Coca Cola’s Muhtar Kent talks Millennials: “They’ll make the world a better place”

There are few commercial products that are more than just products. They are brands that weave their way into your coming of age story. They leave a nostalgic sparkle in your psyche and have a lasting connectivity to what it means to be you.

For 128 years, Coca-Cola has striven to understand what it means to be you. Identifying and assimilating into what is important to successive generations has actually been the real “secret recipe” of Coca-Cola. During the Great Depression, Coke brought hope by creating the Santa Claus we know today- a jolly man in a red suit bearing gifts and joy to families who needed it. The illustrator who designed Santa was Haddon Sundblom, the son of Swedish-immigrants to America.

coke

Muhtar Kent with Discussion Participants

An original poster of Sundblom’s Santa was displayed in the U.S. Ambassadorial residence in Stockholm when we hosted Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO of the Coca-Cola Company on March 18th.  Mr. Kent was the fourth keynote speaker in a lunch series called “The Businessman-Statesman.”  A description of the series can be found here.

The Embassy’s Businessman-Statesman series is built around the notion that leaders of today understand the values and context of tomorrow. Muhtar is that kind of leader. This was evident in his prescient choice of topic for the lunch: the rising Millennial Generation.

“I believe without question that the global millennial generation has the power to unlock next-level prosperity around the world. Millennials believe the world can be a better place and that they have a role in making it better. They also expect that the businesses and organizations they associate with do the same.”

A widely reported March 7, 2014, survey by the Pew Research Center finds that millennials are “relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry- and optimistic about the future.”

So are millennials a generation adrift, or are they the next “greatest generation”, a creative cohort that can bring innovation to new levels? Are they a generation long on caring and short on sacrifice, or one intrinsically committed to social causes?

If you ask Muhtar Kent, they are poised to change the world: “We’ve all heard about the Greatest Generation. My own father and mother were part of this extraordinary generation, which overcame the Great Depression, defeated Nazism and created the post-war world of the United Nations and NATO. I believe our rising millennial generation can be the next Greatest Generation. The challenges are great, but the opportunities are even greater! ”

Kent shares the devout optimism of millennials and defines them as engaged, altruistic, informed, technologically advanced and entrepreneurial. He highlights their global context and communitarianism as critical to future prosperity.

“While national and local cultures still matter, this generation has grown up in a global nursery, a global kindergarten of shared experiences. And that means they have as much- or more- in common with peers in Johannesburg, Beijing and Rio as they do with their parents or grandparents. In time, I think this shared experience could make a big difference in the way this generation views both challenges and opportunities.”

He believes so much in this generation that Coke has sponsored the “Global Shapers” program – an initiative created at the World Economic Forum in Davos that serves as a network for 3371 “shapers” in 315 hubs around the world. The focus is to help leverage and amplify the creativity and drive of the “shapers” to make change for the social good.

This generation born after 1980 comprises approximately 80 million Americans. A focus on diversity and an adamant aversion to hierarchy and elitism are very much at the core of a generation in America that’s one of the most diverse in history. Kent himself personifies the Millennials’ egalitarian ethos. When asked about the secret to his success, his answer was simple: “I carry my own bag.”

Deploring arrogance and entitlement, Kent described spending his teen years as the son of the Turkish Ambassador to Sweden and working at the local grocery store Åhléns in Stockholm.

In fact, the struggle for equality, social justice and transparency are strong shared values between America and Sweden. The synchronicity between this moment, the generational tidal wave of change, and the values shared between our two countries is compelling.

Below are key points covered by Mr. Kent in his keynote remarks and the ensuing dialogue that occurred during the Businessman Statesman lunch.

Why do you think the millennial generation will reshape the world?

Muhtar Kent: There are four fundamental reasons why I believe the millennial generation will make the world a much better place:

1. They possess an unbridled energy, optimism and can-do attitude.

Muhtar Kent hands over a personalized Coke can

Muhtar Kent hands over a personalized Coke can

2. Their global mindset is unequaled among past youth generations.

3. Their entrepreneurial spirit and do-it-yourself nature are palpable.

4. And their grasp of enlightened self-interest shows a deep sense of social awareness, responsibility and maturity.

How are millennials shaping the business world through innovation?

This generation has a strong and seemingly irrepressible entrepreneurial spirit. We’re seeing young people all over the world starting and expanding new businesses. Partly this is from necessity, as the economic troubles of recent years have sent youth unemployment numbers soaring. But it’s also one of choice, as many young people who could have their pick of positions with established companies choose to go their own way, sparking growth and jobs and greater opportunity for all.

