Through an interview with director Weston Stacey, we present AmCham, one of the oldest foreign chambers of commerce in Czechia.
How does AmCham work? Are you primarily focused on American entrepreneurs coming here or do you also help Czech companies to enter the US market?
We are the country representative of the US Chamber of Commerce, which is the largest business association in the US and has offices in almost every country around the globe. We opened here in 1992 and initially served mostly US companies wishing to invest. Now, we are working both with US investors and Czech investors in the US. And also with companies that want to partner with research or product development activities.
Which specific activities are the pillars of AmCham?
The primary role of our organization is to create prosperity by increasing economic opportunity. We advocate economic policies that create a level playing field for all companies and that will make Czechia a top ten economy in the EU by 2025. And we try to develop business opportunities.
What is the most demanding agenda of the chamber?
The most demanding agenda for any association now is helping the government find the right response to Covid 19. It is not just about spending money. The pandemic serves an accelerant. We have a choice to continue longhold policies of selling the country as a cheaper solution for production and travel or use the crisis to make Czechia a synonym of original goods and services of the highest quality. We advocate the latter. And, the current government set the goal with its strategy The Country for the Future too. That strategy still needs a lot of work, and a different attitude in government offices, to become reality.
How has Czech business culture and the Czech business environment changed since you started to head the chamber in 2000?
This stuff makes me itch. I hate hearing Americans refer to „the Czechs“, just as I hate hearing Czechs refer to „ti Američani“. That is simplistic, and will lead to making bad decisions. Business is done in a lot of different ways in both countries, and, increasingly, the culture of company has more to do with the choices of the management or entrepreneur, and the sector, than it has to do with nationality. When I speak to Vaclav Muchna or Zbyněk Frolík or Milan Šlapák, I never think of than their nationality; I just think they are world-class businesspeople who are more shaped by the industry in which they operate than by anything else. And, by the way, they are also shaping their industries.
People should be careful about people who use nationality in business; they want their fellow citizens to pay a premium for patriotism instead of quality.
If you want me to make one generalization about the economy, business here has become less about government. That started with privatization, and foreign direct investment created an independent source of wealth generation for both local companies and individuals. Covid 19 has disrupted this development, and you can already sense that there will be a friction between more state control and more business freedom in the future.
US investments in Czechia are rare. The USA is not even in the top ten of countries investing in Czechia. Why is it so?
If you are using the CNB numbers, you need to remember that statistics track money flows. If a US company makes the investment using its Dutch subsidiary, that investment is counted as Dutch. If you are using CzechInvest numbers, you need to remember US companies made their initial investments early and that re-investment is not calculated… Those rankings do not really interest me all that much. What is interesting is the impact of the investment. Will the investment not only create immediate value, but develop the country’s technological or human capacity? That is why the investments of companies such as Honeywell, Microsoft, GE Aviation or Thermofisher Scientific are important. These investments improve the university system and create spin-offs. The same applies to Linet and Y Soft in the US; they are transforming their markets for the better.
In which sectors of Czech economy go American investments to most often?
In the early days, the Czech government pitched the country as a cheap manufacturing alternative to Germany and other EU labor markets. So that is what they mostly got. Companies recognized that there was more potential than just lower wages, though. That is why we have seen so much interest in cooperating with universities, and putting more value-added investment here. We have a few high-profile investments right now that could open the floodgates to serious research investments if they are successful.
What do Americans, who want to do business in Czechia, usually complain about?
Stamps. Americans have a different relationship to the government. We call them public servants, because we believe that they are to make our lives better. Although, the more interaction I have with Czech officials, the more I think they translate it as „the servant public“. Anyway, Americans are trained to react badly to bureaucracy. And you are always a little more uncertain when you have to deal with someone else’s bureacracy, so that makes you complain about it a little more.
“We advocate economic policies that create a level playing field for all companies, this will make Czechia a top ten economy in the EU by 2025,” says Weston Stacey.
Position: Executive Director of AmCham.
Education: MBA, Thunderbird School of Glogal Management.
#Career: Former journalist in US. With AmCham since 1996.
#Family: Married, four sons, one daughter, two dogs.
Hobbies: „Slowly giving up basketball as my age advances.“ Also likes bonsais, guitar and books.
Life philosophy: When faced with two interesting choices, combine them into a third one.
American Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic (AmCham)
110 00 Praha 1
T: (420) 222-329-430