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Meet Shirley Burke of Universal Cargo

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shirley Burke.

Shirley, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My story is actually “our” story. My husband of 34 years began his career in the global logistics freight forwarding industry in 1985. He began working for Universal Cargo in 1991 as the VP of Sales, a position he held for 8 years. We then decided to purchase the company in March of 2000.  The basic infrastructure was in place with 8 dedicated employees working for us. I was a full time, stay-at-home mother and homemaker, busy caring for our three sons. In desperation, my husband asked me to come in and help him for a couple of months as a temporary office manager (my previous occupation before kids) just until he could find a permanent one. I think he secretly and successfully tricked me. Neither one of us had any business education or experience owning or running a company. How we have been able to not only survive but thrive for seventeen and a half years can only be contributed to the following:

  • Prayer, trust, and reliance on God.
  • Attracting and retaining the best and brightest talent. Hiring and surrounding ourselves with people smarter than us and who share our core values and principles.
  • Reading, learning, and never ceasing to grow and develop ourselves as leaders.
  • Passing on what we’ve learned to others and helping develop them to their full potential in business and life.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Our path has been mostly rough, tough, and bumpy with a few smooth patches along the way. Working with a spouse or partner has its own set of challenges in itself and will really test and try your relationship. To be able to transition back and forth from marriage partners to business partners takes tremendous commitment, perseverance, forgiveness, communication skills, and a whole lotta love!

Two major stress factors that can make or break any relationship is communication and finances. We’ve had to really work hard on learning how to communicate effectively, and I can honestly say that we’ve improved tremendously in this area. One of our biggest financial challenges was early on. As new owners, our trusted CFO/COO mismanaged the company finances, gave a two weeks resignation letter, and left before we knew how deep of a financial hole we were in. We needed close to a half million dollars to pull us out. At home that evening, after we realized our dire circumstance, I was quietly doing dishes. My husband was sending out emails to our agents overseas in Hong Kong. I thought to myself, “Who do we know that is wealthy with liquid cash assets?” Our long time agent/partner and friend’s name came to mind. I said to my husband, “Hey, honey, why don’t you email and ask him if he could loan us the cash with a 7-month term plus interest?” He said, “Ok, done.” Lo and behold, within minutes the response came with a yes and we had the funds wired into our account within a matter of days. We were able to pay back the loan in less than the seven-month term and we continue to enjoy a friendship and business partnership with this individual today.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Universal Cargo – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
We are what is commonly known as a freight forwarder. A freight forwarder does not actually move freight itself. We, as a freight forwarder, act as an intermediary between a shipper and various transportation services such as ocean shipping on cargo ships, trucking, expedited shipping by airfreight, and moving goods by rail.

We are also known as an Ocean Transportation Intermediary or NVOCC (Non Vessel Operating Common Carrier).

We are known for our outstanding customer service that is based on our core C.A.R.E. values that every person in our company is well versed in. It is an important part of our onboarding process and is continually reviewed and reinforced with everything we do. From major decisions to employee reviews, we put it to the C.A.R.E. test. C- customers, A- available, R- resourceful, E- evolving. Customer service is also considered within the daily operations of our staff. We refer to it as peer-to-peer customer service or internal customer service. We serve one another with mutual respect, honor, and courtesy. What I am most proud of as a company are our people. We truly believe that the people within our organization are our greatest assets. Throughout the years, we have employed some of the most brilliantly talented, outstanding, and smartest individuals. Today, we have an amazing team of people that never cease to amaze me. I am most proud of my husband, who is our fearless, visionary leader and who created our mission statement that we live and breathe by at Universal Cargo. “We seek to enrich the lives of those within our company as well as those we do business with.”

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
If we are not growing, we are shrinking; if we are not expanding, we are contracting. We are very excited for our future opportunities. We see ourselves expanding into warehousing and e-commerce fulfillment. We want to continue building our inbound marketing campaign. And we want to find more talented and self-motivated business development/sales people. We plan to travel to Asia to focus on growing, strengthening, and developing our Asia network of partners.

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