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Career Spotlight: Georgie Harrowell, Commercial Specialist, US Department of Commerce

In this Career Spotlight, we have the pleasure of speaking with Georgie Harrowell, Commercial Specialist at the US Department of Commerce, about her career in the US-Australia bilateral space.

Georgie is passionate about promoting US-Australia trade relationships and is currently a Commercial Specialist at the International Trade Administration at the US Department of Commerce, where she is helping US businesses export to Australia in the fields of energy, business, services, and media and entertainment. She is the former Trade and Investment Director at the Australian Embassy of the United States of America.

Georgie holds a Master of US Studies and a Bachelor of International and Global Studies, American History. She is a former Sydney Branch Director of YAIA and was listed on the YAIA Women to Watch List (2020). She received the Franklin Award and the US Department of State Honour Award from the US Embassy in Canberra.

To begin with, can you tell us more about your time and valuable experiences at university? What strategies did you employ to make the most of your university experience?

University was a great experience. I went to the University of Sydney and studied a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies. I lived on campus at Wesley college and played sport and through that met incredible people from all different countries. Studying in Bergen Norway for an exchange semester was a highlight! While working full-time at AmCham, I studied my Masters of US Studies at the United States Studies Centre (USSC) part-time. I learned about a broad range of topics ranging from: The history of the US Constitution; the historical background of the Chicago Blues; and the power of social media in US political campaigns. During my time at USSC, I went on a USA Insights Tour with other students where we travelled from DC to San Francisco. We had the chance to meet with US companies like multinational company GE and start-up companies such as Lyft. It gave me first-hand insight into the inner workings of US companies. My advice for those of you at university is to join sports groups, go on a study abroad trip, and attend the university events where you’ll hear from interesting speakers. Try and do an internship or work part-time while studying too -- there is no substitute for life experience!

You’ve had a fascinating career working in US-Australia trade relations. Having been in the field for nearly a decade, what changes in this trade relationship have you observed, and how have those changes influenced your work?

I have seen vast changes in how we work to promote international trade. With the onset of the pandemic, there is no doubt the future has moved forward faster in the technology sector. One of my key focus areas with the US Department of Commerce is to promote Australian investment into the United States. Over the past few years I have seen an uptake in Australian companies eyeing US expansion, particularly in the tech sector! I have had the opportunity to work with companies from a broad range of sectors including technology, waste, critical minerals and cleantech. To promote the US market, each year I lead a business delegation to SelectUSA from Australia to DC. I have just returned from DC where 40 Australian companies joined our delegation! At the conference they connected with different US state representatives, heard from members of the US Cabinet on market trends, and connected with business partners.

More recently, I have also seen increased collaboration between the United States and Australia to promote the green economy and build resilient supply chains in the Indo-Pacific. To support efforts, I organised a US-Australia Critical Minerals dialogue to connect Australian companies with US Government Stakeholders and partners. These efforts led to Australian companies setting up rare earths processing plants in the southern US state of Texas. A real win for Australia and the United States.

What have been your key learnings working in both the US and Australia? How has experience in both jurisdictions benefited your career?

Working in Sydney and Washington DC were very different! Aside from missing the Sydney beaches in DC, I learnt how important it was to network with other business contacts while at Austrade at the Australian Embassy. I collaborated with different International Agencies in DC like the World Bank on projects relating to infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific region. On the other hand, working with the US Government in Sydney I learnt about the diversity of the US market and how it offers enormous opportunities for Australian companies seeking international expansion. As the largest consumer market worldwide with 325 million people, the US offers a talented diverse workforce, has a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, and unmatched research and development capabilities. I’ve seen first-hand how Australian companies have benefited by expanding business operations to the United States, like Queensland-born electric vehicle charging company Tritium who are just about to open their largest manufacturing plant worldwide in Tennessee!

What has been your proudest professional achievement so far?

Seeing Australian companies succeed in the States always inspires me! This year I had the opportunity to work with a company called Jervois Mining which is headquartered in Melbourne. They are building the first and only Cobalt mine in the United States in Idaho. It is a great story to tell. Not only because of the role Jervois is playing in building secure critical minerals supply chains, but the way in which they do it. Strong governance and community support is at the core of their project’s success.

Working on visits by Senior US Government Officials to Sydney has been a real privilege too. During the 2016 visit by then Vice-President Biden to Sydney we organised a business roundtable with Australian entrepreneurs at the Opera House. It was a real experience! I was able to be part of the audience for the discussion between Australian entrepreneurs with President Biden, see the complex logistics of the motorcade play-out and helped put together briefing materials for the Office of the Vice President. Working on Official visits by Senior US Government officials is a production that involves all-hands on deck. It was great to take part.

What advice would you give to students and young professionals looking to pursue a career in international affairs, especially for those looking to get into trade advancement?

Success in international affairs lies in how you collaborate. Effective collaboration and networking with business associations, governments, clients, and colleagues will make all the difference.

Attend events: Go to Business Chambers, join networking groups like Professionals in Trade, and organise coffee meetings with people working in the field to build your network.

Help your peers: Don’t underestimate the power of getting along with and helping your peers. Your peers will carry you through your career. They may even choose you to work with them one day when your former bosses have retired. Remain interested and interesting to others.

Take chances: My first full-time job at AmCham Australia started with a phone call enquiring about internship opportunities and ended in a full-time job! Initially it was an admin role and it evolved into organising the Trade and Government Committee meetings, CEO Roundtables, Innovation Trade Missions to the USA, as well as multiple Canberra and Washington Doorknocks, which aim to get AmCham members a “seat” at the table for key advocacy and trade policy discussions. The role took me from Sydney, to Canberra, San Diego and San Francisco. Never underestimate where a simple phone call can take you! The lessons I learned in my first job had ripple effects.

Finally, what attributes do you think make a great leader? How can young professionals hone these attributes for their careers?

Leadership is about being open to learn from others. To not be too rigid in your own thinking. And to not wait for the leadership title to lead. You can always be the one that leads from behind and creates your own opportunities to lead on a project. This might take the form of suggesting a new idea at a team meeting to lead on, or offering to train a new colleague.

Thanks to my fantastic colleagues and bosses at the US Department of Commerce who make work a joy. My bosses certainly have given me the autonomy to be creative and for that I am grateful. They include Monique Roos, Mark Russell, Joe Kaesshaefer, Karen Ballard, and Douglas Wallace.

Finally, my advice would be to help and hold onto good people you meet during your career. I have had the chance to work with talented interns who have gone on to do amazing things - such as Freya Zemek who has gone on to be the Advisor to the Minister of Industry and Science.


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