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Niels Marquardt - American Chamber of Commerce Goes West


Proof that Greater Western Sydney is emerging as the engine room for economic growth in New South Wales has been borne out by the decision of the American Chamber of Commerce to re-establish a Chapter in this buoyant region. The chamber, known as AmCham, was established in the Sydney CBD, fifty-five years ago. From August 2016, evincing a demonstrative show of confidence by AmCham in the future of the region, the group will commence operations.

AmCham is Australia’s largest international business Chamber. The Board of Directors is headed by the well-credentialled Chairman Ms Maureen Dougherty, President of Boeing Australia, New Zealand the South Pacific.

The composition of the board reads like a ‘who’s who of Australian business and includes Geoff Culbert, President General Electric Australia and New Zealand; Deborah Chew, Partner Hall and Wilcox Lawyers; Tony Clemens, Partner Price Waterhouse; Page Maxson, CEO Australia Pacific LNG; Richard Owen, Chairman ExxonMobil Australia; Robbert Reitbroek, CEO PepsiCo, Australia and New Zealand; Bill Townsend, General Manager of Inpex Operations and Jim Whalley, CEO and Chairman of Nova Systems.

And, on top of that impressive array of business talent, a Council of Governors exists in every Mainland State. The Council, at the request of the Board, offers advice to the Board of Directors on specific matters and issues. Individual governors are senior active members of AmCham.

In New South Wales, there are fifty-eight such Governors from across the business spectrum, small, medium and large, including insurance, banking, electronics, law, accountancy, the tourism industry and airlines. It is no accident that these appointees understand small to large business operations, the interplay with government and together with the Board, seek to make the voice of business heard and understood throughout the State, nationally and internationally.

AmCham’s CEO and also board member in Australia is Niels Marquardt, a highly-experienced former diplomat. Mr Marquardt has superintended missions all over the world, his last posting being the United States Consul-General in Sydney for three years. He’s the driving force behind this strong pro-business initiative.

Articulate, busy and friendly, Marquardt is the type of man to whom listening is easy, a ‘user-friendly sort of guy’, being a fitting epithet. Thirty-three years in the foreign service of his country carries with it an inclusive, knowledgeable pedigree yet there is nothing ostentatious about him. Stepping from the Department of State into the leadership role at AmCham in Australia in 2013 was a natural transition.

Discussing AmCham’s determined commitment to Western Sydney, he is consummately persuasive rather than manifesting speculative vacuity. When he reflects upon the limitless opportunities that Greater Sydney West offers, his antenna is engaged and definitively pointed towards the region as a dynamo of opportunity.

“For too long, AmCham has missed the action on the sunny side of Pyrmont,” he says drily. “There are huge opportunities out here in the west. We intend to access them and expand our commitment to foster business growth and development.”

The initiative reflects a keen eye for furthering business endeavour that has followed him wherever he was posted. Marquardt always made it his mission to nurture existing AmChams and encourage their development.

“As a diplomat, I liaised with the local AmCham and if there was none, sought to establish one.”

He had considerable success in doing so, pointing to Cameroon, Madagascar and Equatorial Guinea as examples of AmCham’s spread on the African continent and nearby.

So what is it about this prestigious organisation of which everyone’s heard but most know so very little about? AmCham has had impressive growth and boasts 150 chamber affiliates in 108 countries. The largest outside of the USA is located in China containing more than 2,600 individual members and over 1,200 companies. The Philippines enjoys its status as the world’s oldest foreign chamber.

Apart from the prestige that the brand of itself affords to membership, joining AmCham provides immediate practical advantages including networking on a B2B basis, access to a range of benefits, information to members, visibility and persuasiveness. It has been founded on strong precepts of fearless advocacy, the acquisition of knowledge to empower its members and pursues a principled role in nurturing business endeavour.

Any thought that AmCham is an exclusive club in which the mega-rich luxuriate in long lunches is quickly debunked. Rather this is a buoyant advocacy mechanism, helping, guiding and facilitating no matter how small or how big the member enterprise.

“We at AmCham are endowed with an awareness of history that intones a sense of proportion and the capacity for development through visionary expansion. After all, Hewlett Packard started in a backyard shed seventy years ago.”

Recognising that effective representation on behalf of businesses to government both here and overseas must be buttressed by knowledge and up-to-date information, AmCham has established standing committees and working groups on human capital, energy and resources, innovation, food and beverage, defence and security, health and taxation.

Delegations are frequently organised to Canberra to confer with government leaders and senior public servants, where the credibility and track record of AmCham for speaking its mind at these forums has gained much respect.

“Its global brand means that doors are opened,” he states matter-of-factly.

With a federal election looming, there has been debate about the taxation of trans-national companies and foreign investment. AmCham is wholly committed to support the free market system.

John Roskam, head of the think-tank IPA recently observed thatbetween 1990 and 2010 the number of people living in extreme poverty in the world fell by one billion. In China alone in the three decades to 2010, 680 million people escaped extreme poverty. Those are huge numbers and, Roskam argues, are the result of the expansion of capitalism and free markets. Of the seven billion people on the planet, one billion still live in poverty. Roskam says, “The way to get those one billion out of poverty is by using the methods that have been proved to have worked in the past.”

