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Blogs | 8 April 2021

Continuing a Fulfiling Career in Customs: Interview with Rudi Du Bois

In previous blog posts we have featured some of C4T’s younger employees who have joined us either as interns, straight out of school, or relatively early in their careers. Today, we are featuring one of our senior consultants, Rudi Du Bois, whose career in customs has been a decades-long adventure. His roles and projects have taken him all over the world, which is fortunate because as you’ll soon learn, Rudi isn’t very good at standing still.

A Start in Academia

After graduating from the University of Antwerp with degrees in Applied Economics and Political Science, Rudi began his career in academia, teaching at his alma mater. As an assistant professor, he earned a Fulbright Scholarship which took him to Carnegie Mellon University for research and study. “My studies in the U.S. brought me in contact with lots of business leaders who were open minded and internationally focused. They accepted ideas, always with an eye toward coming to a solution.” It was this influence that drew Rudi away from academia into the dynamic arena of multinational business.

Dipping His Toes into the Tides of Trade

Rudi’s first corporate position was working in sales for the telecommunications company Alcatel but his love of travel and passion for learning and experiencing new things soon led him into customs and export compliance, which brought together all of his areas of study. “My education was semi business, semi legal, so I can read laws and regulations and interpret them. Customs was a natural fit. It was an opportunity to bring my business and legal backgrounds together and apply both to my career.”

A Journey of Continuous Learning

Rudi was attracted to the challenge of changing jobs, a distinct advantage of working for a multinational company. “You can move around almost without limit, both in terms of positions and countries. When you start a new job, you have to prove yourself and learn new things. I like that.” And that is exactly what he did. Rudi’s future roles with Alcatel took him across Eastern Europe and South America, living and working as an expatriate in what was then Yugoslavia and Colombia. “This was a very valuable experience, because in these situations you learn to solve issues on your own.” At the end of his tenure at Alcatel, Rudi was stationed at their headquarters in Paris, where he was tasked with trade compliance. It was at Alcatel that Rudi first met C4T’s CEO Pieter Haesaert, then a customs and trade compliance consultant to the telecom firm. On the side, Rudi delivered trainings and seminars around the world. “I traveled extensively—and that was in the ‘80s. It’s not the same as traveling now, especially to some exotic countries. If you have to travel to Siberia in the middle of winter when it’s -40 C—that’s quite adventurous! It was nice.”

After more than 20 years with Alcatel, Rudi was recruited by DuPont de Nemours, which presented him with the challenge of moving to the chemical sector and leading the alignment of customs and trade compliance procedures across DuPont’s offices in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). At that point in time, DuPont was managing their customs operations either manually using spreadsheets or with regional systems that weren’t connected. “A lot of my experience in customs came from putting standardisation into practice in the EMEA team.” As technology began to become a necessity in all areas of business, Rudi was tasked with rolling out a uniform, software-driven export control compliance system across EMEA, Asia Pacific, and the United States. “In those years, I spent as much time on an airplane as in my own bed!”

Rudi would indeed take on future roles at DuPont, implementing UCC regulatory requirements, enforcing company-wide trade compliance measures, and optimising relief schemes for maximum duty savings. “What I like most about the world of customs is that it’s constantly changing and evolving. When I began in customs and trade, trade was mostly oriented toward neighboring countries. In the last decades, globalisation has had a tremendous impact. All players now have a global focus. Customers are everywhere, supplies are everywhere, needs are everywhere, so you not only have to know the rules for your jurisdiction but for every jurisdiction in the world. And the laws will never stop changing. Even as Free Trade Agreements are signed, companies have to implement process changes. It’s a very dynamic world. You can’t stand still.”

A New Beginning

Upon his retirement from DuPont, Rudi was able to stand still for less than three weeks before calling Pieter and inquiring about a job at C4T. “After so many years of being very busy, the idea of sitting in my chair the whole day was not appealing. I have had freedom in my career to develop my ideas, bring them into practice, and implement them, and I wanted to continue that. Customs is a relatively close community. I knew Pieter throughout my time at Alcatel and DuPont and we kept in contact, sharing knowledge and exchanging ideas. I went to him and said I wanted to join the C4T team and they hired me.”

“Rudi’s business background brings an important customer perspective to Customs4trade,” shares Pieter. “He is in touch with what customers need and want because he has been on that side of customs himself. Rudi’s experience in regulatory compliance law not only supports our clients, it molds the future of our software. He is instrumental in mentoring our development, onboarding, and sales teams—me included! His regulatory expertise has been particularly crucial in tackling the monumental task of preparing our customers for Brexit, a drastic change to their processes and procedures that essentially took effect overnight.”

At C4T, Rudi is our resident expert on Brexit. He stays on top of all the Brexit requirements from both the UK and EU sides, translating them into concrete measures that are then implemented by C4T’s customers and within the CAS software flows.

“Brexit is a tremendous investment for companies, both from a financial standpoint and an organisational one. All the supply chains need to be changed, transport has to be adapted, and people must accommodate to the changes. From the side of customs authorities, there is also a learning curve, dealing with imports from the EU and all the related traffic and declarations. In order for companies to fully align their tools and people with all of the requirements, I would anticipate it will take two years.”

Sage Advice

Rudi is truly a mentor for C4T’ers, so we asked him if he had any words of wisdom for us. “One of the things I’ve learned in my long career is to approach everything with a ‘make it work’ attitude. I have worked with customers, suppliers, and authorities in various countries. The authorities in the EU are not the same as in Asia or Africa or the U.S. or Middle East, not just in processes and procedures but in cultures and personalities as well. Making things work requires taking into account different cultures and habits. You can’t just go in bluntly like an elephant in a china shop!”

In closing, we asked Rudi about what he saw as the future of customs. “Customs will always exist because there will always be cross-border trade,” he said. “One of the goals of the World Trade Organisation is to limit trade barriers, but even when countries enter into Free Trade Agreements, there are nevertheless formalities. However simplified, new processes and procedures must be adapted to. People have trouble finding experienced customs experts so there is a lot of potential for people coming into the field as well as increasing potential to apply technology to streamline complex customs processes.”

Rudi’s expertise and passion are inspirational at C4T. He brings a wealth of knowledge to the team along with lessons in diversity that we can only imagine. He also conducts regular customs trainings to educate the next generation, all while working tirelessly with no signs of slowing down. We’re honoured to call him a fellow C4T’er and are also happy to hear from a seasoned customs expert that we’re in the right field for the future!

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