Interviews With Gurus: Michael D’Aoust
Our featured Guru this month is Michael D’Aoust!
Michael is the President and CEO of PointTrade Services. In addition to his experience in the foreign-trade zone and international trade arenas, Michael stands on a successful executive management track record.
How did your International Trade Career begin?
My international trade career began over 14 years ago with an encounter with a friend’s father who was at the time working for a Big 4 Trade & Customs Practice. He invited me to come by his office and discuss not only an immediate opening for a position but the potential career track in the trade and customs industry, affording me the opportunity to conduct a bit of research to see if this was indeed a profession that would engage my interest. I was appreciative of him taking the time to outline the requirements and expectations which helped clarify the career track. Executives at his level do not often take the time to thoroughly explain and help mentor young entry level professionals. After careful deliberation, I thankfully accepted the position.
If you could time travel back to day one of your career and have 5 minutes with your former self to communicate any lessons you’ve acquired with the intention of saving yourself mistakes and heart ache, what is the one thing you would tell yourself?
My advice would be to identify and surround yourself with as many senior executive mentors as possible to assist in preparing you for managing the complex and nuanced world of international trade and customs. Having seasoned professionals assist by passing down best practices and explaining key concepts is the number one way to accelerate your learning curve.
Also read as much technical information as possible regarding the industry and listen to industry experts speak on technical topics to accelerate the learning curve. There is a lot of industry information out there and taking the time to become a technical expert will give a deep foundation to grow on. I would recommend combining both operational and technical experience to reach a deeper level of understanding of the subject matter and to assist in effectively communicating both in writing and verbally.
What are your non-work habits that help you with your work-life balance?
Exercise helps me with work-life balance. Being a lifelong athlete, including playing Division 1 college baseball, I have always had a passion to workout, run, and play sports. Unfortunately, due to my travel and work schedule, I do not have time to commit to participating in a sports league but I do exercise regularly. This helps to reduce stress and relax me throughout the week.
I also make spending time with my wife and two young children a priority on nights and weekends. Making sure that your home life is stable and well taken care of allows you to focus more at work.
What is the best advice you received in your career?
To adopt the common sense principles outlined in Dale Carnegie’s book, How To Win Friends and Influence People. Interpersonal skills are in many cases more important than someone’s technical ability.
What is your favorite “career” memory?
I have many great career memories over the years so it is difficult to point to just one. The best memories are really getting to work alongside such talented professionals that work in so many different industries and from all backgrounds and walks of life. Being able to adopt best practices from these professionals, learn from their experiences, and building a network of true professional friendships is really what it is all about.
What do you think your greatest accomplishment has been?
My greatest career accomplishment has been helping companies achieve significant savings by successfully implementing special trade programs, making these firms more competitive and helping to retain U.S. based jobs. Perhaps the most gratifying is those projects that would have undoubtedly relocated operations offshore had it not been for the work of our team.
What were some of the biggest lessons that have impacted the way that you work?
Playing sports at an early age certainly provided a foundation for being competitive, working and leading within a team, setting specific goals, and laying out a plan to meet those goals. The consistent expectation from my family was always to be well prepared, work hard, and obtain the needed education and skills.
Another important lesson that I learned as I grew in managerial roles was to set people up to be successful, which lends itself to the adage — treat others the way you want to be treated. People want to be treated with the utmost respect, to understand his or her role in the company, and to be well trained at their job. Setting expectations, clearly communicating, and monitoring performance is appreciated by everyone in the company.
If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
A few years after starting my career, in an effort to raise my skillset and value to the company, I went back to obtain an MBA while also studying and passing the CHB exam. I thought it was most valuable to wait a few years before going back to obtain my MBA as it was more meaningful. If I could do it over again, I would have also obtained a law degree as having that background helps in all facets of managing a business.
What habits helped make you successful?
It takes adopting a wide array of positive habits to be successful, but if I could point to those that I believe have been most beneficial they would be:
- Treating people with respect and genuinely listening to their needs – Everyone wants to be treated with respect and if you do not show respect to others, you will not be respected in return.
- Positive Attitude – Ask yourself if you are someone that you would enjoy working for. People like to be surrounded by other positive, happy people and not people who are disgruntled. If you want to lead, you need to keep the morale up by being positive.
- Perseverance – Many projects will be challenging and difficult. Having the perseverance to see those projects through and continue moving forward will help you tackle tough projects in the future. I tend to learn the most in these situations.
What mindsets do you feel helped make you successful?
- Positive attitude
- Can do attitude
- Organization and planning
- Forward thinking
- Critical thinking
- Never become complacent – Treat your job as if you could lose it on any day if you do not perform
What was the biggest risk you took in your career?
Leaving an established company and being involved in the startup of a company. This forced me to gain more knowledge of how business really works. I could have remained with the established company as a technical consulting expert in the area of trade and customs but fortunately, by working with a through a startup of a new company, I have been able to focus on all facets of business including business development, marketing, consulting, professional managed services, human resources, accounting, legal, and compliance. This experience has helped me not only gain a broader understanding of business but really helped improve my consulting skills provided to other firms as I am able to consider their needs from a broader perspective.
What do you think were the top three factors in contributing to your successful career?
- Genuinely engaged and interested in doing the right thing for my clients – always placing client first.
- Surrounding myself with solid mentors both internally within our organization and externally with solid leaders in the industry.
- Dedication to excellence beginning with my entry level position all the way to my position as CEO.