Wisconsin’s Globetrotter

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:45 pm

R. Christian Bartley was born for a life of international business. His parents were both professors at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and traveled extensively. As a child, Bartley spent time in Spain, Puerto Rico, France, Poland, Germany, Bulgaria and other European countries. By the time he was 17 years old, Bartley was traveling to Paris and other parts of Europe on his own.

“Travel was always part of who I was,” he said. “But we always came back to Milwaukee. It was our home base.”

Today, at 36 years old, Bartley has traveled and developed contacts in more places than most people twice his age. And more importantly, as chief executive officer of World Trade Center Wisconsin, Bartley is helping local companies develop business relationships with suppliers, financing, sourcing, exporting and forming joint ventures across the globe.

There’s something about international business that connects with him on a very intuitive level.

“It’s in my blood,” Bartley said. “There is something to me that is so intriguing about different cultures, different societies, different languages. We’re all one community when it comes down to it. I find the French saying, ‘Vive la difference,’ which normally refers to men and women, I think that is very applicable when it comes to the international stage.”

Based in downtown Milwaukee, Barley is an international business matchmaker.

“When I travel around the world, one of the things I enjoy doing, it’s almost a game, is to keep my eyes open and pay attention for Wisconsin companies,” Bartley said. “In your hotel room, I don’t care if you’re in Shanghai, Beijing, Hanoi or Paris, you are likely to find in that hotel some type of control unit from Johnson Controls. You are likely to find either paper products or paper towel dispensers from Kimberly Clark. You are likely to find faucets and fixtures from the Kohler Company.”

Peace and stability

World Trade Center Wisconsin is an office of the World Trade Centers Association, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the business climate in the cities in which it does business.

“The mission statement of the World Trade Centers Association is peace and stability through trade,” Bartley said. 

Each of the branches of the World Trade Centers Association is independent, with its own board, staff and budget.

One of the World Trade Center’s most important functions is connecting its local members to international contacts through its global offices.

That function is one of Bartley’s specialties, and it’s one he’s helped the Wisconsin office develop since joining its staff in 2002. Bartley became a member of the organization in 1995 when he worked for a company that was a member. Several years later, he formed an international consulting firm named Faleiro LLC.

The Wisconsin branch of the World Trade Center was founded in 1987. Its early functions were primarily focused on educating the local business community, Bartley said. When he joined the nonprofit, it was facing some financial troubles and lagging membership.

“Our services hadn’t changed to meet the needs of the marketplace,” he said. “It was easier to travel and enter the (international) marketplace. We needed to differentiate ourselves from the other organizations that people were confusing us with. Our members were not realizing (our office) was one of 300 global offices.”

The World Trade Center continues to offer education programs for its member companies, but it also offers global networking opportunities, contacts and introductions to other companies around the globe, research, business services and discounts on services while abroad.

“Our focus now is more comprehensive in terms of providing a range of services to meet the needs of Wisconsin companies in terms of the global marketplace,” Bartley said. “We’ve refocused our programming to be more strategic, so that we cover more of the higher level issues.”

Those include mergers and acquisitions as growth strategies, using international strategic alliances for growth, protecting intellectual property overseas and more, Bartley said.

Since 2005, the World Trade Center Wisconsin has organized trade missions to India, China and Vietnam. The local office is planning missions to central Europe and southern China later this year and wants to do another trip to India late this year or early next year.

Business-to-business connections are the focus of the trade missions, Bartley said. Before the trips, attending companies are required to define their goals. Bartley and Christen Peckman, chief operating officer of World Trade Center Wisconsin, scrutinize those goals and use the global World Trade Center network to find the best prospects in the cities they will be visiting.

Meetings and appointments are made, and World Trade Center officials from Wisconsin or the host country join the companies on their meetings, Bartley said. Those types of services make the World Trade Center Wisconsin both unique and valuable, according to businesspeople who have made the trips.


“The World Trade Center mission to Mumbai, India (in 2005), came up when we were looking to develop a relationship there,” said Jim Hunter, president of West Allis-based MII Equipment Inc. “Going with them was a godsend. They gave us introductions, helped us with customs, communications and hotel reservations.”

