Some would say a ticket to the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics would be the hottest ticket in town. For me, attending the opening of Alterra Bioenergy Corporation's biodiesel plant in Plains, GA was an incredible opportunity. The event introduced DieselMaxx, a unique high-grade bioadditive for diesel fuel. Biodiesel comes from the distillation of vegetable oil, animal fats and recycled cooking oil. Former President Jimmy Carter, a longtime advocate of alternative fuels sources, helped recruit Alterra Bioenergy Corp. to Plains. Olympia Holding AS, a Norwegian investment company, is one of the company’s investors.
Both supply and demand side players attended. Players representing the supply side were from the investment community, fuel production, distribution and the renewable energy sector. Transport agencies, unions and independent business owners represented the demand side. Representatives from the political sector included the directors of the National Biodiesel Board, the Georgia Energy Innovation Center and last but not least, former President Jimmy Carter.
The kick-off dinner was at the Alterrra Bioenergy headquarters, modeled after Jimmy Carter’s campaign headquarters during his presidential campaign. The dinner was an informal “meet and greet” with brief speeches and a nice touch of live traditional southern music playing in the background.
The next day an open forum at the local town hall focused on the difficulties and challenges facing the energy sector. Former President Carter discussed the political issues; other topics covered foreign oil dependency, hurricanes, subsidies, fuel efficiency and reliability of supply.
We then feasted on a traditional barbeque while Wayne Johnson, the CEO of Alterra Bioenergy, discussed their products and solutions. A tour of Plains followed and selected participants toured the new plant.
As a Norwegian, I observed the role that socializing and networking play in American business. When I received the invitation, I assumed there would be a formal dinner, judging by the roster of a former president and Fortune 500 company directors. Upon arrival, it was apparent that an informal setting was highly appreciated by all participants. It offered everybody the opportunity to network in a friendly atmosphere and make connections that will continue after the event.
Discussing important and fascinating subjects with politicians and directors of Fortune 500 companies was an unexpected treat. It was obvious that Americans are more open and informal than their European counterparts in a professional setting. Judging by the effect it had on the success of the event, this indeed is a great American trait.
BBA Exchange Student from the Cass Business School, City University, London