As they pursue success in business, they know they have the power to build sustainable practices into every aspect of what they do. Just look at what’s happening with social entrepreneurship, young people solving challenges through business! Not only do Millennials want to make society better but they expect that the businesses and organizations they associate with do the same.

How does Coca-Cola shape sustainable communities?

At Coca-Cola we know our business can only be as strong and sustainable as the communities we proudly serve. So we’ve made a point of creating community value and making a difference in areas where we are particularly qualified to lead. Today we call them the “Three W’s”: Water, Women and Well-Being.

With our bottling partners, we’re working to achieve water neutrality by 2020, replenishing every liter we use. We’re working to empower 5 million women entrepreneurs globally by 2020. And we’ve committed to launch healthy living programs in all of the 200-plus markets we serve by 2020.

We just launched two weeks ago our new healthy living program for Sweden, which is a partnership with the Swedish Swimming Federation aimed at supporting various swimming activities across the country over several years.

What future challenges do you see for this generation and all of our economies?

The challenge will be to broaden this generation’s accomplishments to involve more of the Millennial cohort: engaging the unengaged, connecting the unconnected and ultimately employing the unemployed.

Right now, global youth unemployment threatens the economic vitality, social fabric and long-term stability of many nations. In Europe, 24 percent of youth are without work, with much larger percentages unemployed in Spain, Greece, Portugal and Italy. This is true for youth in the Middle East and North Africa. The human cost is staggering, as jobless young people struggle to become positive contributors to their families, communities and countries.

For business the opportunity is great. Creating more jobs accelerates a great virtuous cycle that boosts productivity and wages, reduces crime and reinforces a host of social virtues, including greater stability, self-esteem and community commitment.

 Visit our Embassy’s Flickr site for more photos

 

 

Amerikadagen in Gothenburg

On March 27, I traveled to Gothenburg to participate in a seminar on doing business in the U.S., organized by the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce USA (SACC USA).  My good friend and colleague, Jonas Hafström, who is currently an advisor to the Swedish Trade Minister and formerly the Swedish Ambassador to the U.S., and I launched the program with a discussion of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) and its potential benefits for the U.S. and Swedish business communities.  The timing of the seminar could not have been better, following President Obama’s visit to Brussels on March 26 for the U.S.-EU Summit where he noted why T-TIP is so important, “Europe is America’s closest partner. Europe, including the European Union, is the cornerstone of our engagement around the globe.  We are more secure and the world is more prosperous–the world is more just — when Europe and America stand as one.”       

In our presentations, Jonas and I emphasized that there are still many barriers to trade that, if removed, would make doing business easier and would pave the way for job creation and increased economic growth on both sides of the Atlantic.  Much of this growth will be generated by Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs), who stand to benefit the most from T-TIP.   In T-TIP, for the first time ever, a major trade agreement will include a chapter devoted to SMEs.  SMEs are where the majority of people work, and the majority of new jobs come from SME’s.  Ninety-nine percent of European and U.S. companies – over 20 million companies in the EU and 28 million in the U.S. — are SMEs.  In the EU, SMEs provide two-thirds of all private sector jobs and have a tremendous capacity to create new employment.   Jonas and I then elaborated on this theme in a luncheon discussion with CEOs from leading companies based in region that was hosted by Gothenburg Mayor Annelie Hultén.  The CEOs confirmed the potential T-TIP benefits for all SMEs, including those that participate in their supply chains.  We all agreed that it is critical to spread the word—to make all SMEs aware of T-TIP and what it can potentially mean for their business growth. 

The U.S. Embassy in Stockholm is already spreading the word through a video series entitled, ”T-TIP—Removing Barriers”, produced in collaboration with the American Chamber of Commerce in Sweden.   You can find them on the Embassy’s Facebook page and on AmCham Sweden’s home page or by clicking here.   The videos vividly illustrate the positive impact that T-TIP will have on businesses and feature interviews with small business owners, who give compelling accounts of the challenges they face with transatlantic trade.  They also express hope for progress through T-TIP.   Everyone is a stakeholder in T-TIP.  I encourage everyone to help us promote these tapes to a wider audience! 

