Karyn Page was most recently the President and CEO of Kansas Global Trade Services, a full-service trade advisory firm, helping companies and cities leverage their capabilities and global reach. She also held the position of chair of Industry Trade Advisory Committee for Small and Minority Business, jointly managed by the U.S Department of Commerce and the Office of United States Trade Representative, engaging business leaders in formulating U.S trade policy. I had the opportunity to interview Karyn on Friday, 18 June 2021 to talk about her career in international trade. Since the interview, Karyn has moved on to a new role as VP of Innovation at Envision, an organization with a mission to improve the quality of life for people who are blind or visually impaired.
Olamide: What drew you to international trade?
Karyn: I have been in international trade for my entire career. It stemmed from natural curiosity nurtured by my mother. As I grew up, it evolved into a need to explore and understand other cultures and people. It also helped that my aunt worked for Pizza Hut International. She was always telling really interesting stories about the places she had travelled to, and of course, she brought back cool gifts!
My first job in trade was as an intern at the Mid America World Trade Center Institute. I got the internship while networking at an international trade event as a senior in college. It wasn’t a great time to find a job, but I literally asked the president of the association for a job, and he invited me for an interview. It is interesting because that boss eventually became a member of the board at Kansas Global Trade Services. When I asked him, he said he gave me a shot because he knew I wouldn’t give up.
Olamide: What is the best trade job you have ever had? Why?
Karyn: The best trade job I have ever had is my current job as president and CEO of Kansas Global Trade Services. I love it because I get to see the impact my organization has firsthand. I see what works and what doesn’t work. It is very satisfying and can also be frustrating. Something that gives me pride in my job is the number of careers that have been started at Kansas Global Trade Services.
Olamide: If you can talk about it, what was the most complex/ fulfilling trade issue you have tackled in the past?
Karyn: There were two trade issues that I found really fulfilling. The first was the ECO-partnership project. Wichita was selected by Departments of Treasury and State as one of the seven original Eco-Partnership cities during the Obama administration as part of the US-China Strategic & Economic Dialogue. It was really exciting news, but because it was brand new, no one had thought about how to implement it. Someone in the Wichita city government called me for help and Kansas Global ended up getting a multiyear contract to support the project. It was really challenging, we had to create the infrastructure from scratch, but it was worth it. The framework we set up was used as a framework for the next round of Eco-Partners.
The second project I found fulfilling was when Kansas Global was selected by Brookings Institution in DC to help build the Wichita Regional Export Plan. We built a complex plan and implemented it to great success. Working on this project taught me many things:
(1) Work with the willing and once the project starts seeing results, people who were previously unwilling will jump aboard;
(2) Some of the things in trade are done in the background, when things are quiet that means things are successful;
(3) Sometimes listening can be the hardest part of the job but stay focused on the goal and you will find success.
Olamide: What trends do you see impacting cross-border trade over the next year?
Karyn: The increased trend toward isolationism and protectionism and the trade policy that will ultimately result from that. Supply chain vulnerabilities that have been exposed over the last year will really impact small businesses and their ability to compete which will have huge global implications.
Olamide: What do you think the biggest barrier is for women in trade? How can we overcome this?
Karyn: I don’t think there are barriers for women in international trade, but there are barriers for women in business in general. The options for women to combat these cultural barriers and entry barriers is limited. There are laws and protections from sexual harassment, but these are rarely enforced. I tell women I work with to know the law and know what your personal boundaries are. When someone crosses your line, make sure you stand up for yourself.
Olamide: Are there any women in trade who have inspire(d) you?
Karyn: Shawn Jarosz is an inspiration to me; I remember meeting her when she had just had one of her kids and she was one of the smartest trade people I had ever seen. Another woman in trade that really inspires me is Angela Ellard, the former Republican Chief Trade Counsel on the House Committee on Ways and Means (and now Deputy Director General at the WTO), she is a rockstar of trade policy. Madeline Albright is not strictly a trade person, but she really inspires me.
Olamide: Did you have female mentors and what wisdom did they share with you?
Karyn: I have lots of friends and mentors who are women. Women have to lift each other up and help each other get a place at the table. One of my female mentors was one of my first bosses. She taught me the concept of listening. Even though you want people to agree with you, your job is to listen to their objections and get them to say ‘yes’ even though they don’t want to. Another valuable piece of advice on optics and advocacy I have received is “you may not be running for office, but you are a politician, once you accept it, you will have a lot less grief.” A piece of really great advice that shared by a male mentor is that a successful leader receives input. Mentors provide some of that input. You should acknowledge your weaknesses and ask for help.
Olamide: What advice would you give to others looking to enter the field of international trade?
Karyn: Focus on understanding your strengths and interests. You may not know what those are when you are starting your career but if you work on your strengths, you will be happy and productive in your work.
At the end of our interview, I asked Karyn a series of rapid-fire trade questions to hear what comes immediately to mind.