A Conversation With Presidential Appointee Michael Masserman

A Conversation with Michael Masserman

On July 24, Michael Masserman, Executive Director of President Obama’s National Export Initiative (NEI), drew a packed house of over 50 people to the Golden Bridges Courtyard for a conversation with pengyous here in Beijing.

Our own Alyssa Farrelly facilitated the conversation beginning with a few questions about Mr. Masserman’s career. He recalled working as an attorney in Australia where he had a chance to “surf every day before going into work.” One day in 2008 he received a call from a friend in North Carolina saying a job opened up on the Obama campaign.

Mr. Masserman had never worked on a campaign before and was living a comfortable life in Australia, but there was a voice that told him to take a chance. Within a week he was back in the U.S. to help then Senator Obama win a key swing state.

After the election, he worked at a start-up before joining the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Mr. Masserman drew a packed house.

The audience asked Mr. Masserman about his involvement with the NEI and the future of U.S.-China trade. The NEI is an initiative President Obama laid out in his 2010 State of the Union address that plans to double exports by the end of 2014. Mr. Masserman noted that great progress had been made in the past three years but emphasized that this was an ongoing process, and problems cannot be solved overnight.

In 2012 the U.S. exported over $110 billion of goods and services to China, making it the third largest trading partner of the U.S. However, Mr. Masserman explained that China has not yet agreed to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement currently being negotiated among 12 countries including the U.S. and several Asian countries. The TPP covers issues such as intellectual property rights and the environment.

At the end of the Q&A session, Mr. Masserman asked a question of the audience: “What can the U.S. Government do to help get more Americans to study in China?”

Some of the responses included, “Start teaching Chinese earlier in U.S. schools,” “Provide more funding for students to come study in China.”

Alyssa presenting Michael with a gift.
Alyssa presenting Michael with a gift.

A response that resonated with the crowd came from Hopkins SAIS alumna Elizabeth Rowland who said, “We need to make China normal.” She mentioned how some people in her hometown would ask, “Why would you go to China?” Many had been in a similar position.

Mr. Masserman and his colleagues from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing stayed for over an hour afterward to engage with individual students. Many students asked him for career advice and inquired about his time on the Obama campaign. Mr. Masserman stressed that there is no one path to a meaningful career and to be open to different kinds of opportunities. He also commended the students by having the foresight to be studying and interning in Beijing.

Mr. Masserman also mentioned that during his time on the Obama campaign, he was trained by Harvard Professor Marshall Ganz, who developed Obama’s 2008 community organizing strategy. We at Project Pengyou were particularly excited about this because we too are designing our upcoming Ambassadors program around Ganz’s methods. Stay tuned for the launch of this program in the fall!

We are very grateful to Mr. Masserman for taking the time to meet with us at the Golden Bridges Courtyard and we look forward to seeing everyone at future events. Don’t forget to check out our photos from this event and sign up on Project Pengyou!


Speaker Profile:


Michael Masserman is the recently appointed Executive Director for Export Policy, Promotion, and Strategy at the U.S. Department of Commerce, and in charge of operationalizing the President’s National Export Initiative (NEI). The NEI is an initiative that President Obama laid out in his 2010 State of the Union to double exports by the end of 2014. In this role, Michael also oversees the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee, which is made up of the relevant trade agencies within the U.S. Government. In addition to helping drive a “whole of government” approach to the NEI, Michael coordinates closely with private-sector companies, trade associations, chambers of commerce, and institutions such as Brookings, on global trade/export policies.

Prior to his current role, Michael served as the Director of the Office of Advisory Committees within the Department of Commerce, where he managed over 20 different committees, including the President’s Export Council, that advise the President, Secretary of Commerce and the USTR on the formulation and implementation of trade policies. With more than 500 private sector advisors, these committees provide a critical link between the economic interests of U.S. industries and the broader public policy concerns of the U.S. Government.

Michael began his career practicing international corporate law at Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett in New York, where his focus was primarily on domestic and cross-border capital markets and securities transactions. After a number of years at Simpson Thatcher, he moved to Sydney, Australia where he worked at the law firm Mallesons Stephen Jaques and specialized in international mergers and acquisitions as well as international corporate finance.

Michael has broad experience in cross-border transactions having advised clients and companies across many industries and regions, including South America, Asia, Europe and Africa. His experience includes working on international deals where he’s represented investment banks, hedge funds, private-equity firms, and an array of manufacturing and services companies. He has worked with pulp manufacturers, wireless telecommunications companies, and major airlines, as well as companies who produce medical transcription devices, natural gas transmission systems, and electrical and fiber optic connectors.

Michael took a leave of absence from his law firm in Australia to join the Obama campaign, where he worked on the political, field and constituency teams in a number of states. After the campaign, he worked as a business development consultant for a start-up company where, among other tasks, he worked on enhancing the global supply chain strategy for the company.

Michael received his B.A. with distinction from the University of Michigan and his J.D. cum laude from University of California, Hastings College of the Law.