There were over 200 SME business participants in the day-long seminar in Gothenburg, many of them planning first-time investments in the U.S., a large and diverse market, full of challenges and opportunities.  To help guide them in this daunting prospect, I spoke about SelectUSA (Selectusa.gov), the U.S. Government’s program to promote and facilitate investment.   It is a “one-stop shop” for investors, a tremendous resource that can help investors save time and money by guiding them to the right information and resources and advocating for them when they face issues at the federal level.     

gothenburg3

Ambassador Brzezinski with former Swedish Ambassador to the U.S. Jonas Hafström at Amerikadagen

claire1

Celebrating U.S.-Swedish Business Ties: The Opening of Claire’s in Farsta!

Where did you get your ears pierced?

If you’re an American girl that came of age between the 1980s through today the likely answer is Claire’s. The accessories juggernaut has been a bedazzling utopia for young girls over the decades, and certainly was for me. I remember so vividly begging my mother to take me to Chicago Ridge Mall on the southwest side of the city to buy faux-pearl and lace chokers and fingerless black gloves so I could look cool at the 8th grade school dance (hey, it was the 1990s everyone wanted to dress like Madonna!).

All of these positive childhood memories came to the surface when I was asked to help inaugurate the first Claire’s store in Scandinavia. It was a true honor to cut the ribbon for an American company founded in 1961 in my hometown of Chicago.

The first store in Sweden is located in Farsta, about twenty minutes outside of Stockholm, and was where the ribbon-cutting ceremony took place. In addition to the opening, Claire’s revealed a sleek new style. Gone were the thick black carpets and heavy décor, and in its place a lighter, more accessible space that showcased the colorful glitter, beads and sequins dotting the walls even better.

The values that underpin the concept— promoting self-confidence and pride in young girls at an affordable price for all— is compelling and egalitarian. Every little girl and teenager deserves to feel beautiful no matter who she is and where she is from, and Claire’s has helped make that happen for many years. There’s also something special about a brand that can be interwoven into a young person’s coming-of-age story. Every girl remembers when and where she got her ears pierced. And most of those girls will connect that positive experience to a positive brand.

Connecting around shared values of accessibility, transparency, empowerment and sustainability (among many others) are pillars of the U.S.-Swedish commercial relationship which has always been strong, and I’ll argue has never been stronger than it is today.

The trading relationship between our two nations is valued over $25 billion annually.  Even more striking are the figures that illustrate our relationship in business investment.  Over the years, Swedish companies have invested over $40 billion in the U.S., creating about 176,000 jobs.  In fact, Sweden is the 12th largest investor in the U.S. and among the very top investors on a per capita basis!

Business to business connectivity between the United States and Sweden is so vibrant and it’s always a pleasure when we can highlight that. Thanks Bjorn Krasse and the Claire’s Nordic team for including me in the opening! Looking forward to more occasions celebrating U.S-Swedish commercial ties!

resume 1

Diplomacy in a new Communications Era: U.S. Embassy ranked #3 “super communicator” in all of Sweden!

We now live in the most hyper-connected, global moments of history where all people have a voice and multiple platforms to share their voice and values.

Mark, I and the Embassy team are firm believers in bringing diplomacy into this new communications era. The speed and incredible reach of the Internet and social media has changed how we all interact with each other. Unparalleled amounts of new perspectives have been brought into the ongoing dialogue on how we address the challenges of our time.

Communications and public diplomacy is more important than ever before. And that’s why we were especially honored and proud to be named by Resume Magazine as Sweden’s #3 (out of 150) best communicators— “Superkommunikatörer”— in all of Sweden. In addition to the award, Mark and I were incredibly honored to be asked to present on the U.S. Embassy’s communications strategy, and how we work with the fantastic Embassy team to reach as many people as possible.

We discussed the four principles that form the foundation of our communication:

1.      The power to convene
2.       Listening, not talking
3.       Transparency
4.       Using the unexpected to highlight shared values

The two areas I covered were “the power to convene” and “listening and not talking.” Mark and I often say that our favorite thing we hear when people come to an Embassy event at our residence: “I’ve never been here before”, “I never thought I’d be invited to an Ambassador’s residence”, and best of all “I never knew what really what an Ambassador, his/her spouse and an Embassy did until now.”

Having the ability to “convene” and create a safe space where diverse people can come together and speak openly, freely without judgment on difficult issues is extremely powerful. The Embassy and I see it as our mission to reach out to as many different stakeholders as possible. Needless to say, it’s not just about us inviting people over and talking at them.