AmCham endorses this philosophy and is keen to dispel misconceptions about foreign investment.

“It’s essential to a healthy economy. You may be surprised to know that the greatest capital investments by far in Australia are made by U.S. companies. They rank many times higher than China,” observes Marquardt.

Noting Boeing’s presence in Australia for ninety years, he lauds the Australia/USA comity of language, culture, good attitudes, business ethics and simple currency exchanges that makes Australia a pre-eminent place to invest. But he adds that it works both ways too for Australian companies like Westfield, BHP Billiton and Invetech have made massive successful investments in the United States.

In his time as a diplomat, Marquardt never saw two countries more closely aligned than Australia and the United States.

“Tens of thousands of jobs have been created by U.S. investment in Australia. The tyranny of distance is no longer a barrier to that relationship with seven flights a week to the US.”

Speaking of its reach, Mr Marquarndt describes the not-for-profit AmCham as apolitical and fiercely independent but sharing a universal ethos.

“We operate within a strong, principled compass and have a sense of social corporate responsibility, honesty and transparency.”

Functioning under such philosophies engenders trust amongst its members and affiliates.

Recently, founder of PayPal Peter Thiel gave a talk at Hamilton College in the United States arguing that when Einstein supposedly said that compound interest was the most powerful force in the universe, he was looking at personal ethics in business and in life.

“This isn’t just about finance or money, but it’s about the idea that you’ll get the best returns in life from investing your time in building durable friendships and long-lasting relationships,” said Thiel.

These are sentiments are supported by AmCham not merely through paying lip service to them but in a practical sense.

AmCham’s members can join the yearly visit to the United States where the connectivity of the organisation leads to doors being opened with other businesses as well as affording an entrée to government. Alternatively, if members so choose, they can undertake trips as individuals and still enjoy all that AmCham’s back-up can provide.

“If you want to visit some of the powerhouse cities say, New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, AmCham will assist and open doors.”

Overcoming common pitfalls in doing business in the States is something AmCham is conscious of facilitating. Unlike Australia, at a corporate level, there are three levels of taxation to consider, Municipal, State and Federal.

“Dealing with hurdles is AmCham’s forte. There are incentives too and we can refer Aussie businesses to those with expertise to assist in navigating these waters. This also includes acquainting entrepreneurs with the E3 visas, only available to Australians.”

AmCham also identifies worthwhile conventions and conferences. Last year Mr Marquardt led a group of Australian business people to the Innovation Mission that took in San Diego and Silicon Valley. They visited General Electric in San Ramone and met CEO Meg Whitman of Hewlett Packard.

“American CEOs love taking time-out to meet their Australian counterparts, both small and large. We have had these guys flying thousands of miles to catch up with Aussie business people in order to make connections and to understand their industries and operations.”

This coming October another trip is planned. It will include a visit to Seattle to include corporations like Hoover and Johnson & Johnson. At Stanford University delegates will explore the synergies between business and scientific advances. In February 2017, another visit to Silicon Valley is planned with a focus on the vital importance of cyber security.

Marquardt says that Australia has always been a very attractive destination for investment.

“We’re against any regulatory or tax measures that might discourage this trend. AmCham is about demonstrating in a practical sense that capitalism and the free market ideas are neither selfish nor self-centred. After all, a market needs two people to trade as one can't trade with oneself. A free exchange in a free market produces a win-win situation.”

In 2009 in an essay entitled 'The Education of a Libertarian', consistent with these sentiments, it’s worth visiting Thiel again when he wrote - 'I remain committed to the faith of my teenage years, to authentic human freedom as a precondition for the highest good. I stand against confiscatory taxes, totalitarian collectives, and the ideology of the inevitability of the death of every individual. For all these reasons, I still call myself 'libertarian'.”

With its Greater Western Sydney Chapter ready to commence activities, at a local level, experience has shown that well-organised functions with energetic speakers provide the opportunity for B2B contacts and networking.

“It’s a subtle thing at these AmCham luncheons. We don’t just draw a lottery and plonk people anywhere but seat them where they are likely to connect. Our aim is to grease the skids of commerce. When we place people in a room, things happen.”

August will mark AmCham’s inaugural function with a business luncheon. AmCham Board member and PepsiCo’s Managing Director for Australia and New Zealand, Robert Reitbroek, (formerly CEO from Kimberly Clark) will be the guest speaker. There will be a Q and A session following his talk.

“This fellow has one of the smartest marketing minds I’ve ever encountered and we anticipate drawing up to five hundred for this fantastic event,” says Marquardt.

The success of the Greater Western Sydney AmCham initiative depends on the response. Marquardt is optimistic about there being an enthusiastic one and has grounds for that belief.

“North, south and east of Sydney is constrained by geography. Opportunities in the Greater West are limitless. We intend to get to know the community out here so come along and give us a go. You won’t be disappointed.”


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