The second of our three part series on leaving the diplomatic service. Andrés Peña, former Acting Consulate General of Mexico in Hong Kong, speaks about taking it to the next level.
Last issue, we read the story of Mario Artaza, someone who is technically away from the service temporarily. Mario was only away from the service for a few months, and shared with us a perspective that is still very fresh and exciting.
Someone who has moved forward in the private sector for four years and has become quite knowledgeable in his not-so-new trade, is Andrés Peña. Before joining energy company COPOWER as International Business VP, Andrés was Deputy Consulate General of Mexico to Shanghai and Acting CG to Hong Kong from 2004-2009 and 2009-2011, respectively.
The transition was fairly seamless for Andrés. His first job as a diplomat was as consul for commercial affairs in Hong Kong in 1990, promoting investment from Hong Kong into Mexico and business. His subsequent roles in the Philippines and Shanghai were also very business oriented, contributing to the establishment of the largest Mexican investment in China at the time, the Maseca Project in Shanghai. “In many ways I came to the corporate sector with a fairly good background in business.”
Andrés is also fluent in Mandarin and a few other languages, so being the only non-Chinese in the group hasn’t been a problem. “I have a good relationship with all my colleagues,” he said. “this is a reflection of the trust that I have from my Chinese colleagues.”
While the format of his work was familiar enough, the subject matter was not. “I’ve got to be honest, oil and gas is a different ball game,” said Andrés. COPOWER, a leading private oil and gas company in China, has looked to emulate its success in China in an overseas milieu. To be able to lead that charge, Andrés has had to undergo constant training. “I’ve spent weeks in the oil fields, and even after 3 years I continue to attend courses.”
Whole other level
Sabbatical leave was not an option for Andrés as it is not available in Mexico’s diplomatic structure, so he had to leave the foreign service without any guarantees. While it was not an easy decision leaving a career of 20 years, Andrés never felt like he stopped representing Mexico. In his current role, Andrés continues to organize a lot of high level meetings between Mexico and China regarding the oil and gas industry. “In many ways, I continue to broker more than most diplomats.” Nonetheless, he still expressed how he misses the unique satisfaction arising from directly representing your country as a diplomat.
Going back into diplomacy remains a possibility for Andrés, most probably as a political appointee designated by the President. He does however urge fellow diplomats to take any opportunity to spend a year or more in the private sector, especially for those promoting business, investment, and trading. “As much as I was promoting business from an outside perspective, I was doing it from a very theoretical part. While being an insider, you take risks, you become a player. You’re not just promoting the game, you’re playing it,” Andrés elaborates, “Then when you go back into diplomacy with that knowledge and that expertise, you have no limits. There’s nothing like having been part of it.”
You’re not just promoting the game, you’re playing it.
Fit for the part
Just like Mario last issue, having the support of his family was certainly important to Andrés as he embarked on a new adventure. Four years into his position at COPOWER, he continues to maintain good communication with his wife. Even though having to frequently travel away from his family can be difficult sometimes, his family’s support makes it much easier. When asked if he had any further advice for fellow diplomats, Andrés simply said, “I urge them to keep in shape physically and mentally – it really changes your life.”
Next issue: The story of Gregory De’eb, former Acting Consulate General of South Africa to Hong Kong between 1998-2002.
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