Patricia Wu: “Anytime you live abroad and learn another language, you learn how to communicate on another level”

Patricia Wu is Vice President and Managing Director at Crowell & Moring International, a global government affairs and public policy consulting firm. As an undergraduate student, she spent a year abroad at Sciences Po studying international relations and affairs. Though drawn by “the opportunity to live abroad and be in Paris,” Wu was equally excited by Sciences Po’s academic rigor. “Students returning from Sciences Po talked about the program’s intensity,” she remembers. “Science Po was described as not for the faint of heart, and I thought if I am going to do this, then let’s do it, and let’s go all the way,” she adds.

During her year at Sciences Po, Wu took coursework entirely in French with other international students. She recalls lectures with national experts, who she would then hear speaking on the radio later that same day. “In their lectures, we were hanging on the edge of our seats,” she says. “They were such talented storytellers who brought history and politics to life.” One lecture in particular that she still remembers covered the history of Europe. “The professor sauntered in for a lecture on Germany, and the first words out of his mouth were: in the beginning, there was Napoleon,” she reminisces. Wu also experienced new and diverse academic points of view. “As an American, you get a certain version of world history,” she says, “and for me it was so important to get a different perspective.” Outside of the classroom, “I ate my way through Paris,” Wu recalls. “There was also so much to see,” she adds, “so every weekend was spent walking, exploring new neighborhoods, the various kinds of farmers markets, the smaller art museums, and jazz clubs.” 

Wu returned to the U.S. to complete her degree and then joined the investment bank J.P. Morgan. Shortly afterwards, however, she felt “that itch to work internationally.” Wu had always been fascinated with international relations, in particular international trade and finance, and at the time the United States was negotiating China’s accession to the World Trade Organization. She was inspired to join a small boutique D.C. consulting firm helping companies with commercial diplomacy and international trade. “The firm was founded by a woman trade negotiator who negotiated the United States’ very first free trade agreement,” Wu adds. “I started at the bottom, and I am now the Vice President and Managing Director of the firm.” 

After a few years spent “flying to Geneva, advising clients, and sitting across from ambassadors” working on policy issues, Wu was eager to get more experience in the business side of her role. “I felt I had a good sense of the policy landscape,” she says, “but I really wanted to understand the business angles, so I went to Harvard Business School.” After completing her MBA, she spent two years at The Estée Lauder Companies working in global marketing. Before long, she began to miss her policy roots. Wu returned to Crowell & Moring International, where she has been working in global government affairs and public policy ever since. 

Wu describes a typical day that might include consulting with the Inter-American Development Bank on a new mechanism that seeks to unlock access to COVID vaccines. “In this example my role is to bring the private sector together with the IADB to co-create solutions,” she says. Wu describes much of her work as “finding shared value between governments and the private sector, so unearthing where they can and should be working together. A lot of it is understanding the pain points that companies have and explaining how addressing them are also of interest to governments, multilateral organizations, and other key partners,” she says. 

Wu especially enjoys nurturing this shared value between the public and private sectors, which she describes as “that moment in the conversation or the series of conversations where the government and the private sector realize ‘Aha, this is something that can only be solved if we work on it together.’” She says that these relationships are also the biggest challenge of her role. “It takes time, and it takes trust,” she says. “I feel blessed, because I have had the opportunity to build and work on amazing partnerships over the years.” 

Wu continues to emphasize the importance of relationships and credits her experience abroad at Sciences Po with shaping the interpersonal skills necessary to encourage people to share their real barriers and constraints. “They might not tell you in a meeting room with eight people seated across from eight others, but they will tell you if you have broken bread together, if you have had them as a guest in your home, or if you have shared pictures of your kids,” she advises. “Anytime you live abroad and learn another language, you learn how to communicate on another level. You learn to listen and observe, and that can be so powerful.”

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