MII Equipment manufactures material handling, dock, floor-mounted safety and ergonomic equipment for industrial customers. The company was previously sourcing from China, but wanted to explore India as a secondary, backup market, Hunter said.

Before learning of the World Trade Center Wisconsin’s planned trip to Mumbai, Hunter had made a few inquiries by phone, fax and e-mail, but needed that in-person touch.

“We didn’t have a good feel for the facilities there,” Hunter said. “We needed face-to-face meetings.”

During the mission, MII Equipment met a company that later became a supplier, and the two firms have been doing business ever since.

Going on an organized trade mission was particularly valuable because of the insight the World Trade Center office in Mumbai was able to provide on local customs and business practices.

“It’s the contacts on the ground they have there,” Hunter said. “If you get into an awkward situation, they can help you. It’s very helpful to get input on the local customs and how they do business in India.”

Michelle Keshel, CEO and founder of Sales Automation Support Inc., a New Berlin-based sales support services firm, agreed. Keshel has been on two of the World Trade Center Wisconsin’s India trips.

“If you are at all interested in going or establishing contacts (overseas), this is a very hassle-free way to do it,” she said. “Almost always it’s the owner (that goes), and these are people who don’t have time to even set up meetings. On my first trip, I literally had 35 meetings in about five days. It was nonstop.”

For companies that might be looking to establish overseas offices, sales channels or explore importing, taking part in a business trade mission may be a worthy investment, according to Gary Les, director of international services for Madison-based Virchow Krause & Co. LLP. Les took part in a 2005 trade mission to China.

“It was an opportunity to invite some clients (on the mission) who were interested in sourcing, selling and looking for more information at the time,” Les said. “The second (reason) was to get a better understanding of the World Trade Center and its global network.”

Les is a board member for the World Trade Center Wisconsin, and Virchow Krause was a trade mission sponsor. Virchow Krause has sponsored every business mission since the World Trade Center Wisconsin launched them in 2005, Les said. The firm sponsored a mission to Vietnam last month and will sponsor trips to central Europe and southern China later this year, in addition to another trip to India in 2008.

The educational component

Bob Deahl, dean of the College of Professional Studies at Marquette University, participated in the recent mission to Vietnam. That mission was a partnership between the World Trade Center Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Rotary Club and Lexington Langha, a company with offices in Milwaukee and Vietnam that is dedicated to helping bring foreign investments in Vietnam.

Deahl took part in the Vietnam mission to network with the other Wisconsin companies on the trip and to help promote Marquette in Vietnam.

“Being with members of such diverse areas of the city, it was a wonderful opportunity to network with people from within our city and talk about our college and what we’re doing for the city,” he said.

However, Deahl also found unique opportunities on the trip. “(Vietnam) is a country that is just ready to explode from a cultural and economic standpoint,” Deahl said. “Eighty percent of its population is under 32 years old. There is a tremendous amount of vitality, hope and energy that is ready to explode on the scene.”

The country’s requirement that every student attend school until at least 16 years old could make Vietnam a large exporter of college-aged students, Deahl said.

“There are schools everywhere,” he said. “There is a growing emergence of college-aged students who want to come to the United States. Our going was in part to explore those possibilities as well.”

The planning services provided by the World Trade Center are essential to businesses entering the international marketplace for the first time, Deahl said.

“I’d say it’s the perfect platform for a structured, safe and well-organized plan in a foreign country,” Deahl said. “It provides an organized framework to have an experience that on your own, you would have to do a lot of work.”

R. Christian Bartley

Age: 36
Education: Bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Marquette University; master’s degree in science-engineering management from Marquette University; master’s degree in business administration with a focus on international marketing and management from Marquette University; University of Paris-Sorbonne, program in French language and literature.
Titles: Chief executive officer, World Trade Center Wisconsin; principal, Faleiro LLC; royal appointment as adviser for foreign trade in the Kingdom of Belgium.
Countries traveled to: Spain, France, Poland, Germany, Bulgaria, Ivory Coast, China, Japan, Vietnam, India, Egypt, the Netherlands, Belgium, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Marshall Island.
Web site: www.wistrade.org.

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