AmCham Slovakia celebrates 10 years

AMCHAM Slovakia is set to festively celebrate 10 years of service to the business community in Slovakia. From a humble beginning of a handful of companies and dedicated individuals, the chamber has grown steadily in size and strength to become a real force representing a host of companies of American, Slovak, and other international parentage.

AMCHAM has become a powerful organisation.
photo: Courtesy of AmCham

AMCHAM Slovakia is set to festively celebrate 10 years of service to the business community in Slovakia. From a humble beginning of a handful of companies and dedicated individuals, the chamber has grown steadily in size and strength to become a real force representing a host of companies of American, Slovak, and other international parentage.

After a multitude of planning meetings and much effort by a persistent group of individuals throughout 1993, AmCham Slovakia was established with an official opening, a press conference, and a reception on October 27, 1993, and was authorised by the Ministry of the Interior on May 19, 1994. Many of the most instrumental individuals and founding members remain in Slovakia today and are still actively contributing to the success of the chamber.

The first elected president of the board of directors was Louis Ollarek, of Ollarek Construction. He was followed by Kevin Connor of Squire, Sanders and Dempsey, David Francis of Citibank, Mari Novak of KNO Slovensko, and D Ronald Surbey of Squire, Sandersm and Dempsey. Currently, Peter Weber of Hewlett Packard is acting president. All have significantly contributed to the accomplishments and steady growth of the chamber.

The first executive director was Beverly Douglas (now Ms Schornhorst), who was the real driving force behind the establishment of the chamber. Patrick Uram was AmCham's executive director from October 1996 to October 1998. AmCham's third executive director was Leighton Klevana. Since December 2000, Jake Slegers has been executive director of the chamber.

Over the years, many people have made considerable contributions to the success of the chamber by serving on the board of directors, devoting time as members of committees, or simply volunteering to assist in the office or at events. It has been a real group effort!

Having a strong position within the Slovak business community, AmCham has strived to create added value for its members by providing contacts, information, and advocacy support for its membership. Hosting a variety of events for networking and sharing information is the hallmark of the public side of AmCham. Throughout its 10 years of existence, approximately 120 Business Cocktails have been held. Taking into consideration the average number of attendees at these events, it is entirely possible that approximately 10,000 people have taken part! A huge amount of business contacts were made at these events, greatly fostering the development of the business environment in Slovakia. The Business Breakfasts have hosted an immense variety of Slovak ministers, businesspersons, and ambassadors as speakers.

Other social events, such as the annual Thanksgiving Gala Dinners and the Independence Day celebrations, have been attended by thousands of people as well. Both events today attract well over 600 people to enjoy the respective festivities.

Showing support for those less fortunate, AmCham has consistently sought donations from its membership for its annual Thanksgiving Charity Fund Drive, through which over Sk3.5 million (€87,340) has been distributed to approximately 50 needy and worthy charitable organisations throughout Slovakia.

Forming the core of the advocacy efforts of the chamber, various committees, task forces and working groups carry out some of the most effective "behind the scenes" work of the chamber. By addressing a great variety of legislative issues, such as certification and customs, health care, manufacturing, and EU accession - among many other issues - AmCham constantly seeks to contribute to the positive development of the business climate in Slovakia and the success of its members.

One highlight of the chamber's development was hosting a live, televised economic debate featuring Slovakia's top political parties just ahead of the 2002 parliamentary elections. Other activities include the recent Slovak Ministers Speakers Series, the EU Business Briefings, the annual Job and Internship Fairs, seminars, a yearly HR conference, and roundtable discussions.

With the increased amount of events, publications, and activities, and an increased amount of foreign investment coming into Slovakia, interest in AmCham has increased as well. Membership has steadily risen over the years from a core group of about 40 members to over 250 today.

At present, AmCham's Connection magazine, which developed from a photocopied black and white newsletter to a slick, colourful publication, is widely read throughout the Slovak and international business community.

Signaling an ever-expanding role in the business activities of Slovakia, AmCham opened an office in Košice last year. Through this historic development, AmCham Slovakia emphasises its commitment to its members and desire to increase its services for its members in the eastern Slovak regions.

Another very significant development was the recent election of board member Robert Šimončič, general manager of Microsoft Slovakia, as chair of the European Council of American Chambers of Commerce. AmCham Slovakia is proud and honoured to have one of its own as head of this prestigious and important body, a pan-European institution representing all AmChams in Europe.

