Business Monday

Gateway City/Who’s Here: Robertson Forwarding Co. moves military parts and equipment from Miami to Middle East and Latin America

Stefan Ahrens, managing director of Robertson Forwarding Co., and Jennifer Robertson-Ahrens, president of the company, at their headquarters in Allapattah.
Stefan Ahrens, managing director of Robertson Forwarding Co., and Jennifer Robertson-Ahrens, president of the company, at their headquarters in Allapattah. For the Miami Herald

When Jennifer Robertson-Ahrens was growing up, she helped her parents at their family-owned company, Robertson Forwarding Co. (RFC), and learned firsthand about the freight forwarding and logistics businesses.

Today, as president of the company her parents, Joan and Alvin Robertson, founded in 1968, she is an expert in air and ocean shipping, warehousing, logistics and the terminology and intricacies of documentation, regulations and the reams of red tape associated with international trade.

She runs the Miami-based firm with her husband, Stefan Ahrens, the managing director, and her mother, Joan, the CEO. Her father is deceased.

Robertson Forwarding, which also does business as RFC Logistics, specializes in shipping and receiving military equipment for U.S. government agencies and government contractors.

“We provide a full range of export services for military and aviation clients,” said Robertson-Ahrens, who formally joined the company in 2001 to manage export compliance, implementation and training.

“We handle the license applications, documentation, shipping and receiving for a wide range of military and aviation materials and equipment, delivering them in austere and troubled nations,” she said.

“To grow our business, we’re also starting to develop new cold-chain services for pharmaceutical companies, as we seek to expand our niche business,” reaching out to more companies working in the aviation and military sectors.

RFC’s biggest markets for exports are Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia and Peru.

What exactly does RFC do? Robertson-Ahrens gave an example.

A contractor for Lockheed Martin orders $50 million in aircraft parts, drones and tactical equipment for several different clients overseas. “We act as the export coordinator for our client, inspecting and documenting the equipment after it arrives at a warehouse here,” she said. “Then, depending on what the contractor needs, we suggest shipping options and create the most economical routes to the end users. We’re more than a freight forwarder — who moves merchandise from one point to another. We act as the project manager,” she said.

“We want to be a trusted advisor to our clients,” said Ahrens, who began working with RFC in 2003. “And we give them around-the-clock personal attention they don’t always receive at large companies.”

Currently, RFC is moving 10 helicopters that were used overseas to repair stations in the Midwest. “I don’t fly them, but I do get to sit inside when I inspect them,” Robertson-Ahrens said.

RFC was originally started at JFK International Airport in New York City, but Robertson-Ahren’s parents moved the company to Miami in 1992, seeing new growth opportunities here for companies working in international trade.

RFC, with seven employees, is a woman- and minority-owned business certified to do business with agencies like the U.S. Department of Defense and the State Department, and to handle a wide range of military equipment. The firm has a customs broker’s license and provides logistics, warehousing, fulfillment and procurement services, as well as offering training and consulting.

RFC’s specialties include government contract negotiations, regulations covering international arms trade and multi-modal transportation.

Robertson-Ahrens received a bachelor’s degree in art history from the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is certified as a U.S. Export Compliance Officer, licensed by the International Import-Export Institute and frequently gives lectures on regulatory issues and international trade.

Ahrens, who was born in Germany and was an Olympic swimmer and member of the German national team, received a degree in marketing and advertising from the University of Miami, and later an MBA. Before starting with RFC as a consultant in 2003, he worked as an executive in business intelligence software. He took over as RFC’s managing director earlier this year.

To make the firm more efficient, RFC cut expenses and rationalized operations this year, Ahrens said. RFC also gained an important new customer. “We expect double-digit growth in 2016,” he said.

The company is now working to strengthen its presence in the military and aviation niche, and to expand into cold-chain services.

“We’ve been in business for almost 50 years, and we want to plan for the next 50 years,” Robertson-Ahrens said.

One of the couple’s two children, daughter Ullumay, who is 8, “already wants to come into the office and do documents.”

The writer can be reached at josephmannjr@gmail.com.

Robertson Forwarding Co. (RFC)

Business: A Miami-based freight forwarding and logistics firm, Robertson Forwarding Co. (RFC) provides a full range of logistics solutions, including shipping, receiving and delivering internationally (air and ocean), warehousing, supply chain management and consulting. A family-owned and managed firm that has been operating for more than 47 years, RFC’s clients include U.S. government agencies and companies in the military and aviation sectors.

Founded: In 1968 by Joan and Alvin Robertson at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. In 1992, they moved the company to Miami.

Headquarters for operations: 1951 NW Seventh Ave., Miami.

Leadership: Joan Robertson, CEO; Jennifer Robinson-Ahrens, president and daughter of the founders, and Stefan Ahrens, managing director.

Employees: Seven full-time, plus contractors.

Ownership: Family-owned company.

Customers: U.S. government agencies, companies in the military and aviation industries.

Website: www.robertsonforwarding.com and http://rfclogistics.com

Source: Robertson Forwarding Co.

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