By Michael Stone | The Gainesville Sun
Graduating from Harvard. Encouraging billions of dollars in international trade. Receiving a presidential signed commission. Starting a consulting firm.
And doing it all while still being qualified for a "40 under 40" list.
"The Lord blessed me with some wonderful opportunities," said 39-year-old Kamal Latham, who since April has served as the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president of public policy. In the position, Latham works with local and state officials to advocate policy on behalf of businesses.
The New York City native's career has been wide-ranging, filled with many moves, cultures and successes. His launch pad came during a study abroad as an undergrad at Temple University in Philadelphia.
"I was exposed to the international arena," he said of his time in Tokyo, Japan, "and that was a seed that grew and developed into an interest that I'd want to pursue professionally."
Also at Temple, he interned for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, former Rep. Joseph Kennedy II of Massachusetts, and former Rep. and Sen. Don Riegle of Michigan.
Post-graduation saw Latham working as a financial analyst, but graduate school at Harvard redirected him back to the public sector.
After earning his master's in public policy in 2000, he was hired by the Department of State and began his eight years as a diplomat under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
From 2001 to 2003, Latham served as a visa officer at the American consulate in Shenyang, China, followed by two years in Paris as a financial and investment policy adviser at the U.S. Diplomatic Mission for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Faced with growing diplomatic responsibility, Latham joked about what, if anything, added weight to his back: "The transition for me was just being in Europe for the first time. The different countries, the different cultures, talking to the Italians one day, then the Turks another day."
Latham returned to China from 2005 to 2008, this time serving as a trade negotiator in Beijing. Along with becoming fluent in Chinese, he also picked up the Department of State's Meritorious Honor Award for "outstanding performance."
The award stemmed from his negotiations on the 2007 U.S.-China Air Services Agreement, which permitted 13 more flights a day to China from the U.S. and resulted in an estimated $5 billion in new revenue over five years for the U.S. carriers.
"It was difficult and challenging to negotiate because, in a sense, you're trying to sell capitalism to Chinese communists," he said.
Latham left his government post in 2008 to start his own consulting firm with his wife, Jonnel, for U.S. businesses trying to expand into China. Their firm continues today despite a family move back to the U.S. in 2011, but Latham said it has been placed on the backburner as he works for the Chamber.
A stay of about six months in Oklahoma was the last stepping stone before coming to Gainesville in 2012.
"My wife and I didn't know anything about Gainesville other than there is a university here," said the father of two, ages 9 and 6. "The Lord spoke to us to come to Gainesville. We learned (about) Gainesville after we arrived."
At the Chamber, Latham has set small-business growth, transportation and energy as his primary targets — the last of which he emphasized with great importance. "A big concern for businesses is the cost of utilities."
He picked May's Growing Your Small Business in Gainesville event as the highlight of his short time with the Chamber. The event saw Gainesville government officials meeting with business owners to hear their concerns.
"It's facilitating dialogue," he said, "and that's what got a $5 billion trading deal done in China. If people aren't talking to each other, it's hard to get things done."