On July 4, 1918, during World War I’s Battle of Hamel in northern France, Australian and American troops killed 2,000 Germans and captured another 1,600. It was the first American battle ever led by a non-American commander. It was also the first time the two countries formally aligned in war.
Now, Dallasite and native Australian Bernie Uechtritz is trying to bring that alliance to the business world as well. Earlier this year he launched AusAm, a network of executives from across North Texas dedicated to the promotion of trade and cultural understanding through social and business events—particularly, trade between North Texas and Australia.
“In an idealistic way, they’re both handshake” places, said Uechtritz, a ranch broker, film industry executive, vineyard owner, and jack of many other trades. “They’re both built on the back of a horse, and they’re very similar in their approach to the world and politics and democracy. Australians have always, always been enamored with America—and Texas in particular.”
Uechtritz—who looks like he came straight out of central casting, with piercing eyes and a handshake that could break walnuts—is joined in his mission by other heavy hitters. Founding board members at AusAm include Tony Palmer, president of global brands and innovation for Irving-based Kimberly Clark Corp.; Christopher Isaac, a PricewaterhouseCoopers partner; and Milton De La Paz, regional manager of Qantas Airways Ltd.
Australian-American trade already has been skyrocketing. In 2001, the U.S. sent $10.9 billion worth of goods to Australia; in 2011, it was $27.5 billion. Same goes for the return voyage. Australian imports now top $10 billion, up from $6.4 billion in 2001.
Much of that is parked in California or New York, the two largest hubs of Australian immigration. But many of Uechtritz’s countrymen have come to Texas, to work in the equestrian or energy sectors. Nearly 2,000 Aussies live in Dallas-Fort Worth, according to Census data. AusAm will be a way for those people to stay in touch with their Australian roots, while spreading those traditions to their American neighbors.
The group has a trade mission set up for November, which will take DFW entrepreneurs to Brisbane and Sydney to meet with government officials and business leaders. “Anything they require within the business sector will be provided,” De La Paz says. “The goal is to drive business in both directions, but also to link cultural and other interests between the two countries.”