Talking shop in Havana

Advice: Two Hunt Valley businessmen will share their expertise with Cuban start-ups.

Entrepreneurship

March 29, 2000|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Tomorrow, two Hunt Valley businessmen will have a chance to explore the world beyond Fidel Castro's iron curtain.

And they got invited to go on the trip to communist Cuba by being outstanding capitalists.

William Litsinger and Thomas Gaines, of the Baltimore chapter of the Young Entrepreneurs Organization, will join 148 other members of the international group on a trip to the island. To join, members must be younger than 40 and president, founder or owner of a company with more than $1 million in sales.

Once in Cuba, they will have the chance to sample a culture seldom encountered by Americans and to network with Cuban business people.

"How many people from Baltimore get to go to Cuba?" Litsinger said he asked himself when he heard about the trip.

Other than the Orioles, who went to Cuba last March, Litsinger couldn't think of any.

Armed with their experiences, the Americans will offer advice to Cuban entrepreneurs, who were allowed to privatize in select industries in 1993, Litsinger said.

"They'll tell us their challenges and we'll tell them about our experience," he said.

Litsinger, vice president and partner with ABL Electronics in Hunt Valley, helped start the Baltimore chapter of the Young Entrepreneurs Organization, which he helped found in June 1998. The local group has 16 members. He said the exchange of ideas among business managers is one of the key components of the organization's local meetings.

For Cubans still in the fledgling stages of private businesses, Litsinger, a 38-year-old White Hall resident, said his experiences may be particularly helpful.

"I think I can offer them experiences from a true boot-strap company," he said.

ABL Electronics, which makes cable assemblies for computers, was founded with $100 in a Timonium basement in 1981. Today, the company has 80 employees in four locations across the country and sells its products to Apple Computer Inc. and major distributors.

ABL does some of its manufacturing in China. Litsinger said the trip offers him the chance to check out a location where one day his products could be produced "90 miles from the U.S. instead of the whole way around the world."

Gaines, a 36-year-old Roland Park resident, is president of commercial builder Hencken and Gaines. He joined the company in 1986, and 10 years later bought out his brother-in-law, Victor Hencken, to head the company. Gaines said he expects Hencken and Gaines to have $15 million in revenue this year.

He hopes to bring back an understanding of a different way of life in one of the world's remaining communist dictatorships.

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