceutical company right now that I work with. It’s just fascinating. Just fascinating.

Lyle: And I know like this is your first Zoom recording as far as I know. 

Judy: Yes. 

Lyle: And so technology’s kind of change for you. What are some tips to help somebody right now, some tips that you’re using in your life that’s helping you be a success that might help another entrepreneur?

Judy: This is going to sound really funny, but synonyms. Find out things that are more than one meaning to a word, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for under what they tell you it is. Well, what else could it be called? What else can I do? Well, that’s where the curiosity comes in. What else can it be called? You know, this is a bolt. Well, what else can we call it, well a stud in the hardware world.

There’s a whole category in this development that’s called dual use, the same integrated circuit that they make to go in this laptop that you and I can talk on Zoom. That is the identical circuit that’s used in a missile. So how do you regulate that to sell it around the globe, what they call them dual use items to stay a handle on it so it doesn’t end up in the hands of a terrorist.

Thus, my security issues came into play. And when you work with homeland security and you’ve been under sensitive security information. It’s the curiosity that gets to you, you can’t always share with somebody else and in and of itself, that’s kind of fun.

Lyle: Kind of being like a spy right?

Judy: No, not like a spy, but I can keep a secret.

Lyle: Do you have any interesting stories that you can share officially?

Judy: I’ve got some, besides Big Bird, but I’ve got a couple of security stories when we were on the cargo screening side of things, remember I told you that came up after the fact and by the time the cargo got into play for screening, they were already screening baggage and all that stuff. And we’ve always been and still are to some extent a step behind the terrorists. We’re always reactionary, unfortunately, instead of being ahead of it. So when we were screening cargo under, it was a specific type of an X-ray machine that we were able to use to look for things.

We had a situation one day and this has been declassified now where the bubble wrap inside the box and the X-ray machine looked really odd. And we looked at it and we looked at that, and part of the protocol is you call somebody else in to look at it with more than two eyes. And we finally decided there was something wrong with this package. So we called in TSA and Homeland Security and they came to the site and we opened the box up and somebody had injected nitroglycerin into each one of these big bubbles so that when the package was opened, wherever it was headed, I don’t remember where the pictures that are now, they would be able to use that nitro for some nefarious service, obviously.

So you’re always looking for it as it was unusual. Stuff was unusual. And I felt like I was doing something important. Not that we all are doing something important, but I guess the thing I would push most on this for any entrepreneur is don’t give up on the forward progress. It’s been one of my favorite things for me. I was a musician at heart. I’ve been a musician all of my life and music says a lot.

There’s a song that has been a part of me since I started this business, and it’s called I’m So Glad is the name of the song, but I’m so glad I didn’t give up on the rocky road to my dreams. It’s rocky. Sometimes it doesn’t grow the seeds you think you planted and you have to make a shift and you go a different direction. Like we followed the security for a while and then the airlines picked it up and we couldn’t compete with the airlines. We shut down that part of the business and we went for straight compliance. 

The thing that’s helped me the most in the last few years has been the connections with people. It’s word of mouth. I’m sure you see that a lot in your business, too. It’s what you have done for one person who then they say, oh, this lady is really good at what she does. She’ll dig into it. She’ll find out what has to be.

She knows the people in Washington and it’s developing those relationships with people and that can help you do your job. Research now, I was telling somebody, we used to have to go to the library to do the research. You know, you get out the regulations and you read and it could be real dry or you try to find a picture of something you were trying to classify. They told you it was my eyeball to eyeball look like, now you Google it, right?

And that’s where the synonyms come in, because a lot of times you Google eyeball, that doesn’t come up with what you think it’s going to come up with. And how do you identify what it is that you want to do with that? So you pivot to something new and you say, OK, well, that didn’t go the direction I needed to go. How do I get back over here?

Lyle: And someone that’s in that struggle period before the pivot.

Judy: Keep walking, you know, I just always had God in my head saying, just keep one foot in front of the other. He put one foot in front of the other. The end of the song says, I’m glad I can stand here today, right here right now and say thank you for making it away. And sometimes to get to that place, if I was right here right now, was just one foot in front of the other.

The other thing is, with the curiosity, be willing to listen to somebody else’s curiosity. Everybody talks about getting outside the box. In my business, you get outside the box, but you get into three or four other boxes, so I want to say it’s like box hopping. You have to go from one box to another to another in order to find out what it is that that particular regulation is looking for. And sometimes it’s the underneath side of all of that that says, like everybody’s aware of the China tariffs right now, even if you’re not in trade compliance, businesses are having to pay those China tariffs and they’re looking for trade compliance.

People will say, how do I get around this? Well, I’m not one to get around regulations because that’s what I do.

But you have to be creative enough to think a little bit outside of this box as the regulations and get to other boxes that might give you a legitimate option to mitigate that regulation. It won’t negate it. You’re still going to have to pay five percent instead of twenty five percent, but you’ve jumped from the twenty five percent boxinto a five percent box because there’s an exception or there is something that you can apply. So it’s part of us being creative and allowing other people to contribute to that creativity.

It’s not just my own, I like to listen to somebody else’s ideas and say, yeah, I could do that. 

Lyle: I like box hopping. I think that’s what you ought to title your book when you write it.

Judy: OK, I’ll try that.

Lyle: So before we get off here, what’s one final word of encouragement for somebody who maybe they’ve started later in life, maybe they’re not sure they have the right path chosen for them quite yet? 

Judy: I think it would be listen to the people around you, people around you, especially if you’re older, like I was in my 40s when I started the business. If you’re older, you’ve got good relationships with people both younger and older than you. You’re kind of in the middle of things at that point.

Listen to people on both sides of you that say, yeah, you could be good at this. Or, you know, maybe you ought to look at a little bit of a different direction or maybe you ought to add this like, we like somebody suggested adding the security part to the business that was still cargo. But it was a whole new field. And it was an enlightening field. So I guess that was the biggest thing that I learned at that point in moving through it was to listen to not only friends, but people that I didn’t really know.

Sometimes somebody I’m in business with. I’d say, well, tell me what you think about such and such, you know, some new regulation or some new opportunity that was coming up. Do you think we could be good at that? Yeah, I think you ought to stay with what you’re doing. I just continue to develop it. Don’t try to get too many too many irons in the fire at one time because there are so many opportunities around that time.

How do you choose which ones you want to do? And so sometimes it was what seemed like restrictions kept me on the path to where I was going. 

Lyle: Thank you so much for sharing your story today, how can someone get in touch with you, what’s your website? 

Judy: WatsonDavis.com, I have a LinkedIn profile under the same name WatsonDavis.com. On my website it gives the full gamut of the type of regulations and trade compliance that I do from classifications all the way through to cargo handling and regulations that I can’t really talk about.

But they’re all on the site by name. And if you’re into that part of the business, you’d recognize him. And then I try to keep newsletters and articles that I’ve written on the LinkedIn page, which is the other way to get in touch with me. Unfortunately, because of a lot of the government rules for people in my position, I can’t have a Facebook page, so I don’t have a Facebook page that anybody can access, but that would be the best way to get hold of me.

Lyle: So if you guys want to reach out to her, find her on WatsonDavis.com and we’ll see you later. Have a great day, guys, and always be successful and be curious.

Judy: I like it!

Lyle: Bye!

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