ON OCTOBER 15, US Secretary of State Colin Powell presented his 2003 Award for Corporate Excellence to US Steel Košice (USSK) and its parent company, the US Steel Corporation of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Chevron Texaco Corporation was also honoured.
Slovak Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, US Ambassador to Slovakia Ronald Weiser, and head of USSK Christopher Navetta also addressed an audience of diplomats and entrepreneurs present at the ceremony in Washington, via a broadcast of the US embassy television network.
Selected guests and media also attended the session.
"In my travels around the world as Secretary of State, I have seen with my own eyes how the combination of a free market and free trade is enriching and fundamentally altering human lives," said Powell, who started off his speech by saying that twenty minutes before the start of the event, he was with Placido Domingo and "sang to him briefly".
The US Secretary of State stressed the importance of investment for the promotion of US interests and underlined the positive role of American corporations.
"In towns and cities all across the globe, you are giving more and more people reason to be optimistic, not just through your investments and services, but through your investment in people and communities," Powell told an audience of corporate CEOs.
The award, established in 1999, recognizes the role US businesses play as good corporate citizens.
"It's not an award for profit. It's an award for what [corporations] have done to share their success with their communities," said US ambassador Weiser.
Two to three companies are recognized each year, and past winners include firms such as Coca-Cola Egypt, Ford Motor Company of South Africa, Xerox Brazil, and Motorola Malaysia.
Powell also explained why USSK was chosen from the nearly 50 companies nominated this year by US chiefs of mission around the world.
"The ironworks went from a rusty communist wreck to a shiny example of capitalism," he said, mentioning USSK's support of children's' healthcare facilities, orphanages, and social benefits enjoyed by employees at the steelworks.
"US Steel Košice is an example of how American companies can be responsible corporate citizens not just in their own backyard, but around the world," he said.
Powell's speech was followed by an address by US Steel CEO Thomas Usher.
"I would like to thank the government in Bratislava, which works with us in a real spirit of business-government cooperation," Usher said.
Despite US Steel's contribution to the Slovak economy, relations between the steel producer and the cabinet were not always trouble-free.
The government sold shares of the company Východoslovenské Železiarne (VSŽ), after declining USSK's purchase offer and subsequently selling-off the shares under suspicious conditions, in January 2002.
"The actions of the members of government in this case were unfair, especially towards the shareholders, but also towards USSK," said former USSK boss John Goodish
However, all problems seem to be forgotten now. "We remain very optimistic about our future in Slovakia and the region," said Usher.
Ambassador Weiser also said a few words about the contribution of USSK to life in Slovakia. He called Slovakia "by far the best country for investment in Europe today".
Last to speak was PM Dzurinda, who opted for a poetic look on the otherwise dry issue of foreign investment.
"If Andy Warhol were with us today, he would be proud of us," he said. When he was as a child browsing with his brother Paul through the shred metal of the steel mills in Pittsburgh, he would not have imagined that Slovakia, where his parents came from, would once become a second home to these very steel mills," Dzurinda continued.
Dzurinda also attached a symbolic significance to USSK's presence in Eastern Slovakia.
"Even later [Warhol] would not have imagined that Slovakia would not only be free from communist oppression, but that these very steel mills would come to symbolise the ties between Slovakia and the United States," said Dzurinda.
20. Oct 2003 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila