By: Emma Livingston, Staff Writer
Tucked away on the second floor of a narrow building in Prague 1, up a rickety flight of stairs in an office so tiny it could be a storage unit, the American Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic is working quietly and diligently, behind the scenes, to improve the country’s business environment.
The American Chamber of Commerce, or AmCham as it is more colloquially known, is one of those organizations that everyone has heard of, but almost no one understands exactly what they do. For future international business leaders, it is vitally important to understand what the AmCham is working towards and how it can benefit your company.
Thunderbird students visited AmCham of the Czech Republic on Wednesday, April 8, as part of an event organized by Ashu Malik of Thunderbird’s Honor Council.
The overarching goal of AmCham, according to Executive Director Weston Stacey, a Chicago-born former investigative journalist and Thunderbird graduate, is to raise the competitiveness of the business environment in Czech Republic. AmCham does this by lobbying the government to pass business friendly laws, helping the government draft those laws if necessary, and educating judges and lawyers about the implications of these new laws.
“Why does the government listen to you?” one student asked.
“We have a reputation for being right,” Mr. Stacey responded.
Mr. Stacey told us that one of AmCham Czech’s biggest successes was in 2005 when they successfully lobbied to pass bankruptcy protection for companies, similar to U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. AmCham sponsored U.S. judges to come to Czech Republic and help draft the law, and this law ended up saving many Czech companies from being forced to close once the financial crisis hit in 2008.
In keeping with the Honor Council sponsorship of the event, Mr. Stacey talked about dealing with corruption in the Czech Republic, as well as in Eastern Europe as a whole. He said that the Czech people have a saying: If you’re not stealing from the state, you’re stealing from the family. This mindset comes from a long history of foreign rule and, more recently, Communist rule. Mr. Stacey says that things are slowly changing, but fighting corruption is a continuous process that can never end as long as governments and organizations are made up of people. He said that in the U.S. there are just as many people willing to commit corruption as there are in Czech Republic, but that the U.S. has very strong groups committed to fighting corruption, which Czech Republic has not developed yet.
David Roman (MBA ’15) was impressed by the speaker and his speech: “Mr. Stacey struck me as a man with a massive mission, quietly and steadily building towards such lofty goals that his work seemed likewise grandiose and modest. His discussion on the balance between implementing policy and inspiring people was intriguing, and I expect this concept to resonate with me in future undertakings.”
AmCham represents not just American companies, but companies from around the globe, not just big multinationals but smaller firms and they fight not only to create a better business environment but a more just, less corrupt society.
So when all you Thunderbirds graduate and scatter to become important business people around the globe, look in the back alleys and tiny office complexes in the city or country where you’re working and find the American Chamber of Commerce. They will be quietly and diligently working away to help create and sustain an environment that will help your business succeed.