Interview by: Cynthia L. Blandford
I have the honor and pleasure of serving on the World Trade Center Atlanta Board of Directors as Vice President of Trade Services and welcome the chance
to have this interview with Max Sutherland, President, to share more about the mission, vision, programs, and services of World Trade Center Atlanta.
First, tell us about yourself and walk us through your background.
Max: This is always a difficult question to nail-down in a 15-30 second elevator speech, so I’ll do my best to keep this as short as possible. I consider myself quite fortunate for having received international exposure already as a child and was expected to carry on my mother’s side of the family business of public service. For a long time, I was being groomed for and excited about entering the Diplomatic Corps; however, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presented itself while working on my bachelor’s degree at Indiana University that drastically changed my career trajectory and pointed me towards Wall Street Banking instead in order to make a difference in the world.
Early responsibilities on Wall Street included managing Europe Middle East Africa (EMEA) accounts and eventually expanded around the world. My primary areas of expertise focused on Corporate Turnarounds, Global Growth Strategies, and Mergers and Acquisitions, having worked on some very high-profile initiatives that gave me significant visibility and took organizations to higher performance levels. I always enjoyed being presented with a problem, a challenge, or a new initiative, then thinking strategically and coming up with outside-the-box ways of executing and consistently exceeded expectations. While at KPMG, I rescued a project team tasked with designing a Customer Profitability Solution by redesigning their proposed solution, making it far more user-friendly and efficient, and most importantly, marketable. That Profitability Solution is now part of SAP’s CRM Module.
Unfortunately, not long after that 9/11 happened, and Wall Street was upended. I decided to go back to school for my MBA and got into the Duke University, Fuqua School of Business program. Fast forward to October 2017, I was invited and approved to join the Board of Directors of the World Trade Center Atlanta. I believe in the brand and the mission and quickly immersed myself to see how I can add value to the organization. Within a year I joined the Executive Committee and became the Executive Vice President. A year later and only a few months before the onslaught of the pandemic, my predecessor stepped down, I stepped up, and the board confirmed me in my current role as President and CEO the day we all went into lockdown. However, we’ve used this time wisely to pivot and realign our mission with our long-term goals and vision. We’re successfully laying the foundation for an explosive growth over the next few years.
The World Trade Center Atlanta promotes and facilitates international trade and investments, providing the access, programming, services, and commercial environment that bring executives, entrepreneurs, governments, NGOs, businesses, and markets together.
What are some present, and future goals of the WTC-Atlanta?
Max: Over the past several years, we had evolved into a mostly events and annual conference organization. However, this past year has given us the opportunity to reevaluate our value proposition. We looked back at how the WTC Atlanta played a central role in the international business community in the 1990s and early 2000s. We not only want to get back to that, but we want to blow past it. Since the 1996 Olympics, Atlanta has stepped out of the shadows and onto the world stage. The international business community and the international trade and investment community have grown exponentially. In the Greater Atlanta Area alone there are over 150,000 businesses, 2500 foreign-owned businesses, 1250 multinational companies, 70 Consulates and Honorary Consulates, 55 local Chambers of Commerce, 30+ Bi-national Chambers of Commerce, dedicated foreign trade offices, and a constantly growing international population. We need to connect better and offer more of the solutions they need and seek when conducting business.
By rolling out our WTC Atlanta Academy that provides real-world instruction on expanding into foreign markets, by partnering with MONEX to provide FX and International Payment Transaction Solutions that aggressively compete with traditional bank rates, by partnering with Berkshire Hathaway HS to offer international relocation services, and by upgrading our Corporate Partnership benefits, we are beginning to offer more of what our constituents need to grow their businesses. But our most strategic, long-term initiative we’re working on is to brand a signature building here in Atlanta as the World Trade Center, with dedicated space for an Innovation Center, and Incubator Center, the Academy, and, of course, for events. This will be a huge game-changer in the city as we intend to build an ecosystem of international trade and investments around the WTC campus. I can’t give you a definitive as when this will happen, but I can tell you that we are in active talks.
How does the WTC-Atlanta engage with the community and how does one become a member?
