Tag Archives: Business

Fifteen Years AmCham Estonia: A Booming Business

A few days ago, together with my friends, Estonian Foreign Minister Paet and Ambassador Kaljurand, Estonia’s Ambassador to the U.S., I congratulated the American Chamber of Commerce  in Estonia on its 15th birthday.  Almost as old as renewed independence for Estonia itself!

Estonia’s journey from Soviet occupation to a vibrant and innovative economic leader is an example for others to study and follow.  Of  course, for neither Estonia or the Chamber was the path always easy or without its challenges.  But similar to Estonia’s transformation as a nation, the rejuvenation of AmCham I have witnessed over the past several years is tangible and deserves enthusiastic recognition.   AmCham’s mission and desire to grow into an ever stronger and more prominent voice for U.S. business in Estonia is being realized.  I am proud of my Embassy’s strong and creative partnership with AmCham in that role.  Our cooperation runs the gamut of issues and events. From drawing attention to issues such as intellectual property rights, to American community events like our joint Fourth of July celebrations, to creating the Estonian American Innovation Award, we indeed have much to be proud of.

Looking ahead, we see new challenges and opportunities that will require even stronger engagement to help create more jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.  Through expanded business ties and putting our respective innovative economies in high gear.

Many pundits have spoken recently about the United States turning its attention away from Europe and towards Asia.  This has stoked fears that U.S.-European economic and security relationships will suffer. They will not.  The U.S. and Europe, politically, economically, socially and emotionally represent two sides of the same coin.  As to our relations with the Asia/Pacific region, Americans, Estonians and other Europeans can and will walk and chew gum at the same time.

Let’s recall the facts:  Transatlantic trade accounts for 40 percent of the global economy.  Americans and Europeans are not only preferred, but also natural partners.  We recognize that concerted action by the United States and our allies in Europe is required if we want to tackle the global challenges and opportunities of our time.  This is true for building a vibrant and free 21st century global economy, mitigating climate change, engaging emerging economies, and recovering from the global financial crisis.  And it is true for combating terrorism or cyber threats, and completing our mission in Afghanistan.

On the business front, the U.S. and EU are working through one of my favorite cross-ocean institutions — the Transatlantic Economic Council.  We seek to avoid unnecessary divergence in regulations and standards that impede trade; develop fully compatible approaches to emerging technologies; and coordinate our activities to level the playing field for our companies in third countries, particularly in emerging economies.  All of this is under the overarching goal of creating a truly open transatlantic marketplace and improving the prosperity of our 800 million people.

Estonia, and AmCham Estonia, have important roles to play in the U.S.-European economic partnership. In this, Estonia’s compact size is both a plus and a minus.  A small and advanced rule-of-law country can quickly take advantage of new entrepreneurial opportunities.  It can offer stability and low risk that many much larger economies can only hope for.  But a small domestic market also means that the 800 million people have to become Estonia’s target  market.  And a small population means having to tackle the limits of in-country human capital – in terms of education and training as well as immigration policy.

Estonia, and more importantly, “E-stonia, is already an established leader in a number of 21st century economic priority areas.  These include processing rare earths; developing alternative as well as new forms of traditional energy; information technology; and of course the myriad of e-services that Estonians already treat as routine and that make the rest of us jealous.  The world has come to learn about innovative Estonia.  Expanding and delivering on that reputation will be the task of Estonian entrepreneurs and this AmCham together with American innovators.  My Embassy will continue to be part of this exciting and promising future. 

With that in mind, once again, Happy 15th Birthday AmCham Estonia!

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Filed under American Values, economy, good governance, Intellectual Property, U.S. -Estonian Relations

State of the Art U.S. Travel Security System for Estonia

A senior Estonian official told me recently that when the newly re-independent country set out to modernize in the early 1990’s after years of occupation, Estonian leaders chose to leap toward the 21st century rather than “upgrading” to aging western technology.  Estonian schools received state of the art computers.  Internet networks went wireless, fiber optic and broadband.  Banking became electronic and Estonian e-government today is a model for the rest of Europe and beyond.

Now the Estonian Ministry of the Interior is testing the world’s most advanced travel security management system.  U.S. electronics giant Raytheon is running a year-long pilot program of its Portera Traveler Management System in Tallinn.  Tonight,  Raytheon representatives will introduce the joint program together with Estonia’s Interior Minister to a group of  guests at my home.   Portera is not only the most innovative system available today, its use also provides for strict data privacy protections standard in Europe and the United States.  Not surprisingly, Estonia will be the first country outside the United States to test and, if found acceptable, institute this system. 

