Alumnus Speaks Frankly about Life as Ambassador to the Czech Republic

Ambassador Craig Stapleton, current U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic, visited campus last Friday to reflect on his recent diplomatic experiences from both a political and personal perspective. In a very frank discussion, Ambassador Stapleton first talked about how immediate the September 11th attacks impacted his job. Having arrived to the Czech post only two weeks prior to the attacks, the Ambassador was offered humanitarian and special forces aid on behalf of the Czech government within days. The Czechs offered the US their services under the NATO agreement that a “war on one is a war on all.” A self-proclaimed “rookie” diplomat, the Ambassador found himself immediately thrown intro the fight against global terrorism.

The immediate support of the Czech government is just one sign of positive US/Czech relations. The Ambassador was a strong proponent of US investment opportunities in the Czech republic, and he encouraged students to investigate the possibilities. Low labor costs and real estate values in conjunction with a hard working labor base are attractive to a variety of potential investors. However, he tempered optimism with the expectation that a generation will pass before former communist officials are replaced by younger policy makers and corruption fully erodes. Individuals and corporations wishing to invest in the Czech Republic usually need a trustworthy Czech partner to expedite business processes.

On other policy issues, the Ambassador was very optimistic on future Czech ascension to the EU, remarking that 24 of the 29 chapters required have already been completed, including the complicated resolution of a nuclear plant on the Austrian border. Domestic Czech support for joining the EU is high with 80% approval ratings, and acceptance appears to be imminent in 2003-2004. The Ambassador predicts that after joining the EU, the Czech economy will grow rapidly thanks to the strength of the neighboring German market.

Ambassador Stapleton was initially concerned about accepting a relatively high profile appointment. After five months in the Czech Republic, the Ambassador emphasized how “learning the job on the job” and being a credible voice for the President are his most important assets. Furthermore, the Ambassador stated that his personal goal is to be “the number one most knowledgeable” American on the Czech Republic and thereby be able to meet the demands of his role most effectively. The Ambassador manages an Embassy with 80 diplomats and a 170 foreign service nationals, and he liaises regularly with top Czech government officials and businesspeople, advocating US policies. Asked by students, about how to become an Ambassador, he said “know the President.” The Ambassador is a long-time friend and relative of the President.

Prior to President Bush’s nomination, the Ambassador was President of Marsh McLennon Real Estate Advisors and was a 30-year veteran of the business community. Friday’s presentation was the Ambassador’s first trip back to HBS since he graduated. The Ambassador will likely return again, at the very least to attend his son Walker’s graduation with our very own Class of 2003.