Max: We engage the community first through our brand recognition and programming and then by providing access to the most influential resources and business brokers in the area, both corporate and government. Because we are not here to recreate the wheel and provide the solutions that other organizations do, we are uniquely positioned to collaborate with these very organizations and make the appropriate introductions. Becoming a member of the WTC Atlanta is quite easy. We have Individual Executive memberships available through our website at wtcatlanta.com/membership/ and Corporate Partnerships via the Partners tab.
Please share with us the WTC-ATL activities including World Trade Day and what are your goals for this program?
Max: As with most trade organizations, we focus our activities on what’s important to our constituents. For the better part of these past 20 months, this focus has been on navigating the pandemic and how to come out on the other side in a good position. We feel that the best way to do this is to collaborate with other trade organizations and chambers to provide as much an holistic perspective as possible. For World Trade Day, we continue this approach by bringing the trade community, the Consular Corps, and the international business community together to meet and discuss key trends, geopolitical forces impacting trade, and opportunities to collaborate and develop business.
Please share in more detail the Services you offer your membership in the Worldwide Referral Network, International Delegations and Consulates, Educational Seminars, and Trade Information / Market Research
Max: The WTC Atlanta is one of over 330 World Trade Center’s strategically located in markets around the globe. Membership and Corporate Partnership with any one of us gives you the access to the global WTC Network. We have internal tools and communication channels to make introductions and requests on behalf of Members and Corporate Partners. We also offer and provide access to the Consular Corps here in Atlanta, which consists of 70 Career and Honorary Consulates. Each of these can assist travelers, executives, and businesses with insights, information, travel documents, research, and introductions to their respective home markets. Our Educational Seminars offer further access to key market players who can help further your business objectives. As for Trade Information & Market Research, we partner with Millennium Global Group, Global Strategies for Good, LLC, UnniCo and local and Binational Chambers of Commerce, including the GA Department of Economic Development. Our collaborations reinforce our vision of uniting and connecting the international business and trade communities to expand global trade.
Partners are keen to the growth of any organization. Share with our reading audience who some of your partners are and how can one become a WTC Atlanta member.
Max: We work closely with Mary Waters, Deputy Commissioner, International Trade from the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the US Africa Trade Council, the Ecuadorian-American Chamber of Commerce Southeast, the Liberian Association of Metro Atlanta, and are building out more of our Bilateral Agreements. We also have Corporate Partnerships with Kaiser Permanente, UnniCo, Global Strategies for Good, LLC, Millennium Global, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Tempus (MONEX), Berkshire Hathaway Homes Services, Birchtree Global, Georgia Tech CIBER, and Georgia State University, with many more soon to come online.
We understand that the World Trade Center Atlanta Academy’s Global Market Entry Program is an online, custom-developed, and asynchronous course designed to give business leaders, functional leaders, and those interested in international business the knowledge and connections needed to develop and manage a profitable global growth strategy.
How is this program coming along and can you explain how this program works?
Max: We launched earlier this year to widespread acclaim. Because the instruction is from a real-world, corporate perspective, rather than perfect-state academic, we have even piqued the interest of many universities looking to partner with us and offer certifications from their institutions. Enrollment is easy, through the website. There is an onboarding process during which a participant is asked to identify a specific market of interest. This in turn prompts the instructors to tailor the course accordingly. To be sure we are delivering top-quality content, I personally took the program as preparation for my next chapter in life, and I am thoroughly impressed. Anyone thinking they can rely on an MBA to expand into a foreign market will miss some critical steps that can make a difference between success and unnecessary struggles.
What would you consider the biggest challenge you are facing today and the greatest opportunity?
Max: The biggest challenge I think most of us in the community are experiencing is the pandemic and wanting to return to in person meeting and networking. Patience and creativity are key to weathering the storm. Our biggest opportunity is landing a branded World Trade Center building. This will bring even more jobs to the area and greater visibility to the global World Trade Center’s organization. And our intent is to become a destination for executives and visitors alike.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us that we have not already discussed?
Max: Yes, we are reinstating our 501(c)3 status and should be receiving the final determination letter from the IRS in February. This will then allow us to be receiving tax deductible donations and apply for state and federal grants. We look forward to any organization interested in partnering with us, either on a grant or through the Endowment Fund, to please reach out and let’s see how we can collaborate. In closing, thank you for your interest in the World Trade Center Atlanta and in our journey as we work to bring more value to the international business and trade communities!