Photo and interview by Angela Karen
Name: Kirk Atkinson
Occupation: President, Adah International, Inc.
Tell us about the name of your business and where it originated.
Adah was my maternal great-grandmother’s name. She was Native American and lived to almost 100 years old. Growing up, some of my best memories were visiting her and my other relatives in Parrish, Alabama, for her birthday every summer. I’ve always loved the name, and I wanted to honor her and my family by naming my company after her.
In a nutshell, what is Adah?
At core, we are an outsourced project management company. We specifically cater to small- and medium-sized international companies who don’t have the internal resources to manage initial operation setup and expansions.
It sounds like a niche business. Is there a high demand for what you do?
It is niche, but there are plenty of small- and medium-sized international companies in the southeastern U.S. who supply parts and services to big customers like Mercedes, Airbus, and Siemens. They often need to start and expand or even ramp-down operations and that’s where we come in.
What are some challenges in your projects?
Challenges are where we do best. Taking a European-style operation and adapting it to the U.S. presents some unique challenges. Most of all would be workforce development. Education, government, and industry are better linked and have better cooperation in Europe. Therefore, young employees are better prepared to enter the workforce and start a career. Labor is usually the most expensive part of any business, so we concentrate mostly on adapting the very successful dual-system approach to workforce development from Germany. We pair companies with schools, develop curricula and certifications with the German American Chambers of Commerce, and see to it that students receive both classroom theory education as well as hands-on experience in active operations.
What motivates you, or keeps you awake at night?
I’m motivated by trying to find new ways to match companies with talent. I hear from so many companies who say they can’t find employees, and I also hear from so many smart, talented people who are underemployed. I believe matching companies with schools as early as possible is the key. We’re working three projects right now that should start unlocking this problem, so stay tuned for some announcements.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Some say I’m intense and persistent. I heard a quote that said, “Persistence and determination are omnipotent,” so based on that idea, I’ll take it. Otherwise, and maybe therefore, I try not to subject myself to anyone for too long.
What is your biggest achievement?
Living, working and studying in Germany. Having done it, I understand that it simply broke down barriers in my mind. The kind that say, “You shouldn’t do that because it’s too different or difficult.” Now, I pursue different and difficult. Instead of feared, failure has become a good but difficult friend.
What’s your favorite book?
Overall, For Whom the Bell Tolls by Earnest Hemingway. However, a book that relates more to my work would be A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain. It’s a hysterical satire about an American traveling in Europe, and I seemed to have experienced almost every episode in my travels as well.
What’s your current obsession?
Boats. I learned how to sail a few years ago and have been addicted ever since. Sailing is the perfect mix of hard work to get the sails working and peaceful reward traveling under wind power.
Name a trait you most deplore in others.
Ego. There’s always one on every project, so I’ve learned how to work around it. But self-promotion, possessiveness, and regression are traits that kill morale and progress.
What’s one thing you can’t live without?
Food. I love to eat. Fortunately, I need it to live, but I also get immense pleasure from sharing a unique meal with colleagues, customers, and loved ones.
What’s your motto or mantra?
Always happy, never satisfied.
To learn more about Adah International, Inc., visit adahinc.com.