- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2000

Jeffrey Thinnes, president of JTI Marketing & Communications Inc., managed to turn a lifestyle into a business when he formed his Virginia-based company last year.

Mr. Thinnes, 43, has been nurturing contacts between the United States and Europe for nearly 25 years, ever since he spent his sophomore year of college in Innsbruck, Austria. Freiburg, near the Swiss border, was the next stop. Then it was off to Saarbruecken, near France, for graduate work.

Later, work with an Arizona law firm kept Mr. Thinnes, a fluent German speaker, in touch with Europeans doing business in the United States. He then did a stint with an American think tank in Berlin supported by German industrial giants like Volkswagen, Bosch and Krupp. The government affairs office of pre-Chrysler-merger Daimler-Benz in Washington was the final station before entrepreneurship.

JTI, ensconced among Northern Virginia's fast-growing technology companies, tries to do for companies from outside the United States what Mr. Thinnes did for himself as a student: learn to prosper in a new environment. His four-person consulting firm leads foreigners, especially Europeans, into the thriving but sometimes harrowing American market.

Mr. Thinnes' company already shares office space with Orbis, one of the German companies that used his help to put down roots in the Washington area. With both self-interest and passion, Mr. Thinnes is an evangelist for the cause of lowering the threshold for companies from around the world to do business in the United States, and encouraging American businesses that are often all to fixated on the domestic market to take the global plunge.

Question: Does it frustrate you that so many American companies are not aware of the international potential of their business?

Answer: Absolutely not. That's my business opportunity. I'm not frustrated by that fact, I'm motivated by it.

Q: What sorts of attitudes do you run across when you try to coax companies into taking the plunge overseas?

A: When I first cast the net for clients, what I got was a bevy of European companies interested in coming to the United States. The Europeans understand much more clearly, and from an earlier stage, that they have to be international. They come from smaller markets. They grow up in a multilingual environment. They don't think in terms of national or international. They think in terms of international, in terms of Europe.

In the United States, there is much more of an educational process in convincing companies that they need to think globally, particularly among smaller companies. Our culture is domestic-oriented. I think that is changing. You see more internationally oriented courses at institutions of higher learning. But you also see a drop-off in interest for foreign languages.

Q: When a company first begins to think about doing business overseas, what does it think about?

A: Of course it depends on the individual company. We target smaller technology companies. In these cases, it's primarily finding the right distribution channels. If it's a software company, for example, you don't need to make a huge investment to have a physical presence across the Atlantic. There are all kinds of less costly, interim steps, like finding a research and development partner that can serve as a set of eyes and ears for your company.

Q: So you believe that the barrier to entering overseas markets is much lower than most companies think?

A: That's right. In the United States, when you start talking about international business, people's eyes can glaze over. They don't understand it. They think 'foreign languages, foreign cultures.' But they are wrong. It's doable.

Q: Do you feel that the Washington area, especially Northern Virginia, does not have the reputation it ought to as a technology center?

A: We are the third largest tech center in the country, and the fastest growing. But who cares? The businesses that are here are doing fine, and their interest in marketing the area as a leading technology center is only secondary. They are interested in returning profits to their shareholders. It's really of interest to economic development authorities who have to go out and increase investment to increase the tax base. That's what it's about when you cut to the chase. Virginia is making good strides forward.

Q: So what is the allure for foreign companies coming to this area?

A: The key reason that we have certain industry clusters here: content, communications, systems integration. The number one [reason] is having this critical mass of industries and the professional services around that. The professional services around these industries are important.

Q: But there are other areas where you can find these types of companies. Why would a foreign entrepreneur come here?

A: One of the unique things about Northern Virginia is the willingness for even competitors to work together. This really surprises foreign companies who come here. The European environment, especially in the early stages, is very secretive. People here are willing to be more open and share their ideas. They take an interest in helping entrepreneurs. I think that's unique compared to other high-tech centers in the United States, and it's certainly unique compared to Europe. It may be unique because what you have [in the Washington area] is a lot of companies who have moved in from outside the region. It has been a very open environment from the start.

SELF-PORTRAIT

Jeffrey Thinnes, president, JTI Marketing & Communications, Inc.

Age: 43

Education: Bachelor of Arts, Notre Dame, law degree from Indiana University, Master of Public Administration from Harvard and a degree in European law from the Universitaet des Saarlandes

Background: Career highlights include work for the international practice of an Arizona law firm, deputy director of the Berlin offices of the Aspen Institute, and three years in the government affairs office of Daimler-Benz

Family: Wife Fionnuala is the bookkeeping whiz of JTI and mother of their four children

Contact: 703/759-9696, jthinnes@jtiinc.net

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