So you want to have a global career?

I guess I have a “global career”. I teach MBA courses in Asia and Latin America for the AGSM. I host a TV show The Airport Economist about doing business internationally. And a podcast of the same name. And, of course, it all started with a book called, you guessed it, The Airport Economist!

By Tim Harcourt

But a lot of it was accidental. You see I worked at the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) in Melbourne. When I was a 25-year old Research Officer at the ACTU, Bill Kelty, the legendary ACTU Secretary asked me that “apart from my day job” which was of course working on ACTU’s economic submission to the National Wage Case, what did I like to do, or what were my policy interests. I said: “International Trade and Aboriginal Affairs.” He was bemused and said he had trouble finding an officer to do those portfolios as they weren’t high profile or interesting enough, so he said, “I’ll give you both.”

Well I was as happy as a pig in mud and went along to every Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation meeting I could, met the great Pat Dodson, Noel Pearson, Lowitja (Lois) O’Donohue, John Moriarty and some of the leading Indigenous figures of the time. I worked on Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander employment opportunities with my good mate Janina Harding who lead a team of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander employment brokers in each State and Territory (through the trade unions and the local chamber of commerce). And then along came the Mabo case, Wik, and other major Indigenous cases championed by the new Prime Minister Paul Keating. Aboriginal Affairs did not seem so low profile at all in those heady times.

And then there was International Trade. That was far from boring too. We had GATT, the Cairns Group, the WTO, and then APEC. Australia’s engagement with the world, especially Asia, become front and centre of the Hawke, then the Keating Government. It was a far cry from my Reserve Bank days, just 6 years before, when as a cadet economist in (future Governor) Glenn Steven’s department of “Overseas Economics Conditions” Australia’s trade interests were divided into USA, UK, non-UK Europe and Japan.

Again, Paul Keating, once he became Prime Minister, became a passionate advocate of Australia’s ties with Asia, just as he had embraced Indigenous issues. Building on the excellent work of Gareth Evans and Bob Hawke he really championed APEC, convincing then President Bill Clinton to host the first APEC Leader’s Summit in Seattle and made relations with our Asian neighbours, particularly Indonesia, paramount to his Prime Ministership.

As Australia Industry Group CEO, Heather Ridout said of Keating:

“I would say Paul Keating was the most influential Prime Minister when it came to the Asian region.

Keating forced us to think about our relationships with Indonesia, with Malaysia, Singapore, all of ASEAN, North East Asia, the lot. He also reinvigorated our institutions in Asia like APEC”

So Asia became my thing, as did International Trade, I went from the ACTU to be the Chief Economist at Austrade, then to the UNSW as the Airport Economist and the rest is history!

So I was lucky that Bill Kelty made me the offer! But I was ready to take it. After all I had a lot of mates from South East Asia – mainly Singapore and Malaysia – when I was an undergrad at Adelaide Uni. And I did like to travel. I visited my class mates all over South East Asia when I was studying in South Australia.

So my advice?

Be prepared to take up opportunities. You can’t plan everything.

And remember try and develop some skills and expertise, languages help but they are not enough on their own.

And finally, enjoy your international class mates in Adelaide. They are your first international network of your career.

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