Wes Mathews was happy in his role of deputy economic counselor at the U.S. embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Six months into the assignment, the well-regarded foreign service officer and his wife, Jaime Mathews, already were hoping that the two-year assignment would turn into three.
As the person charged with overseeing energy affairs — clearly the most important economic tie between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia — the professional opportunities for Mathews were enormous.
“I was comfortably ensconced in my role over here,” he said.
So, it only made sense that, when officials from Choose New Jersey reached out to gauge his interest in taking over their top job, he … immediately jumped at the chance.
Mathews laughs at the scenario. He knows it sounds odd. Knows it is not the normal career path for a diplomat — especially one that was getting somewhat close to the point where he could enjoy the benefits of his service.
“As soon as I was asked, it was a no-brainer,” he said. “It’s probably the easiest professional decision I’ve made in my life. It was just really compelling.”
It was a fork-in-the-road-type career decision everyone faces at least once in their life. For Mathews, a host of professional and personal reasons made it an easy one — despite the fact that the native Texan had only spent 18 months of his professional career here, when he helped the New Jersey Economic Development Authority open the state’s first Office of International Trade in 2018.
Mathews quickly rattles off the “whys”:
Professionally: “I really enjoyed my time with the EDA, working with that group and being able to start an Office of International Trade from the ground up,” he said. “That was a lot of fun. And, frankly, going from federal government to state government, you’re usually a fish out of water in many ways. So, being able to focus on something that I had a bit of expertise in was great.
Personally: “My wife was able to work in New Jersey,” he said. “Oftentimes, when we’re overseas as diplomats, there’s only a set of jobs for spouses at the embassies. There are very few countries where they can actually work on the local economy. So, it’s a bit restrictive.”
And then came the money quote.
“My wife and I both really enjoyed our time in New Jersey,” he said. “We really enjoyed the hospitality and everything the state had to offer.”
It’s a sentiment that figures to come up when he’s working to convince other companies to “choose” New Jersey when they are looking to relocate or open a North American office.
Mathews, who will begin his role as the CEO of Choose in the first week of February — after making a visit to his home state of Texas — spoke with ROI-NJ from Saudi Arabia last week about his decision to take the job and what he hopes to accomplish.
Here’s a look at the conversation, edited for space and clarity.