The most exciting thing about diplomacy for me is learning from each other and finding common ground on challenges ranging from sustainability to gender equality. That’s done through listening and not talking.

President Obama is a leader who presciently identified this new strain of global connectivity and has focused on inclusivity, partnership and a new role for America in the world. As President he has uplifted and engaged people and groups who have not traditionally been engaged. At the Embassy the concept of reaching out to all citizens— minorities, new immigrants, women, youth, the LGBT community— is a central priority that’s reflected in the Embassy’s “Diversity Dialogues”, Youth Councils, women’s empowerment initiatives and entrepreneurship focused on immigrant entrepreneurship. In fact, all Embassy initiatives are informed by tolerance, openness, transparency and inclusion.

Thank you Resume for recognizing our hard work! And thank you U.S. Embassy Sweden for the hard work, support, intelligent guidance and leadership on this issue! This award is for all of us!

Diversity & Inclusion in the Corporate World: Presentation at 3M

 

3M1aWhat does diversity mean to you?

For me personally, it means openness, curiosity, exposure, opportunity and the American Dream. In concrete terms, diversity is the bedrock for innovation, better and more profitable businesses, and more creative decision-making.

As the child of Polish and Ukrainian immigrants to the United States who grew up on the Southside of Chicago, I don’t know a world without diversity. And I’m so thankful for that!

In the interconnected, cross-cultural world we live intoday, understanding and embracing diversity is central to embracing the future and, in my opinion, living personally and professionally more productive and rewarding lives.

Last week, I was so happy to be invited to give a presentation on corporate diversity and inclusion at 3M as part of a conference on inclusion and the Diversity Charter (a collection of Swedish companies focusing on this issue).
How do we embrace, enact and stimulate change in the modern workplace when it comes to diversity was the question I tackled through a presentation on America’s history with diversity, the strong business case for diversity when it comes to innovation, and what the U.S. government is doing to work on this challenge.
The business case for greater diversity couldn’t be clearer: In a study by McKinsey of 77 companies “the most important corporate resource over next 20 years will be talent: smart, sophisticated business people who are technologically literate, globally astute and operationally agile.”

Companies with greater inclusion see 39% higher customer service satisfaction, 22% higher productivity, 27% higher profitability, 22% lower turnover, according to Forbes. Changing demographics, aging populations, a modern business climate based on adapting to continuous change, more women entering the workforce, technology and the values of the young Millennial generation are driving change toward greater diversity. For young Americans today— who comprise the most diverse generation in American history— diversity is a “must” in the workplace.

Ultimately, it takes complete commitment from the top and an ability to “walk the walk” by the CEO and senior executives. Company leadership should set the tone by having diverse top teams around them, engaging in diversity training and Diversity Council leadership, and embedding it completely in the culture, philosophy and business strategy. Linking compensation and evaluations for managers to diversity targets and making “diversity local” by investing in schools, youth mentorship programs and philanthropy connected to the development of a local talent base especially in international markets where the company is based are also cogent strategies. Exposure at work to different ethnicities, religions and even evolving concepts of what family and marriage mean, is the true answer to overcoming unconscious bias.

In the end, the best diversity program is not needing one at all. Instead of words on paper and money being thrown at initiatives, what counts is an emotional and iron-clad commitment and belief that diversity is the good and the right thing to do. Good for business and right for humanity. This is certainly the level of commitment I see within our own U.S. Embassy here in Sweden.

Today we have a President that has led on principles of social inclusion, tolerance, equality and reaching out to maximize the talent and dynamic voice of historically underrepresented groups. President Obama and Michelle Obama symbolize the system of merit, openness and multiculturalism that our great country is known for around the world. Their example motivates Embassies around the world to work hard on diversity in all forms: gender, ethnic, religious, age, and sexual orientation.

I’m so proud of the work U.S. Embassy Sweden has been spearheading on diversity: from establishing a “Diversity Dialogues” initiative where we create a safe, open space to bring multicultural and unconventional groups of people together to discuss these challenges to leveraging high-level visitors to highlight the issue. Recently, the Attorney General of the United States Eric Holder came to Sweden on a historic visit and gave a major speech in Parliament on LGBT rights. Using every opportunity to live the principles of the President, and of transparency and openness in daily life, is what Mark and I and the entire Embassy team do each moment.

