Lecture by Ambassador King at the University of Economics (VŠE)
Winstona Churchilla 4, Prague 3 on September 30, 2019, at 6PM.
· As a representative of the United States of America here in the Czech Republic I welcome the opportunity to speak with future businesspeople. One of the best ways to understand America — and one of the best ways, I believe, for America to give back to the world — is through an understanding of its entrepreneurial spirit.
· This spirit goes to the heart of what it is to be American. Our forefathers traveled across oceans to strike out on their own, living on their own terms and establishing their own society.
· This spirit of independence and risk taking is deeply engrained in the American psyche. It has been handed down from generation to generation.
· This fierce independence is also the spark that fires American innovation. Americans don’t like to be told something can’t be done. If you try, just watch them find a way to do it. And this is where I see some similarities with Czech society.
· The Czech Republic invented contact lenses, acetaminophen, Semtex, and the concept of robots, among other things. All of this during a time of less than favorable economic and political conditions. It’s no surprise then that after the country regained its independence, it is now home to some of the biggest innovators on the globe.
· This spirit — looking for what can be done, not what cannot be done — is one area where our two countries share common ground. From this foundation, I believe we can build strong and fruitful partnerships that will help both countries to prosper.
· As some of you may know, I am not a professional diplomat. I think of myself more as an entrepreneur. I operated a specialty chemical business in my home state of Wisconsin for many years. I know first-hand how intimidating it can be to start your own company. And I know from my own experiences that growing a business takes a tremendous amount of grit to confront the risks of the unknown and stay the course. However, taking on that risk makes our
countries and our world a better place. In other words, being risk averse is helpful!
· My education as an entrepreneur started early. When I was a boy, I had a lemonade stand in Chicago with my brother, and a job delivering the local newspaper. In high school, I tried being a door-to-door salesman, selling encyclopedia sets – that was a lot of work. My life’s plan at that time was to become a teacher or educator so I did not have any real business training in school.
· In spite – or maybe because — of this, I turned to business and have never regretted it. After working briefly in a start-up company, a friend invited me to join his company, TOMAH products, as the general manager. That year, the
company had $1 million in sales, offering four to five products and only had 10 employees.
· When I sold the business in 2006, 23 years later, we had annual revenues of $87 million, sold over 50 different products and had 100 employees! That was 13 years ago!
· One of the fundamental lessons I have learned as a businessman and entrepreneur is that you can’t be afraid to take risks and try new things. Especially when you are younger. For example, in America, the most successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley will tell you all about the firms they started that failed. You should look at this as an opportunity to learn and figure out how to be successful.
· As Chester Barnard, the famous American author of management theory and organization studies once said, “To try and fail is at least to learn; to fail to try is to suffer the inestimable loss of what might have been.”
· Along with a tolerance for risk, you also need to have passion! You need confidence in the mission or vision that you are pursuing. And, yes, you need some luck – being at the right place at the right time.
· This ethos of entrepreneurship, of risk taking and passion, is clearly taking hold here in the Czech Republic. My good friend Vaclav Muchna, who started the world class firm Y-Soft in Brno, discussed with me the seven or eight firms that he started that failed before he founded his current company.
· He told me that he learned from each failure. Now, just a few years later, he is competing successfully with American firms in my country and around the world.
· Prospective entrepreneurs, like all of you, are the future. You are creating new and innovative products and solutions to make our lives more efficient, to make our communities safer, and to ensure our countries continue to have a competitive edge. You also have the power to solve some of the biggest problems we face.
· From my experience in business, I also know that government has a role to play. Governments must encourage a friendly investment climate where entrepreneurs can flourish, including a tax system that promotes risk taking and
a well-functioning, independent judicial system that ensures rights are protected and contracts are enforced.
· Most notably, free and open markets allow for entrepreneurs to succeed.
· Free and fair trade is also an important part of this “entrepreneurial ecosystem,” as it allows entrepreneurs to reach customers around the world. President Trump believes that we need to use all tools available to push the world towards a trading system that works for everyone.
· At the same time, the entrepreneurial spirit reinforces our shared values of democracy, equal rights, transparency, market economics, and freedom to pursue one’s dream. These are the same ideals that inspired the Velvet
Revolution in 1989, whose 30th anniversary we will commemorate this November.
· You should be proud of what your country has achieved in the past 30 years. Leaving behind communism and taking advantage of free and open markets, the Czech Republic now has one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, with the lowest rate of unemployment in the EU.
· The free and open markets that this country has built are the key to your continued prosperity.
· Our economic partnership goes both ways. Over the past 100 years, there have been many U.S.-Czech business success stories that attest to the “golden hands” and entrepreneurial nature of Czechs.
· Together, we can develop best practices to share with other Czech companies interested in taking their businesses to the United States and creating good, quality jobs and products for both of our countries.
· Thank you very much for your attention. I would be happy to answer your questions.