International business graduate finds success in West Africa

Patrick Hettinger’s (BSIBL ’98) curiosity about the rest of the world — in particular, how societies and economies interact — influenced his decision to major in international business and language at TU, a degree that offers a strong business core coupled with language proficiency.

After graduation, he joined Hilti as a financial analyst before moving to Chicago to work for a bank. Eighteen months later, he needed a change. Following his desire to engage with other societies through public sector work, Hettinger joined the Peace Corps, which sent him to Senegal, Africa. There he implemented sustainable development initiatives by training entrepreneurs in basic business, marketing and finance principles. Of his Peace Corps experience, Hettinger explains, “I was very hesitant to do it at the beginning. But in the end, it was an incredible experience.”

Yet he still craved the opportunity to do more. “I didn’t want to do grassroots initiatives; I wanted to make an impact on a policy level,” says Hettinger. While in Africa, he spent time contemplating his next move, mapping out a plan to achieve his goal of working with other countries to develop economic policy. Hettinger enrolled in the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University to pursue a master’s degree in international and development economics. He was then offered the opportunity to work for the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C., an organization comprising 188 member countries that helps member governments take advantage of opportunities and manage challenges presented by global economic development.

Armed with experience at the IMF developing high-level policy for the global economy, Hettinger was ready to tackle his next challenge. A Google search for “development economics master’s career” led him to the Overseas Development Institute fellows program, which provides an opportunity for economists to work in the public sectors of developing countries. The ODI placed him at the Central Bank of Papua New Guinea.

“I was able to touch on a lot of different issues that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise — I had a hands-on opportunity to be involved in policy decisions, from briefing the governor to learning how a central bank works.” Hettinger also experienced firsthand New Guinea’s reputation as a “Wild West” country in which anything could happen, including being held at both gun- and machetepoint for his possessions and having a near-drowning experience in the ocean.

Perhaps that was all to prepare him for the next step in his career as senior economist for the African Development Bank in Liberia. Hettinger enjoys the challenge of helping a country with a 170-year history of governance that made it nearly impossible for indigenous people to experience political and economic opportunities.

“Before 2006, Liberia didn’t work on creating a sustainable economy or developing its workforce,” he explains. “The country has one of the heaviest rainy seasons in the world and building roads is expensive and difficult, essentially cutting the countryside off from Monrovia, the capital. The ADB works with government to identify appropriate governance reforms and infrastructure interventions to focus on.”

Hettinger says what he enjoys most about his job is creating policies that help develop sustainable institutions and economies. “I’m learning quite a bit about how the economy works in Liberia, and issues and incentives that affect the various actors.”

Hettinger temporarily relocated to Bali at the height of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. He continued work for the ADB, publishing an analysis of Ebola’s economic impact on the country, before returning to Liberia at the end of October. His advice for others considering a career in international business is to give serious thought to the direction they want to take, but to not hesitate exploring the options open to them.

“It helps to decide early on if you want to be a Ph.D. economist, run an international business, go into investment banking or do grassroots development work — each role has its purpose. My TU education provided a practical foundation when I started my career.”