By B.L. Wilson
The career arcs of three George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs alumni were developed by life experiences, geopolitics and other events that helped them achieve positions in finance, retail and supply chain markets, and the travel and tourism industry.
The distinguished alumni--Patrick Hyland, M.A. ’03, managing director in the Global Client Business within Goldman Sachs Asset Management; Persis Khambatta, M.A. ’07, director of global government affairs for India and South Asia at Walmart; and Tiffany Townsend, B.A. ’01, executive vice president for global communications at NYC Company, the official destination marketing organization for New York City--were featured at the second annual Wenger Family Lecture on International Business and Finance in mid-November.
The session, moderated by Elliott School Dean Alyssa Ayres, was called, “The Future of Global Markets.” Ayres launched the discussion by asking the panelists how the Elliott School had prepared them for their current positions.
Hyland had planned a career in international politics, economics and finance with an eye toward doing political risk analysis at a bank, insurance company or credit ratings agency. But a GW internship at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which uses private capital to advance U.S. foreign policy, laid the foundation for his first job in commercial banking and from there to advising clients at Goldman Sachs.
“Believe it or not, Macro 101, that’s all you need,” he said. “It’s interest rates, international policy of governance.”
A command of the soft skills, being able to communicate, to write and to be articulate are also critical, said Hyland, skills that the other panelists agreed were essential.
Khambatta was already working at the Asia Foundation when she began graduate studies in foreign policy and South Asia. She thought international development was her calling. After moving to India with her husband, however, she spent three years as a stay-at-home mom and used the time to become an expert on India’s political economy. That turned into helping to establish the Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in DC, creating a South Asia practice at a consulting firm, and ultimately to Walmart.
Townsend took a similar circuitous route starting as an Elliott School undergraduate with plans to enter law school before an internship at the State Department took her to the Communications Department at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Several positions in the United States and New York City government built on her understanding of geopolitics and led her to a job promoting travel at New York City’s official tourism marketing organization.
Looking toward the future, Hyland said, understanding policy, economics and finance will always be essential for advising corporate clients with large pools of capital, whether corporate pensions, fixed incomes or insurance companies. But the volatility of emerging markets, equity and market rates constantly fluctuating now require a greater reliance on technology.
“I find myself more and more talking to our counterparts in technology and engineering to help figure stuff out more efficiently,” he said. “Data science is a very strong complement to a policy background.”
Keeping up with customers and what they desire and finding ways to make [Walmart’s] “supply chain the most trusted and most resilient so that it can withstand challenges like COVID and geopolitical uncertainty” is how Khambatta described some of the work that her team supports. It means company executives come to her and her team, as governmental affairs specialists, “to translate changing policies and potential crises” occurring in India and the 23 other countries where Walmart is present.
“It's a sort of two-way communication to instill trust…and ensure governments and societies understand what we want to do in the market,” she said, “and what we want to contribute to economic growth and job creation aligned with their strategic goals.”
Townsend explained that there are a lot of pieces to tourism that she must keep her eye on—airlines, buses, hotels, arts, culture, food—anything that touches on travel also requires an understanding of policy.
“If people can’t fly to New York, that is detrimental obviously, as we saw during the pandemic,” she said. “We are always looking at how to support and ensure the health of all these industries that is tourism.”
A crucial issue facing the tourism industry, she said, is how to be “good stewards of the planet” or sustainability, the impact that travel has on the planet--an issue the other panelists said their companies are also tackling.
Similarly, within retail, Khambatta said Walmart trains and educates tens of thousands of its associates and employees in India and other markets. “Sustainability isn’t only with energy. It’s also about people, and bringing people along with skills and training, as the business also grows,” she said.
Hyland said Goldman Sachs has set a goal of $750 billion for sustainable development, an estimated half of which has already been reached. It is a goal achieved by helping companies obtain financing, for example, to bring a clean energy firm to market or gain funding for wood and solar powered energy.
“Five or seven years ago, we were forcing the conversation on clients,” Hyland said. “Now, it is the Fortune 500s that want very much to be a part of the conversation.”
The Wenger Family Lecture is endowed by the Henry E. and Consuelo S. Wenger Foundation, whose great granddaughter, Wellesley Parker, B.A. ’07, is an Elliott School alumna and Executive Circle member of the International Women of Elliott. The panel was presented by the Elliott School Office of Development and Alumni Relations and co-sponsored by the GW Institute for International Economic Policy and the International Women of Elliott.