Another leap ahead for Estonia and a huge jump in safety for the rapidly expanding number of travellers coming to and passing through this country.

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The Importance of International Schools

Everyone is talking education these days.  Education for the very youngest of our children.  Secondary education.  Higher education, and adult learning.  International education is an important subset of all of these discussions.  For international families in the business, NGO, military, and diplomatic sectors, international primary and secondary education is not just important, it is essential.  As these “nomadic professionals”  circle the globe with little time spent (as little as one or two years) in any one location, they desperately search out consistency for their children’s education:  an International School.  The presence of such a school thus becomes a critical asset for any country that wants to play on the international economic and politial scene and attract the players that play on there.

An truly international school offers offers kindergarden through high school education of an international standard that transfers easily from country to country and continent to continent.  The International Baccelaureate (IB) offers this universal standard with some 900,000 IB students in 140 countries around the world.  An international school has an international faculty, uses English as the primary common language of instruction, and offers wide flexibility for students to enter and leave school at other than standard starting and completion points.  For students not yet ready to function in English, support programs quickly bring them up to speed.  Finally, international schools must be fully adaptive to accomodate students at all levels of learning ability, including students with special needs.  In other words, international schools do not have the luxury of simply picking the best and letting “the system” take care of those less capable.  There is no other “system” for nomadic professionals.

So what’s the problem?  Well, international schools are expensive to run.  Unless a host government helps finance such international education, tuition costs become prohibitive for professionals whose organizations, companies, or governments do not pick up the tab.  As an American “diplomatic nomad” for the past 35 years, I have faced the challenge, if not the cost, of international education for my children around the world.  I was always fortunate that my government covered the cost of our extraordinary education needs.  And I found that the countries that offered the best international education were also the best centers of foreign direct investment and important platforms for international diplomacy and civic society activity.  Estonia has one truly comprehensive, but small  international school, and ongoing ambitions in global business, government, and civic endeavors.  Twenty years into Estonia’s amazing growth as a free, independent, prosperous, and highly modern nation, now is the time to decide whether the country is interested in supporting and sustaining its unique international education platform for the long-term.

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Filed under Civil Society, economy, education, good governance

60 Birthday Cupcakes

My son turned 30 last week!  This summer he is getting married.  I am working hard to remind myself that I still am — and still feel — young.  He celebrated last weekend with a large group of friends and his fiance’.  She put together a truly wonderful album of photographs covering the first 30 years of his life, starting from the first day we brought him home from the hospital in Copenhagen where he was born.  Of course we gave him a proper birthday gift for such an important date, but just for fun his mother and I decided to add 30 gourmet cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcake in Washington DC to his birthday party.  30 cupcakes of various exotic flavors and a candle for each of his 30 years.  The bakery delivered them to his house the day of his surprise birthday party and they were the hit of the party, he told us.  Of course we were happy and enjoyed his celebration from afar here in Tallinn.

The day after his party, we got a text message from him saying there was a delivery man at his door with another 30 cupcakes and had we intended him to get 60 cupcakes or was this some kind of mistake.  Although we would not have begrudged him 60 cupcakes, we had only sent him 30.  We felt that had been enough sugar.  I picked up the phone — here in Tallinn — and called Georgetown Cupcake in Washington.  The cheerful voice on the other end of the line quickly checked and confirmed that they had sent the second order in error.  “We have not opened the box, ” I said, “you may come and pick them up.”  “No,” the voice laughed 4000 miles away.  “Our mistake,  Happy Birthday to your son, tell him to enjoy the second 30 on us.” 

Why am I telling you all this?  No reason, other than to share our happy news of a birthday in our family; that mistakes happen; that there are still  friendly people out there; that good customer service is always good business; and that Georgetown Cupcake will always have the Polt family as customers!

Happy snow melt, Estonia!

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In Stock In Estonia’s European Warehouse

I read a fascinating article inthe New York Times the other day about inventory management and customer satsifaction by a fabulous American clothing and accessories retailer, Nordstrom.  Those of you who have shopped at Nordstrom know that quality, customer service and inventory are obviously a company priority.  The New York Times article described how Nordstrom has upgraded its web site and its on-line and in-store shopping experience.  The company combined its on-line warehouse inventory with access to each of its individual store inventories.  This now makes it more likely that a custormer will be able to get the item in the size and quantity he/she wants – fast.  Nordstrom also added more search features on-line to allow customers to find what they are looking for and also suggest alternatives.  Sales increased significantly, even in a difficult economy.

