University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service graduate Fernando Cutz (Class 6) was recently announced as a senior associate with The Cohen Group after spending the previous six years in various government positions, including tours of the White House under both President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump.
Headed by former Senator and Secretary of Defense William Cohen, The Cohen Group is a global consulting firm offering advice on tactical and strategic opportunities in various market.
“The Cohen Group is a strategic advisory firm that assists companies with business development, market entry, regulatory issues, and other challenges and opportunities around the world, particularly in emerging markets,” Cutz said. “While the firm does work across the globe, I’m especially focused on Latin America.”
Cutz worked in numerous roles and departments in his six years with the U.S. government. He entered government through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) where he started as a Presidential Management Fellow before working as a Communications Analyst and the Special Assistant to the Administrator for National Security Affairs.
He worked on President Obama’s National Security Council Staff in the Office of Global Engagement at the White House and later served as a Special Advisor for President Obama’s trip to Cuba. He has also served in Bogotá, Colombia, as an advisor for USAID’s work with the Colombian peace process with the FARC, and in Georgetown, Guyana, as USAID’s Principal Officer.
Cutz went on to serve as Senior Advisor to National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and Deputy National Security Advisor Maj. Gen. Rick Waddell. He also served as Director for South America and acting Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs under President Trump at the White House National Security Council.
Working in government was Cutz’s goal since college, when an internship with the U.S. Embassy in Portugal opened his eyes to the possibilities and he “fell in love with the job” immediately.
“I’ve always loved following the news very closely,” Cutz said. “I saw that in government you have the opportunity to not just follow the news, but create and shape the news every single day.”
That desire to work in government played a role in Cutz’s decision to attend the Clinton School after graduating from Washington University in St. Louis with a degree in international relations and political science. After looking at programs around the country he chose the Clinton School in part because of its unique field service component.
“Not only do you have the academic program that will prepare you and get you that degree, but you also have these three incredible field experiences that offer you opportunities that no other program in the country offers you,” Cutz said. “You graduate not just with a degree and academic knowledge, which are important and valuable, but also this resume that is already significant.”
In his short period since leaving government Cutz has already been booked as a speaker to share his experiences. He spoke at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., in September and will speak to the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., in late October.
“It’s been a surprise to me,” Cutz said of the speaking requests. “To the extent that folks are interested in having me talk or share experiences or give my take on certain events of the world, I’m of course more than happy to do that.”
Early in college I wanted to be a lawyer, but the summer after sophomore year I did this internship with the U.S. Embassy in Portugal and I got there and I absolutely loved the job, just fell in love with it. I thought it would be a huge honor and incredible responsibility to be a part of that team that’s trying to work on these gigantic projects for the greater good. That became my goal, really from that summer on, and through the rest of college and the Clinton School.
What went into your decision to attend the Clinton School?
I knew I wanted to go into government but I didn’t know specifics. I was looking at several different master’s programs, mainly in foreign policy and foreign affairs, when the Clinton School came on my radar. I met with Alex Thomas, I met with Dean Rutherford, and they were very persuasive in the argument that other programs have great academic programs and you leave after two intense years with a degree that you can point to, which is great, but at the Clinton School, not only do you have the academic program that will prepare you and get you that degree, but you also have these three incredible field experiences that offer you opportunities that no other program in the country offers you.
Folks look at your resume when you are straight out of grad school and they assume you’ve had many years of work experience before you’re applying for jobs. The field experience, the knowledge you gain through that, the ability to interact, the ability to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty, that’s the kind of stuff that always has drawn me.
What are the topics of your speaking engagements?
I focus on policy, which was always my interest. It’s why I was in government. To the extent that I can shed light on why we made certain policy decisions while I was in the room, I’m happy to do so.
I’ve also seen different reasons for decision making, both under President Obama and under President Trump. Some of the stuff has stayed pretty consistent, while some of the stuff has changed quite a bit. But, I understand the policy angles from both sides and I see value from both sides and I’m always happy to have a conversation or dialogue or shed light on what the sides are.
What’s next for you?
I used to have these grand ambitions for what I want to be doing in five or ten years, but I’ve found that all four tours I had at the White House were by surprise – not anything I aspired for. I was called in, given a situation, and went to work. This position I have now was a surprise to me. I think there’s a certain acceptance and flexibility you have to have. Whatever is next, I’ll embrace that.