Around the Table is a three-question interview series from the Make Room email newsletter. Each edition features a conversation with a peer in the national security community to learn about their expertise and experience in the sector.
Jackie Koo is a Senior Manager of Global Public Policy at Boeing. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the position of Boeing.
You’ve worked across a variety of industries, including in government and in the private sector. What similarities or differences have you noticed between these experiences?
Throughout my career, I’ve worked at the nexus of international policy and business. So whether I’m in the private sector or in government, the nature of my work and the mission has remained the same—to promote U.S. exports and economic growth abroad. I think that continuity in my mission has made it easy to transition from one to another, and it really feels like I’m in the room with the same group of stakeholders—just changing sides of the table. When I was at the National Security Council (International Economics Directorate) and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, we consulted with the business community in order to craft effective trade and economic policy. At Boeing, the company’s mission is intrinsically tied to boosting U.S. economic growth and national security—we are one of the U.S.’s largest exporters and help support U.S. jobs while boosting economic ties between the U.S. and other countries through commercial aircraft sales. The defense platforms that we build support the U.S. warfighter and also help our allied governments abroad defend their countries. In that sense, working at a company like Boeing has made me realize that the private sector and government need one another to be successful in commercial diplomacy, and working at a company with a mission to serve something bigger than itself makes me feel like I’m still working in public service.
What motivated you to pursue a career in international policy?
I was born and raised in Japan as a Taiwanese-American expat, and growing up in multiple cultures I became fascinated by geopolitics and perspectives of other countries. I studied international relations and wanted to get into policy with the hopes of deepening cross-cultural understanding. It took me my first couple jobs in government to realize that I wanted to work in international economic policy because it not only is affected by geopolitics, but also touches ordinary people in real ways. For instance, by boosting the exports of American goods and services abroad, we add to jobs and economic growth back at home, while also supporting economic growth in other countries. On the flip side, when there are restrictive economic policies like sanctions or export controls, there can be disruptions to supply chains, trade flows, and economic well-being. At a manufacturing company like Boeing, I get to witness those policy effects in very tangible ways. Also, economic policy has become a much more prominent tool in U.S. diplomacy in recent years, so it’s an exciting time to be in the field.
What advice do you have for people who are early in their careers?
First, keep an open mind and try different things, especially earlier in your career. When I was in college, I thought the main way to work in foreign policy was to be in government. I graduated in the midst of the Great Recession without a job lined up, so I used the time post-college to try out a couple internships to see what was out there. Those internship experiences across various organizations (including at CNAS) exposed me to new fields and career opportunities, and some ended up leading to full-time jobs and others, career-long mentors. In my late 20s I also lived in Italy and worked in Russia as part of my graduate studies, which gave me valuable in-country experience and perspective changes. 21-year-old me would not have thought I would be working in the private sector now, but if it were not for trying a lot of things and honing in on my interests over time, it would not have led me to where I am today, at a job that I love where I still get to contribute to U.S. foreign policy, just from a different angle.
Second, we all know the importance of mentorship, so I’ll add a related piece of advice—devote time to stay in touch with your mentors and former colleagues throughout your career. I honestly could do a better job at this myself, but what I’ve noticed over the years is that the foreign policy circle is small, and you’ll run into the same faces at different places over the course of many years. Over time, this investment in your network will help you widen your career opportunities and perspectives, and for me it’s helped in many unexpected ways. For instance, my most recent boss was someone who I worked with over a decade ago at the NSC! And as you rise up in your career, be sure to pay it forward to mentor and stay in touch with others earlier in their careers—I find a lot of joy in seeing people who were my former staff, interns, or mentees go on to do amazing things in their careers.
Sign up to receive the Make Room newsletter every month in your inbox.