It was also evident that these are the aspirational values and goals of many Swedish and American companies, especially 3M which generously hosted me on this issue. The feedback and passion I felt at 3M on this issue was inspiring! Thank you 3M and we look forward to partnering more with American and Swedish companies and businesspeople on this issue!3m3c

Women in Tech 3

Spotlight on Women in Tech: Promoting Girls in Science, Engineering & Entrepreneurship

Harnessing the talents and creativity of men and women, young and old, of the gay community and all ethnic backgrounds is the key to innovation and a better world. Diversity is the bedrock for entrepreneurship and innovation, and central to “winning the future” as President Obama has said.

The inclusion of historically underrepresented minorities in science, engineering and technology fields, such as women, is a priority of the Obama Administration and a personal passion of mine.  That’s why I was so happy and honored to be included in a dynamic and thought-provoking conference organized by Sweden’s MTG in partnership with Spotify and Google.

The conference was held in the same cavernous room that the U.S. Embassy held its large election event in 2012 which brought President Barack Obama to victory! Just stepping inside and remembering the energy and inspiration from that day gave me great motivation for the panel I would speak on focusing on innovation.

Cristina Stenbeck, the incredibly articulate 36-year-old global chairman of MTG and Kinnevik, launched the conference with inspiring words on a future global vision of a digitalized, highly-integrated tech world as well as why and how her companies have been successful in vales-based leadership and gender equality. The rest of the day featured discussions by female senior leaders from Google and Spotify, as well as both male and female entrepreneurs on what works in creating a sustainable company and disrupting markets with innovation.

I’ve so enjoyed learning about Sweden’s innovative startup ecosystem and exploring ways we can amplify shared values through innovation and entrepreneurship. Learning from each other is one of the most exciting parts of diplomacy. At the Embassy, we’ve been able to bring people together to openly discuss issues such as gender equality, multiculturalism and diversity, and how we can use entrepreneurship as a tool for empowerment. This was the basis for my panel remarks at the Women in Tech 2014 conference.

Immigrants or their children have founded 40% of our country’s Fortune 500 companies including some of America’s most iconic brands like Google, Intel, eBay and Yahoo. Diversity in all forms—  in gender, ethnic background, sexual orientation— is key to continuing the thriving levels of innovation in both of our countries.

Women are breaking down barriers today in science and technology. 25% of IT jobs are held by women today and the percentage of females choosing to study science and engineering is increasing, a trend that the President is promoting through a national STEM campaign.

Having the opportunity to live and engage in Sweden has been the honor of a life-time for Mark and me. To work with such a talented U.S. Embassy team in such an innovative and country has been incredibly rewarding and we look so much forward to new and interesting collaborations with our friends the Swedes. We look so forward to advancing diversity, innovation and gender equality together with you! The best is yet to come!

Check out this video highlighting women in tech and the efforts of U.S. Embassy Sweden in innovation and diversity!

edge3

Commitment to Corporate Gender Equality: International Women’s Day 2014!

There’s no more inspiring way to celebrate International Women’s Day than bringing together passionate professionals around shared values. Open dialogue, listening and a spirited exchange of lessons learned is integral to moving the dial on diversity in the workplace and honoring the spirit of this great day dedicated to uplifting womanhood.

This is precisely what U.S. Embassy Sweden did on Friday when the deputy chief of mission, Bob Gilchrist, and I hosted a targeted dialogue for Swedish businessmen and businesswomen who are already working to make change in their companies when it comes to diversity. The positive energy in the room makes me so confident that we will reach unparalleled levels of diversity in the workplace are just on the horizon. The goal of the event was to move beyond rhetoric and words, to substantive actions and tangible results. And to help equip businesspeople with a cutting-edge new way to frame this challenge, and the metrics and models that might help solve it for good.

The focus was Edge Certification, a game-changing new methodology aimed at working with large companies to create, meet and sustain gender targets in all levels of the company. Edge certification is analogous to LEED certification on gender versus environmental aspects. Like LEED, Edge provides a globally-recognized branding that a company is embracing diversity and taking steps to be an employer that attracts and sustains top talent, and leans forward on becoming a company of the future. In order to help explain Edge, we were privileged to have two dynamic keynote speakers: Simona Scarpalegia, the CEO of IKEA Switzerland, and Maria Oldin, the managing director of Edge.

The business case for more women at the top is undeniable: more creativity and innovation, better decision-making, better bottom-lines and share-holders’ returns, and even cheaper mergers and greater transparency. Women’s economic empowerment is a priority of the U.S. Embassy and of President Obama who gave an impassioned call to action on the issue most recently in this year’s State of the Union Address.

