INTTRA has more than doubled its global market share since 2008 — and now CFO Valerie Rainey is helping to leverage its dominance
By Alex Palmer
When a cargo ship sets out from any major seaport, chances are better than one in four that the containers it carries were booked and confirmed through one company: INTTRA, the ocean shipping e-marketplace. In just over six years, Valerie Rainey, CFO and senior vice president of corporate development and finance for the company, has been part of the leadership team that helped INTTRA grow its market share from 10 percent to 22 percent of all ocean container trade. That fact alone would mark her tenure at the Parsippany, NJ–based company as a success. But for Rainey, INTTRA’s growing dominance as the largest multi-carrier network in ocean shipping means things are just starting to really get interesting.
“If you are a shipper or a freight forwarder, now you can make one connection to INTTRA and access the major global ocean carriers,” says Rainey. “In a similar way, a global carrier can make one connection to INTTRA, and can accept business from the largest network of forwarders and shippers located around the globe.” More than 50 carriers and some 220,000 shippers have a relationship with INTTRA. With employees across eight offices on three continents, and sales coverage in more than 130 countries, the company has its customers covered wherever their business is being conducted.
That opens up a range of new possibilities for a company that since launching in 2000 has quickly grown atop a firm foundation of simplifying the management of global ocean freight. Now, business intelligence is poised to become a greater source of revenue for the company.
Bumps in the Road
Rainey joined the company in July 2008, from the position of CFO of International Mail Services for Pitney Bowes. There, as manager of a freight forwarder business, she had gained firsthand insight into the needs of a member in INTTRA’s network.
But her charge as CFO of INTTRA was to help the company capitalize as it prepared to expand further into Asia. Rainey began developing a plan for bringing in capital and presenting INTTRA to private equity and venture capital firms.
Then the recession hit.
“I very quickly had to shift from getting the company ready to raise capital to preparing us for the global financial crisis of 2008,” says Rainey.
In the final months of 2008, global merchandise trade dropped 2.8 percent (according to the International Monetary Fund), so rather than growth, Rainey’s focus quickly became ensuring that INTTRA was financially healthy enough to weather the economic storm.
“We took a hard look at our cost structure, and made adjustments,” she says. “We had to continue to comfortably operate the business even if at that moment global trade took a significant downturn, which had a direct effect on our top line.”
Rainey also worked with the executive team to evaluate opportunities for organic growth, third-party partnerships, and initiatives to build the company through its existing client base — along with the best ways to make those investments. She worked alongside INTTRA’s executive leaders and marketing team to leverage the cost savings that its e-shipping solution offered — something many companies were eager to implement as they took a harder look at their own bottom lines.
Emphasizing INTTRA’s position as a hub for global shipping, the company was also able to promote how it could serve as a central link to a sizable share of the world’s market. Rather than shippers or carriers having to manage dozens or hundreds of one-to-one relationships, INTTRA serves that function. INTTRA’s customers use standardized e-booking requests, shipping instructions, and bills of lading across all of their global shipping partners.
“Any time you can standardize a business process and simplify it, you have a mechanism to drive costs down,” says Rainey.
This proved attractive to hard-hit companies. The result? INTTRA not only weathered the recession, but grew its volume and market share.
Once the organization was in a strong position to handle the downturn, Rainey returned to her original project of raising capital.
The effort proved successful and the company moved quickly to expand its global footprint, particularly in Asia. While INTTRA already had offices in the region, newly raised capital helped enable the addition of sales personnel in China, Singapore, and India.
In Europe and the United States, INTTRA’s automated solutions could provide huge savings in manual labor expenses on office staff. “Now that Asia has seen wages rise in certain regions in recent years,” Rainey says, “that same value proposition became more compelling and drives conversion to electronic commerce.”
These opportunities enabled the organization to move quickly to gain a strong foothold in this region and “thereby accelerate our market growth,” says Rainey. INTTRA added new carriers and users to their network, and now, “When I look at the subset of where our growth is coming from, in Asia we’re growing greater than 50 percent year over year.”
Already deeply embedded in the U.S. and Europe, INTTRA will most likely continue to see its highest growth in Asia, says Rainey.
Focus on the Future
As INTTRA’s CFO, Rainey now has her sights set on how to use the company’s strengthened market position and expanded size to its advantage. Its large market share means that INTTRA now enjoys visibility into 35 percent of the entire world’s container shipment business.
“With this significant amount of data on global trade, it’s highly valuable to markets even beyond the industry where we operate,” says Rainey.
In the past year, INTTRA has taken major steps to grow what it calls its Visibility Services and Data Quality initiatives. The company’s Ocean Shipping Information Quality (Ocean IQ) consulting program includes an onsite workshop, as well as ongoing measurement and analysis by data experts who help pinpoint issues in a customer’s shipping process, such as late or incomplete shipment cargo status updates. Each month, INTTRA publishes a list of the carriers that are providing the highest quality in shipping data. Over the last year, INTTRA reported that these efforts have helped to improve the quality of data regarding the status of a shipment by 12 percent across the company’s entire customer base.
The company is also working to supplement this data with “door-to-door visibility,” rolling out a platform that gives shippers and forwarders a window into INTTRA members’ entire shipment supply chain. In April, INTTRA announced a partnership with rates and contract management provider Catapult International that will allow shippers and freight forwarders to view their privately negotiated rate agreements, schedules and contract details, and then book shipments using the INTTRA e-shipping platform.
“After laying a strong foundation in the e-shipping arena, INTTRA is strongly-positioned to leverage our dominant market position going forward and open new avenues of innovation,” says Rainey.
The CFO’s Changing Role
Valerie Rainey, CFO and senior vice president of corporate development and finance for INTTRA, Inc. believes that the “accounting-type individual” who has long been ideal for CFO roles now needs additional skills and experience. Today, a CFO has a more strategic position.
“A significant part of my role is helping the CEO set the strategic direction for the company, by bringing an understanding of where we need to make future investments to drive enterprise value,” says Rainey.
Second, Rainey points to the CFO’s increasingly operational role.
“Over time, many companies have moved away from having a COO role,” she says.
Increasingly, to be a CFO requires a global outlook. Rainey currently serves as chair of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)’s Business & Industry Executive Committee, and has been a member of that committee for the past four years. The committee focuses on CPAs working in industry rather than public accountancy.
As chair, she has helped the organization to understand what is going on in the business world both nationally and internationally. And, she has helped develop a partnership between the AICPA and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), which together rolled out the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) designation.
“The CGMA designation is a global designation making it easier for employers to ensure the highest caliber of accounting and financial professionals in every country,” says Rainey. “So a company can feel comfortable when they hire a CGMA that they are getting a certain caliber of professional.”