By Sue Botos
After traveling to Europe as the recipient of a Ford Foundation Grant in 2009, Brent Leslie’s interest in international business was sparked. When the chief financial officer for the Cleveland-Cuyahoga Port Authority and chair of Rocky River’s fiscal audit committee heard about the American Marshall Memorial Fellowship, he jumped at the opportunity to participate.
“I became more outward looking and gained a better perspective,” said Leslie, recently, of his 2009 journey which took him to the industrial sites of Turin, Italy and Germany’s Ruhr Valley. “When I found out about the fellowship, I knew I had to pursue it.”
So, in 2010, Leslie began the intense two month process of gathering letters of recommendation, writing essays and detailed interviews. After a waiting period, he found that he had been named an alternate.
Always up for a challenge, Leslie waited two years, one more than the one year required between applications, and went through the procedure once again. This would be his last chance, as those seeking a fellowship may only apply twice. “In some ways, I was grateful,” said Leslie of his first experience, stating that it gave him more time to prepare for the next round.
Persistence paid off when Leslie was chosen as one of 50 individuals, under the age of 40, from throughout the United States to participate in the program and experience European industrial capitals from Oct. 3 to Oct. 27. He added that because the Cleveland Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life in the region, is a supporter of the program, four representatives are chosen each year from northeast Ohio.
The American Marshall Memorial Fellowship is a part of the German Marshall Fund which was founded in 1972. This nonpartisan, nonprofit organization was made possible through a gift from Germany as a permanent memorial to the Marshall Plan, through which the United States gave economic support to help rebuild Europe after World War II.
“It promoted U.S. and German relations and morphed into a significant program,” remarked Leslie.
On Leslie’s itinerary will be stops in Brussels, Belgium; Copenhagen, Denmark; Sarajevo, Bosnia; Spain, and Berlin, Germany. He said his group of 16 will meet in Brussels, and then split into teams of four for the balance of the trip. The cities are chosen by the German Marshall Fund, which also coordinates the trip.
Leslie said there will be opportunities to sample local flavor. His group will be staying at an “island villa” in Copenhagen, but there will be little time for sightseeing. “It will be very intense. There won’t be a lot of free time,” he stated, adding that his family and CEO have been very supportive. Leslie said he plans to meet his wife in Lisbon, Portugal at the conclusion of his trip.
Each city will offer a different perspective, according to Leslie. In Brussels, he said some discussion will center on “Short Seas Shipping,” policies which promote water-born transportation not found in the U.S., while in Copenhagen, port management and wind energy will be explored. Financial issues will be the topic in Bosnia, which Leslie said has a central bank similar to the Federal Reserve, and in Spain, where that country’s stock exchange will be discussed.
According to veterans of the program, Leslie said ideas are brought back that are not necessarily related to items on the formal agenda. For example, one person came back with information about Copenhagen’s extensive bicycling program.
Aside from experiencing other countries, Leslie said he is looking forward to meeting other fellows, and sharing what he has learned upon his return. “The Port Authority thought felt like I’d be a good fit for the program. I’ll benefit, and the port will benefit,” he stated.