Sell Outside the Box – over 50 years, 160 countries – proven philosophy

Advice from the most traveled packaging salesman

Global Trade Magazine Oct/Nov

“I never did any business in Morocco,” says Bob Harris, the world’s most well-traveled box and paper salesman, still making calls at 80-years-old for packaging companies such as RockTenn, Inland Container and KapStone, to name a few. “No,” he recalls, “it was too well covered by the French.”

If not doing business in Morocco doesn’t immediately register as noteworthy, that’s understandable. You just haven’t met Bob Harris. Over the past 50 years of working the paper and box industry, he’s visited more than 160 countries and still maintains clients in many of them (except Morocco, of course). Julie C. Morse’s new biography, Out of the Box: The Mostly True Story of a Mysterious Man, chronicles Harris’ adventures as part travelogue, part business how-to.

Asked to distill tips for a young salesman, Harris offers something more akin to philosophy: Go anywhere in the world on your own nickel, build relationships with the No. 1 company distributing your product, and you’ll get your commission. For Harris, this works as well in 2012 as it did in the 1960s.

“It’s amazing, the little countries that have a box factory,” he says. “There’s no industry in these countries, but they have a crop they have to export. Like the Canary Islands, for instance. There isn’t a single thing in the Canary Islands except three corrugated box factories. They are justified because they have a crop of citrus, a crop of bananas and a crop of tomatoes.”

The universal demand for packaging has allowed Harris to operate with a certain amount of freedom. In places like the Somali Republic where there isn’t already an established market, Harris says he creates one. “I went there and did a feasibility study. They had a huge crop of bananas. That’s the only thing in the country that they could export. The study was developed and sent. A company in Italy built the factory, and I helped supply that later on.”

Emerging markets continue to offer great potential for Harris, who will head to Myanmar for his next sales adventure. In the past he’s supplied fish packaging materials for Iceland exports, and carved niches for himself in countries from Macedonia down to Australia. “Emerging countries are really where it’s happening,” he explains about the current market. “Some of the best economies are the emerging countries, like Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey and Vietnam. They’re not big but they’re not tiny, and there’s a lot to be developed there.”

Harris says his way of doing it is still applicable and that it can be that simple, adding only one caveat for the young salesman: “I wouldn’t recommend this approach for someone who doesn’t love to travel.”


About Alexander Gordin
An international merchant banking professional with over twenty years of business operating and advisory experience in the areas of export finance, international project finance, risk mitigation and cross-border business development. Clients include foreign governments, municipalities and state enterprises as well as Fortune 500 and small/medium enterprises. Strong entrepreneurial instincts, combined with leadership and strategic skills. Transactional and negotiations experience in over thirty five countries. Author of the highly acclaimed "Fluent in Foreign Business" book and creator of the "Fluent in OPIC", "Fluent in EXIM","Fluent In Foreign Franchising", "Fluent in FCPA",and "Fluent in USTDA" seminar/webinar series. Currently developing "Fluent In ......" seminars and publications. Co-author of the Fi3 Country Business Appeal Indices. Extensive international business development and project finance transaction experience in healthcare, aerospace, ICT, conventional and alternative energy infrastructure, distribution and hospitality industries. Experience managing international public and private corporations. Co-Founded three companies abroad. Strong Emerging and Frontier Market expertise. Published and featured in numerous publications including: The Wall Street Journal, Knowledge@Wharton,, The Chicago Tribune, Industry Week, Industry Today, Business Finance, Wharton Magazine Blog, NY Enterprise Report, Success magazine, Kyiv Post and on a number of radio and television programs including: Voice of America, CNBC, CNNfn, and Bloomberg. Frequent speaker on strategy, cross-border finance and international business development. Executive MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. B.S. in Management of Information Systems from the Polytechnic Institute of NYU. Specialties Strategic Management Advisory, Export Finance, International Project Finance & Risk Management, Cross-border Negotiations, Structured Finance transactions, Senior Government and Corporate officials liason

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