International business remains one of the key opportunities for small to medium-sized businesses in Atlanta, John Hammond, the chairman of the South Africa American Business Association, told GlobalAtlanta on February 20.

As a panel member on a recent Governor’s Small Business Center program he emphasized the need for small-and medium-size businesses to grow internationally. However, minority owned businesses and black professionals continue to face challenges in this regard. He added that South Africa is becoming an increasingly attractive investment locale for small- and medium-sized businesses.

Mr. Hammond, the former director of the evening MBA program at Emory University, was until recently the chief operating officer of the Atlanta based Association of Black Cardiologists, a position he left in order to pursue international business opportunities with South Africa

He holds a Ph.D. from the Sloan school of management at MIT and an MBA from Emory.

The transcript of the interview with Mr. Hammond in which he discusses his recent activities follows. Mr. Hammond can be contacted at 404.403.1538.

GlobalAtlanta: You are the chairman of the South Africa America Business Association. Atlanta shares the historic similarities with South Africa given our civil rights movement and the South African anti-apartheid struggle. What is your view of trade and commercial opportunities between South Africa and America, and Atlanta in particular and what are some of SAABA’s activities to promote this going forward?

Mr. Hammond: It is my feeling that trade and commercial opportunities between South Africa and the United States are tremendous. I say this for a number of reasons: 1) in the United States, there is a growing awareness and interest in South Africa, 2) much of this interest is in the area of small- and medium-sized black-owned businesses, 3) broader trade agreements between the United States and South Africa are creating more favorable trade terms between our two countries, and 4) the size of the US market is attractive for developing South African businesses. Many of these factors have been in place since the dismantling of apartheid; however, it is only recently that both countries have been actively exploring these favorable trade agreements – especially at the small- and medium-sized business level.

The South African American Business Association of the United States or SAABA, USA, is uniquely positioned to help facilitate the growing interested on both sides. Specifically, the mission of SAABA is to help facilitate trade between South Africa and the United States. We intend to do this in three ways: 1) creating educational programs that make clear the benefit accruing to those who undertake international expansion of their business from South Africa to the United States as well as the other way around, 2) continue the work SAABA has started in hosting delegations of business people from South Africa as well as leading business delegations from the United States to South Africa, and finally, we intend to create a network of people (business or otherwise) who are interested in doing business in the other’s country. It is our belief that in order to facilitate greater business activity we must facilitate greater understanding among those with specific business interests and expertise.

GlobalAtlanta: What are some of the challenges you face as a black person in the Atlanta community not just in the realm of local business but international business?

Mr. Hammond: That’s a good question. Atlanta is a very interesting place. I preface my comments by saying that probably black intellectuals and business leaders have it a bit easier than black intellectuals and businesspeople in other parts of the country. There are significant numbers of highly educated very successful black people here so I enjoy a degree of anonymity that I may not enjoy in other places; anonymity is under-rated at times.

That being said Atlanta is still in the Deep South of the United States and therein lies the root of some of the challenges I face in this city. Though the city has produced and/or is home to a large number of highly successful black professionals, the city remains highly segregated and those with extreme wealth tend to still be white. A lot of very successful black people find themselves not at the table when it comes to making very important decisions about hiring, promotion, tenure – the kinds of decisions that affect and create long term sustainable wealth for the black community. So with that in mind it continues to be a challenge- black professionals still face issues around racism, discrimination and petty jealousies that continue to lock us out of boardrooms where those important career shaping, life-defining decisions are made.

Personally I have been fairly happy here in Atlanta. I worked at Emory for five years coming out of graduate school at Massachusetts. I enjoyed my time at Emory though it was not without its challenges. I ultimately decided to leave – because at the time that I was there I was ready for an expansion of my scope and increasingly levels of authority but there weren’t positions that were readily identifiable that I could move into. Ultimately I moved into a place where I felt I would enjoy some autonomy and a high level of authority and responsibility. That happened to be with a black organization. I wish that could have been with Emory. I think that in the university is now beginning to take a serious look at the community that is Emory and is very interested in making some systemic changes that will positively affect the community not only for black professionals or academics like myself but for the entire community. I really believe that a community that embraces diversity and difference is a community that’s going to be better off on the whole, and not just for the previously under served communities. So that in a nutshell has been my experiences. Some of the positions that I am considering pursuing are back at Emory – the university has a growing international presence that I think I could support effectively.

GlobalAtlanta: And what is your view in terms of international business opportunities for black businesses in Atlanta?

Mr. Hammond: I think that international business represents one of the key opportunities for small-and medium-sized black businesses in Atlanta in particular because we are such an international city. International perhaps not so much in practice although I think we are getting there but international in the sense that we are really a gateway to the U.S. We have many international flights that come through here and many of our citizens are international so I think that international business expansion represents a real opportunity for small-to medium-sized, minority-owned businesses.

One of the very positive things that I have been a part of is a program that was put on by Gilda Waters, director of the Governor’s Small Business Center. She had several international business people and scholars present to her members who tend to be small-to medium-sized, minority-owned business. During a panel discussion four or five of us spoke about our experiences, giving tips on how to proceed with international enterprises.

What I think would be very useful would be an easily accessible resource that really walks minority businesses step by step through the development and expansion of domestic business towards finding international partners and customers. That’s a very necessary next step for small-to medium-sized minority-owned businesses interested in international business. I personally, believe that there are also some tremendous opportunities that exist for entrepreneurs that are interested in creating big business internationally. It also depends on how the countries they are interested in doing business with reciprocate. Fortunately, there are many resources here in the state of Georgia that allows entrepreneurs and investors and companies interested in partnering with them to find out more about these companies.

GlobalAtlanta: What are some of the personal and day-to-day challenges you face as Atlanta internationalizes?

Mr. Hammond: That is becoming more and more real for me and it has been real for about six years – because business internationalization is only one aspect of what I think about on a day-to-day basis. There’s also a very personal aspect to it; my wife Yoko Hammond was born in Tokyo, Japan. She and I together have experienced the challenges, triumphs and miscues of integrating two different cultures. The last word I have for people who are interested in exploring international relationships is that while there are a lot of threats to those relationships because of differences in knowledge, background and cultural orientation, those relationships can obviously be very long lasting and fulfilling as well; both from a personal standpoint as well as a professional one.