What a great idea to consider, I thought, for Estonian retailers who for obvious reasons often maintain very limited inventories.  For larger, multinational chains in country, why not connect inventory data in Estonia with inventories of other company stores in Europe.  For instance,  Stockmann’s in Tallinn with Stockmann’s in Helsinki or Zara in Tallinn with Zara stores anywhere else in the EU?  And then  provide customers in Estonia the service of getting a wanted item to Estonia within a very short time (a day or two maximum) at minimal or no additional cost.  I suspect the added cost absorbed by the retailer would be made up in increased sales.  

Ok, you might say, that is fine for multi-national store chains, but what about Estonia-only single retailers?  Seems in this case an Amazon-like arrangement might be an idea.  The Estonian store would be a portal to retailers in other EU countries  who have a certain product  and would then facilitate the shipping and delivery /pick-up in Estonias.   If that furniture store in Tallinn has only one beautiful arm chair, but you want three, your Tallinn store could get you the other two from Stockholm, for instance, on the next ferry.  That way, I suspect, the reputation of Estonia as a country of excellent customer service, where any kind of product is available at a reasonable price quickly would help increase Estonia’s business bottom line.  There may well be impediments in terms of sales rights specific to certain countries, shipping costs, competitive obstacles and more.  But those mountains are simply there to be climbed and conquered, not to block the view.

But I am not a business expert and would not be offended if any of you would let me know that either all this already exists (I doubt it) or that this is a crazy idea (quite possible.)

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Good Business West and East

Today is the day of final decision for Estonia’s switch to the Euro on January 2011.  Another clear signal for Estonia’s about to be  completed journey into the full range of European and Transatlantic institutions.  At the same time, I have read with interest about the recent meeting between the Estonian Confederation of Employers and the Russian Association of Entrepreneurs, and their expressions of mutual hope for improved economic ties between the two countries.  Literally and figuratively, Estonian President Ilves’ call for a new bridge across the Narva river called for a bridging of the gap between the two countries.  The Euro and Russia relations — a contraction for Estonia?  I think not.  An emminently rational and pragmatic progression of relationships for a European free market democracy that is interested in solid and profitable business relationships across the globe.

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Articulating a Vision for the Future

Modern American diplomats are generally allowed to be creative in the exercise of their duties.  Unless an idea involves a significant amount of unallocated U.S. government resources, we are encouraged to think more like entrepreneurs and not like bureaucrats.  I have long liked that aspect of my job, and it’s gotten to be even more fun as Ambassador.   When I first stepped of the airplane at Lennart Meri Airport here in Tallinn, I told my staff and the assembled press “let’s get started!”  This was as much a challenge to myself as it was to my Embassy and to the Estonian-American relationship.

So literally since last December, I have looked for opportunities in Estonia for the U.S. business, government, academic, NGO, science, technology, and service industry sectors.   Some interesting possibilities have come to my attention via already existing Estonian – U.S. contacts:  shale oil exploration, a tourism infrastructure project, infectious disease research and prevention, and IT infrastructure security, to name just a few.  I have also started my own wholly unscientific and ad hoc list of interesting opportunities in various sectors looking around this country.

A fundamental question I have asked in conversations around the country and also hear asked of me in talking with other Americans is about Estonia’s entrepreneurial vision for the future.  Where does Estonia want to be 5-10-20 years from now.  What is next for the “Nordic Tiger,”  especially after EURO accession next January?  Given the amazing accomplishments of this country over the last 20 years, outsider expectations are high — justifyably so.  Given the current state of the world economy, I have heard very cautious Estonian expressions of future plans and ambitions.  Not surprising, since Estonian sobriety and responsibility have allowed the country to weather the past three years more successfully than virtually anyone else.

“Risk” may be a bit of a dirty word after recent business excesses around the globe, but entrepreneurial risk remains a basic tennent of our capitalist system.  Therefore the question of “whither Estonia” in terms of its further development as a player on the global economic stage is a logical one.  I throw it out there for comment/input/inspiration.  Let me hear from you.

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Filed under economy, U.S. -Estonian Relations