As AmCham Slovakia celebrates its 10th anniversary, it would like to remind everyone of its motto: "Come join us. We're making things happen!"

Beverly I. Schornhorst
founding executive director of AmCham

Beverly I. Schornhorst founding executive director of AmCham
photo: Courtesy of Ms Schornhorst

The Slovak Spectator (TSS). As the AmCham's first executive director, how do you recall the organisation's launch in the Slovak business community?

Beverly I. Schornhorst (BS): This is a tough question. Personally, I recall being excited to go to work everyday, to discover what new businesses, consulates, and embassies were moving into Slovakia, to see businesses and the world begin to treat Slovakia as her own country, as opposed to a territory of the Czech Republic. In those days, there were a few of us who really believed in the AmCham, and we worked hard because it was a new and untested entity. We had no established reputation or history. Sometimes it seemed as though we were operating on a wing and a prayer. However, the AmCham flourished because the founding members and the US Embassy had such faith in the chamber and specifically wanted an AmCham in Slovakia instead of just using the one in Prague.

TSS: What were your priorities when you headed the AmCham?

BS: When I started the AmCham along with the founding members, our biggest priority was establishing a network for the business community in the Slovak Republic. Our members were working 14 hour days, and did not have time to leave the office and network with other business people to determine where to find employees, how to keep employees, solve mutual problems, and learn if others were having similar issues in the workplace. Our members needed to meet people in the Slovak government, the US government, the EU government, and other diplomats. Most of our members had contact with some of the government representatives already, but together they had access to more government representatives.

TSS: After leaving the post, did you expect the AmCham to become such a highly successful organisation?

BS: After leaving, I had confidence that the executive board, the board of directors, the committees, and the members would make AmCham Slovakia one of the most successful chambers in the region! Because of the members and all of their work, input, and resources, AmCham Slovakia had no choice but to flourish. No one wanted to let it fail because the business community needed this private, non-profit business entity that worked in their best interests.

Ján Bajánek
AmCham founder

Ján Bajánek AmCham founder
photo: Ivan Čaniga

TSS: As one of AmCham's founders, what do you see as its main contribution to the business community in Slovakia?

Ján Bajánek (JB): To me, as one of those who founded the AmCham in Slovakia on October 27, 1993, it is with great pleasure and personal satisfaction to see that in 10 years the chamber has become a significant factor in the development of the Slovak-American and Slovak-international business environment. Within the structure of entrepreneurial, legislative, and communicative initiatives, it has become a significant opinion-forming institution for the government as well as the private sector. It is also an effective referential framework for the reform steps taken by the Slovak government.

TSS: How important is AmCham to the Slovak business environment?

JB: The chamber has contributed to the development of the liberal market environment in Slovakia.

Ron Surbey
former AmCham president

Ron Surbey former AmCham president
photo: Courtesy of Ron Surbey

TSS: As the most recent AmCham president, what did you see as its main contribution to the business community in Slovakia?

Ron Surbey (RS): I think AmCham's biggest advantage is the possibility for networking. At AmCham, the members tend to be big companies, but there are small ones too. These small and medium-sized companies have great people and great products to offer.

TSS: What were your priorities when you headed the AmCham?

RS: I had two priorities: One was to see AmCham grow in membership, activities and, most importantly, geographically. Expanding to Košice was something AmCham had been discussing for years, but I made it a priority to get it accomplished.

TSS: Where do you see the AmCham heading in the future?

RS: I think AmCham will continue to grow. The interest is there. I expect there will be more regional cooperation with AmChams of neighbouring countries and more activities in other parts of Slovakia.

Mari Novak
former AmCham president

Mari Novak former AmCham president
photo: Anton Frič

As both board member and president, I tried to strengthen the 'pillars' or strategies of AmCham. These are the member services, the development of a positive business environment, and membership retention and growth.

Member services generally fall under the categories of information and exchange. They are vital and I think AmCham is one of the key success stories in the country in providing forums for the presentation and discussion of key topics by key players. Further, the exchange of information to and between members contributes to the vitality and efficiency of the marketplace.

AmCham's membership is international with a broad and deep array of experience that can be drawn upon by policymakers as well as corporate members

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