What does the USA mean for you personally?
Being born and raised in the US (Massachusetts) USA is first and foremost my home. I spent the first 40 years of my life there. I am a first generation American. Both my parents immigrated to the US in the 1950s. My mother comes from the French Canadian province of Quebec and my father came from Marseille, France with Armenian parents, who both survived the genocide of 1915. My mother is also a descendant of the Huguenots. Being a descendant of survivors is also how I see the USA. For many it was and still is a land of opportunity, a safe haven, and a place of new beginnings for those seeking a better life for themselves and their offspring.
What does the USA mean for your company?
I take pride that I spent most of the first 40 years of my life in the US, where I studied and worked for 16 years. I bring with me the knowledge and experiences I gained in the US to Austria. Since I am self-employed, it is a huge part of my identity and what I consider my USP (unique selling point).
How important are the relations between Austria and the USA?
As an American married to an Austrian and having two children with dual citizenship, relations between Austria and the US are extremely important to me. Since there are many US subsidiaries in Austria, relations play also an essential role on an economic level. In addition, for Austria the US is the third top export partner. Given the geographical location of Austria in the heart of Europe and its neutral international status I see Austria as the link between the eastern and western hemispheres. As such, I would think that for the US, having good relations with Austria would be important for geopolitical reasons as well.
How can the relationship between the two countries be improved and intensified?
To answer this question, we need to be asking the question, how can an American and an Austrian improve their relationship? Because in the end it is about people with different languages, cultures, beliefs, and histories coming together and getting to know one another to build a trusting and dependable relationship. This requires time being spent in each other’s countries (including different parts of a country). It requires learning some of the language and it requires, like all relationships, time to evolve through shared experiences. Of course, the sooner the exchange can happen the better which is why I encourage young people to travel at an early age. Whether during high school or with an apprenticeship, at a minimum, exchange programs should exist to plant seeds for inter-cultural exchange.
What does it take to get more out of, to actively push trade?
Anytime barriers to free trade can be reduced, the better it is. And any time collaboration on projects can be initiated, the more relationships across both countries strengthen, build trust and transparency, both of which are conducive to improving trade and commerce relations between Austria and the US.
What is Austria better at?
What Austria does better is the dual education system, which combines theoretical and practical teaching. Similar to vocational training in the US, the Austrian dual education system prepares youth starting at the age of 15 for careers requiring apprentice training as well as for higher vocational schools. Along the same lines, accessibility to higher education, due to Austrian tax structures, is also more economically feasible in Austria as it gives all students, who want to further their education the possibility to do so, regardless of their income.
What is the USA better at?
Continuing with the educational system, I believe, the US educational system is more flexible providing young people more options and opportunities to switch programs more easily. Along those lines, I believe entry into the work force is also easier in the US, as it does not require exact degrees and certifications to start working. For example, my wife was able to teach German in a college prep school in the US without holding a teaching degree with the expectation that she completes her certification within five 5 years. In Austria, this would absolutely not be possible without having a degree first.
What can we learn from each other?
It is hard to say exactly since I am only speaking from one industry. However, in that sector alone I see advantages and disadvantages on both sides. I am positive that in every industry both countries have best practices from which each side can learn. It comes back to creating opportunities to visit, interact, and collaborate on projects. Through these intercultural exchanges learning occurs automatically and the distance that separates both countries becomes smaller.
What has been the best AmCham experience so far?
As a one-person-show and “Quereinsteiger” in the consulting business, I was 40 when I moved to Austria. Not having gone to school here nor having prior work experience in Austria, I had no pre-existing connections and relations. Having a social work background is also not something often seen in the history of AmCham members. When Susanne approached me to help facilitate the Empower Her initiative, it gave me an opportunity to meet valued members and most of all show my skills and abilities in a non-salesy way. Being part of this initiative has been the best AmCham experience for me so far. I also enjoy events that involve the arts and theatre.
What do you expect from AmCham?
As an American expat starting his own business, I wanted to find an organization that would help build my network of Austrian and US companies. It was and still is important for me to stay connected to the US. I joined AmCham in 2018 and through various events I have been able to form relationships with other members. Susanne Reisinger has also been extremely supportive in helping me network with other members. This is what I expected from AmCham and I can say those expectations were met.