“You know, she deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship. And you know what, a father does too. It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode. This year let’s all come together, Congress, the White House, businesses from Wall Street to Main Street, to give every woman the opportunity she deserves, because I believe when women succeed, America succeeds.”- President Barack Obama

In Sweden we have an enthusiastic and accomplished partner in this realm. 27% of companies in Sweden have female board members compared with 12% for other industrialized countries. Representation of women in Sweden’s parliament is well above the average for industrialized countries at 45% & 13 of Sweden’s 24 Cabinet Ministers are female.

That being said, women’s corporate leadership is historically still a new phenomenon. In many cases, we’re still working in conventionally-designed workplace structures and organizations tailored to a traditionally “male” definition of success and what a career arc should look like. But I believe we’re at a moment of truth for diversity in all forms! Right now what it means to be a leader, what a means to be a good corporate citizen and a sustainable company is changing and that change will bring greater openness and equality.

This new way of thinking about diversity is what Edge certification is leading the way on. Thank you Maria Oldin and Simona Scarpaleggia for flying in from Switzerland just to join us! A special thanks to Megan Beyer, a fellow “Ambassador’s spouse”, who spearheaded this issue when her husband was the U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland. Megan, thank you for tracking me down in Chicago over the holidays and opening my eyes to Edge!

A special thanks to Bob and the entire Embassy team here in Sweden who is so committed to the promotion of human rights and civil rights: from the LGBT community to women’s equality and multiculturalism. It’s so inspiring to work under their passionate leadership on these equality issues!

Running in Sweden with the US Marines!

marinesToday I had the honor of running with terrific men and women of the US Marine detachment at Embassy Stockholm.  For me, it’s almost like a dream, as I remember from a very young age having such admiration for the Corps.  I remember when I was very young going to a presentation of the colors at the Marine Corps Barracks in Washington DC, and simply admiring the discipline, poise, presence and leadership of these men and women.  Now decades later, I have the honor to serve along side the Marines.  And so it was just terrific for me personally to join our Marines on an almost five mile run around Stockholm today, listening to the Staff Sergeant as he plans to run the Marine Corps Marathon, and talk with the detachment about some of the plans we have for this year.  Bottom line:  To me there is something incredibly special about the sacrifice, fortitude and character of our Marines. They stand guard for us at Post 1 all day and all night, every day. They of course keep us secure – that is priority one. But whenever we see them, in colors or in fatigues, they remind each of us of the incredible sacrifice, the immeasurable sacrifice, that our young people who join the military make every day to keep the rest of us secure and free.  If that is not inspiration enough to just “bring it” in one’s day job, I don’t know what is.

Thank you Marines for letting me join you on today’s run!  I am so proud to stand next to you in our respective calls for duty. Semper Fi!

Visit by Attorney General Eric Holder to Sweden: America Stands for a More Just and Inclusive World

Ambassador Brzezinski and Attorney General Holder.

Ambassador Brzezinski and Attorney General Holder.

US Embassy Stockholm was thrilled to welcome to Sweden this week the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder.  The symbolic significance of the visit was clear:  To our knowledge, no sitting U.S. Attorney General has ever visited Sweden.  The visit was built around what America and Sweden have in common, and what we can learn from each other.  After all, democracy rests on the rule of law.  We can learn a lot from each other as democracies, as we confront and address new legal problems.

The visit began with the Attorney General meeting our Embassy team.   After getting a briefing from our country team, the Attorney General spent time with our U.S. Marines, taking the time to take individual photos with each.  We all know how busy he is, and it was just really classy and generous for him to share his time with our servicemen and women.  After that, we had bilateral meetings on international law enforcement issues.  Democracies are strengthened when we work together, and engagements like this are such an important part of learning from each other.

In the afternoon, the Attorney General gave an absolutely terrific speech in the old chamber of the Swedish Parliament, clarifying what we Americans stand for:  the fight for equality, human dignity and civil rights.  A link to the speech , which was entitled “A More Just and Inclusive Wrold:  Confronting the Civil Rights Challenges of our Time” can be found here.

Mrs. Natalia Brzezinski together with Gloria Ray Karlmark.

Mrs. Natalia Brzezinski together with Gloria Ray Karlmark.

