The intersection of business and international relations links directly to economic development and foreign direct investment between countries. In late October, the Folks Center delved into this convergence at its fall forum at the Moore School, “Remaking America’s Geopolitical and Business Leadership,” featuring South Carolinians Edward T. McMullen Jr., former U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein (2017-2021) and David H. Wilkins, former U.S. Ambassador to Canada (2005-2009).
The three main themes discussed in the forum were: international diplomacy and the future of trade in a post-COVID-19 world, understanding the importance of intercultural relationships and career pathways in the foreign service.
McMullen and Wilkins shared insights about the opportunities and challenges they faced in international business and diplomacy as U.S. ambassadors. Both ambassadors reside in South Carolina and have given much to the state through their leadership and service.
The event, attracting more than 300 in-person and online registrants, began with warm welcomes by Folks Center executive director Karen Brosius and the University of South Carolina’s interim president, Harris Pastides. The Forum’s co-moderators were UofSC’s Gerald A. McDermott, international business professor and Folks Center faculty director, and Robert H. Cox, political science professor.
3 Key Takeaways
The Future of Trade
Trade, free or protectionist, is still an ongoing concern.
- Wilkins: Will the U.S. advocates will have a huge effect; what kinds of trade agreements are we going to push? It is still not known, and it will be interesting to see where we end up.
- McMullen: Many countries do not reciprocate ‘free trade”, and this lack of reciprocity has been an issue, especially with China. There is currently tension among the European Union, but the U.S. could use this to strengthen bilateral agreements and the overall trade system within the EU.
Investing in Cultural Bonds
Adjusting to new cultures takes time and effort, but the best way to do so is going out and meeting the citizens of the country to get to know them.
- Wilkins: “90 percent of what you do as an ambassador is to show up. You must be visible, give the speech, meet people and build relationships.”
On a Career in the Foreign Service and Skills Needed
Careers in the foreign service can be fulfilling; there are open opportunities many students may not realize are available. UofSC students are already acquiring many skills that are useful within this field, including learning more than one language. By starting down this path earlier in their career, it can open up many doors further in life.
- McMullen: “The U.S. tradition is unique in that diplomats need to understand the real world and represent the president. Leaders of foreign countries need to be able to rely on U.S. ambassadors to characterize American interests and understand and communicate foreign interests. Having advertising/public affairs as part of a larger business skillset made it easier for me to represent the interests of the president and administration.”
Special thanks to The Rachel and Jim Hodges Fund and Michelin North America for making this event possible and to university partner, The Walker Institute, in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Ambassador Edward T. McMullen Jr. served as the former U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein from 2017 to 2021. He has nationally and internationally worked in public policy, politics and business for more than 30 years. He is currently the senior policy advisor at Adams and Reese, a law firm with attorneys and advisors located throughout the southern United States and Washington, D.C.
Ambassador David H. Wilkins served as the former U.S. ambassador to Canada from 2005 to 2009. He is a partner at the law firm of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough in Greenville, South Carolina, and chairs the firm’s public policy and international law practice group. Wilkins served 25 years in the South Carolina House of Representatives and was elected speaker in 1994, a position he held for 11 years until his ambassadorship post. Wilkins is the recipient of South Carolina’s highest honor, the Order of the Palmetto.