Abney urges "think globally" at DSU Business Symposium

Dr. David Abney ’76 and ’15, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of United Parcel Service, established Delta State University’s International Business Symposium in 2006 with his wife, Sherry, “to increase the global business acumen of students,” he explained in his keynote address at the 15th annual installment on Feb. 18 in Jobe Hall.

To succeed in business, Abney continued, mandates looking abroad while also minding home. That’s one reason for this year’s theme, he suggested: “Evolving in International Business.”

Abney focused on three overlapping topics: the current state of international business; challenges and opportunities moving forward across the global landscape; and implications for Mississippi and the Delta.

Acknowledging Delta State President William N. LaForge, among other school officials in attendance, he funneled his perspective through the ways and means of UPS. The Fortune 40 company totals almost 500,000 employees; delivers to 220 countries and territories; and utilizes approximately 125,000 trucks and delivery vehicles, plus 600 aircraft, Abney summarized. On any given day, UPS accounts for 3 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), he documented, and 6 percent of the U.S.’s GDP.

Thus, UPS operates on four strategic imperatives: the importance of e-commerce, the value of small- and mid-sized businesses, health and life sciences as pipelines, and international growth markets, he stated.

Working at UPS for almost 46 years, Abney began his career as a part-time package loader while a freshman at Delta State before rising to become the 11th CEO in the 112-year history of the world’s largest package delivery company.

Challenges in international business today include the coronavirus. Ports and cities “just shut down,” he cautioned. Other obstacles span geopolitical tensions (Iran, North Korea, the Middle East), the trade war with China, Brexit, and the US-European Union trade relationship.

Opportunities in international business today to capitalize on: the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement and phase one of the U.S.-China trade agreement.

All of this translates to potential good news for Mississippi and the Delta, Abney concluded. After all, 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the U.S., he indicated, and that leads to possible boosts in the employment sector. In fact, 50,000 jobs in Mississippi directly tie to trade, he cited. Another opportunity for The Magnolia State: e-commerce, a $4 trillion industry, Abney said.

After his presentation, he answered questions, first from moderator Laird Hamberlin, CEO of Safari Club International and a regular supporter of the symposium, and then from audience members. Topics ranged from advice he’d give to his undergraduate self to how new employees can make their mark at a company to methods that UPS uses to stand out from competitors.

The other reason Abney created the symposium, he said, was “to bring different people to campus to tell their stories of success” and act as role models. The symposium continues on Feb. 19 with speakers Natalie Allen, anchor/reporter at CNN International; veteran marketer Melia Christensen, best known in the Mississippi Delta for serving as director of the Leland Chamber of Commerce for four years; and Abney’s longtime colleague, Cher Porties, president of UPS Mid-South District. Their talks, like Abney’s appearance, are free and open to the public.

The College of Business and Aviation oversees the two-day event.

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