Final Five

with Alex Wan, Atlanta City Councilman, District 6

Alex Wan, Atlanta City Councilman, District 6Alex Wan has served on the Atlanta City Council since 2010 and is currently running for City Council president. Wan holds a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech and an MBA in finance from the Wharton School of Business. He has worked in the private, public, nonprofit and higher education sectors, hoping to leave a legacy that springs from his commitment to community and political service.

How do you apply your IE background to your position on the City Council?

Engineers have a very specific approach to problem-solving. We like to break things down into smaller blocks (much to the dismay of many a parent, I'm sure), which we then analyze, devise possible solutions, evaluate and decide which option is best. Hopefully, when we reassemble the blocks, the aggregate solution is an effective one. I always try to apply that philosophy toward the challenges we tackle on City Council, particularly when the overall issue might otherwise be overwhelming. I have also been successful using this more systematic, methodical approach to depoliticize emotionally hot topics.

You have an accomplished background in business consulting and real estate. What prompted you to go into local politics?

I think of myself as an accidental politician, as public service was not the career path I consciously charted. Before deciding to run for office, I had always been very involved in the community, volunteering in various organizations, even founding a nonprofit, and trying to effect change that way. But when I found myself growing impatient with the pace at which things were progressing, I realized I needed a different platform if I truly wanted to move more quickly toward the city I envisioned Atlanta could be. Elected office was the logical next step.

How did your IE experience help you lead projects for the city?

We are trained as IEs to continually seek ways to maximize productivity from any process by directly tracking the items traveling through the system. I have found this perspective particularly helpful in approaching projects with my colleagues. I'm notorious for wanting to quickly diagram out process flow, requesting relevant data points to quantify system efficiency and using those metrics to gauge the impact of proposed changes. I've done it with everything from proposed infrastructure improvements and information technology investments to evaluating department annual budget requests and looking for ways to expand and sustain our parks system.

What has been your greatest accomplishment thus far as a City Council member?

My campaign platform in 2009 centered on restoring the city's financial condition, and I am proud to have delivered on that promise. As a member of the team that made tremendously difficult budget decisions through one of the worst economic times Atlanta has seen, the city has since increased operational efficiencies across the board, implemented pension reform to strengthen our solvency going forward and accumulated the resources we can now use to invest in our future. Atlantans are expressing a renewed sense of opportunity, and it's incredibly fulfilling to know I played a part in creating that optimism.

You are the first Asian-American councilman in Atlanta. What would you like your legacy to be?

My ultimate wish is for a day when we no longer have to use the word "first" in front of Asian-American in various aspects of life. I hope that I am in some way able to create new and bigger opportunities for young Asian-Americans to carry that torch going forward. Ultimately, I hope my career and community legacy is being an effective public servant who made Atlanta better not only for Asian-Americans but for all communities.

– Interview by Cassandra Johnson