Lisa Grybowski is a licensed customs broker and vice president of Hemisphere Freight and Customs Brokerage. Her role is mixed, everything from taking care of the company’s billings and government claims, setting up technology systems, troubleshooting issues with clients, and helping clear shipments for specialized boats and cars.
Hemisphere is a boutique firm with only three licensed brokers, but it prides itself on top quality 24-hour service. They take one-time clients, are fluent in US customs brokerage, and are responsible for a number of temporary imports.
“Our biggest competition is the large carriers like UPS and FEDex. As an in-house brokerage firm, they can do it cheap and increase prices in our freight where we charge per clearance,” she said. “We hold our own. We have five employees set up at home so they can clear shipping. Not 1-800 numbers. Why would I come to you if you are more expensive? You pay for service.”
Hemisphere is a family-run business. It was started when Grybowski was born in 1986 by her mother, Penny Downer. Downer was a secretary for a customs broker and, after a while, she thought she could do it herself.
“Hemisphere was her second attempt,” Grybowski said. “My mom is an incredible story. She started this company as a single mom with three kids, and in this industry, when she started she was one of three women in the entire industry in Canada.”
“She started it on her own and by the time Charles and I took over the company, she had tons of clients. They all ask about her.”
Downer was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and her health deteriorated quickly. Grybowski and her brother were thrust into the business, forced to learn the ropes quickly in order to keep the company afloat.
Grybowski has a background in general finance, so she was able to take on a portion of accounting at Hemisphere, but she had to learn a lot on the job. She eventually completed a course and received her brokerage license. It’s her job to be aware of what is happening internationally with trade agreements and how it affects the Canadian dollar, a challenge with the current political climate.
“Now, we just got a free trade agreement with the EU,” She said. “That has increased business for us because there are no more duties between Canada and European countries. A lot of our businesses importing clothing has drastically increased.”
Over half of the employees at Hemisphere are women, something Grybowski is proud of. “My mom was keen on giving women opportunities. I sit at her desk now, and I try to keep that in mind. Trucking and operating is still a manly world.”
Grybowski is a part of the Women Presidents’ Organization, which is made up of women who have ownership of a company or hold the role of President. “We do roundtable discussions each month and that is where we can start generating ideas on how we can help other women,” she said. “We can talk about if we have problems with an employee and everyone gives their two cents; what we give for bonuses or gifts for clients; what do we think of new taxes on small to mid-size companies; a lot of things. My mom never had something like that.”
Grybowski said that while she never hears from a female customs broker, and all of the executives she works with are male, she doesn’t like to think of those barriers. “I think you need to have a voice, show persistence, and not really think of any barriers like the glass ceiling or whether you are the only woman in the room…If I know what I’m talking about and I can do a great job for [these executives], they become loyal business partners.”
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