Among the most poignant and moving parts of the speech was when Attorney General Holder talked about America’s struggle for civil rights and equality, our country’s legal steps, from the Equal Pay Act of 1963, to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which step by step advanced civil rights in America.  When the Attorney General discussed the “countless passionate citizens and courageous young people like the Little Rock Nine – who, in 1957, braved bigotry and threats of violence to become the first African-American students to attend Little Rock Central High School, in Arkansas,” he referred specifically to one of the original members of the Little Rock Nine, who was sitting in the audience in Parliament, Gloria Ray Karlmark.  The Attorney General said  how incredibly honored we were to have her with us there, as she had  helped to open a new, but too long in coming, age of inclusion and opportunity.  The Attorney General then spoke off script, but for us all, when he said, “Gloria paved the way for me.”   That was an incredible moment that I will never forget.  After the speech, the Attorney General met Gloria Ray Karlmark in the hall and they embraced, recognizing each other for the historical figures they are.

Attorney General Holder speaks.

Attorney General Holder speaks.

The Attorney General has great credibility speaking on this topic.  Not only is he the top law enforcement official of the United States, his entire professional life reflects a commitment to this cause.  Already, as a student at Columbia Law School in New York, Attorney General Holder worked for the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP, the largest and oldest civil rights organization in the United States.  Following graduation, he began his long career at the Department of Justice.   Working in the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section in 1976, he was tasked to investigate and prosecute official corruption on the local, state and federal levels.

Later, as a U.S. Attorney in Washington, he pulled together attorneys, their staffs and diverse communities to build communication between law enforcement officials and underrepresented communities.  In 1997, President Clinton appointed Mr. Holder Deputy Attorney General, the first African-American named to that post.

In 2008, President Obama nominated him to be Attorney General, the first African-American named to that post as well.  Since becoming Attorney General, he has continued his strong advocacy for civil and human rights.

To me, the shared value between the United States and Sweden that most closely links us is a shared commitment to fight for human dignity and equality and for what is just.  It was an incredible honor to listen to Attorney General Holder remind all of us, Americans, Swedes, and others from around the world, of what we stand for.  Read the speech, you will see what I mean.

Thank you, Attorney General, for your wonderful engagement in Sweden!

A view on the US economy: Steve Rattner, the US Embassy’s Third Businessman Statesman

Ambassador Brzezinski with Steven Rattner and Participants in the Businessman Statesman Lunch

Ambassador Brzezinski with Steven Rattner and Participants in the Businessman Statesman Lunch

Today Natalia and I welcomed to the US Ambassadorial residence in Stockholm a diverse group of business leaders and opinion makers. The third of our Businessman Statesman lunch series honored Steve Rattner, a longtime Wall Street executive and prolific writer and television commentator, perhaps most famously known for his role as the “Car Czar” to the Obama Administration. Steve has immersed himself in the world of investment banking and economics for nearly fourty years. He started with a nine-year stint as an economic correspondent with the New York Times and today is Chairman of Willett Advisors, the investment arm for former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s personal and philanthropic assets.

The formulation “Businessman Statesman” refers to business people who advance the public interest by constructively engaging in the marketplace of ideas and operating as a strong corporate leader. A businessman statesman understands the overlay between the commercial context and the strategic context, and the Obama Administration is working hard to maximize the potential of this to address the challenges of our time. Steve is a leader who fully personifies the traits of a businessman statesman.

Steve Rattner was personally entrusted by President Obama soon after he became President to address a national challenge: The bailout of the US auto industry. Steve personally oversaw the successful restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler in 2009. The New Yorker described the bailout and restructuring as “one of the signature accomplishments of…the Obama Administration. The long term results speak for themselves: autoworkers at Chrysler, GM and Ford are set to receive a record profit sharing this year, coming just five years after all three companies teetered on the brink of collapse, threatening the US economy with the potential loss of as many as three million jobs.

Just last week in his State of the Union address, President Obama saluted the condition of America’s auto industry. And we were able to host a discussion for our Swedish and international friends today with one of the key people who got that industry to where it is today. Steve shared his views on what is going on in the US at the moment, including the way forward for the US economy, the political situation, the outlook for the next election and views about Europe. It was an incredibly interesting discussion, and a very useful view to offer on the American scene today.

Thank you so much Steve Rattner for spending time with us and our Swedish friends today!! We really appreciate your generosity!

Please check out this video conversation between me and Steve Rattner: http://youtu.be/TECMHOQomSQ