Anna Throne-Holst, President of the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce in New York
Interviewed by Peter Berlin
Anna Throne-Holst has a master’s degree in public administration and international affairs. She has previously worked at the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping. In 2008 she became a member of the Southampton Town Board on Long Island. After serving as a board member for two years, she won election to the position of town supervisor. She was re-elected to the position two more times. She chose not to run for re-election as town supervisor in 2015. Instead she opted to run as a Democratic candidate for Congress but was not elected. On April 4, 2018, she took up her position as President of SACC-NY.
Please tell us about your backgroundand how you became interested in public service.
My grandfather, Johan Throne-Holst, was a Norwegian political activist. He was also the founder of the very successful Norwegian chocolate manufacturing brand Freia, as well as the equally well-known Swedish brand name Marabou. I was born in Norway of an American mother and a Swedish father, grew up in Sweden and have spent my adult life in America. As for my interest in public service, my parents instilled in me the notion that one has a duty to give something back to society.
What prompted you to transition from being the Town Supervisor of Southampton to becoming the President of SACC-NY?
Towards the end of my term as Town Supervisor, I ran for Congress. However, when the Democrats lost the 2016 presidential election, I also failed to be elected. I was approached by SACC-NY to serve as their President, so I seized the opportunity to manage and help modernize this venerable 112-year-old organization with its 13 full-time staff and the chance to circle back to my Swedish roots.
Please describe your day-to-day activities at SACC-NY.
We have basically three activity streams. The first is communications and outreach whereby we organize some 50 events every year, such as the classic Swedish holiday get togethers, like kräftskivor and Lucia festivities, but we are mostly focused on B2B networking and business development events, which make up the very large majority of our events roster, including conferences on a variety of topics ranging from innovation to sustainability. The third stream is serving as a launch pad for Swedish companies that wish to establish themselves in the United States. To assist them, as well as help connect and better serve our large corporate members, we are launching a 20,000 square foot innovation platform with desks, office and conferencing space. We also publish newsletters and maintain a website. So that gives you an idea what my working day looks like.
How are Swedish businesses and business people viewed in New York?
Very favourably. U.S. venture capitalists are particularly keen on Swedish start-ups because of their innovation, high quality, dedication to sustainability, and gender equality. It also helps that Swedish companiestend to be undervalued compared to their American equivalents, which makes them attractive for investment. There is no doubt that their predecessors, the large well known and established Swedish corporations like Sandvik, Volvo, Ericson, etc have paved the way!
How are the regional chambers of SACC-USA financed?
Mainly through membership, sponsorship, and event fees.
The SACC-USA Trainee Program provides U.S. companies with interns and trainees from Sweden. Does the program also work the other way around (from the U.S. to Sweden), and is SACC-NY actively involved?
The answer is yes. SACC-NY currently has three Swedish students in scholarship programs here in New York, as well as an equal number of apprentices. We also support a program sending US students to apprentice in Sweden.
On June 1 the White House implemented the dreaded tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from the E.U. This will presumably upset Swedish industry, particularly in the steel sector. Will it also have an effect on the work of SACC-NY?
It already has, in the sense that we receive many queries on the tariffs and their consequences for Swedish-American trade. I personally have always been a strong advocate of open and free trade, and write and speak on the subject frequently. By implementing the tariffs, the U.S. Administration is demonstrating a great deal of ignorance about the benefits of free trade. It also remains to be seen what of this will in fact “stick” and not get reversed.
How does SACC-NY coordinate and collaborate with the other SACC regional chambers in the United States?
With the launch of our Gateway platform we will be offering them free access to our facilities and all the related events at no charge. In our newsletter we pass on information that the other chambers wish to disseminate through our network, and we also refer start-up companies to them if the nature of their business seems better suited in their regions, rather than New York. But there is more to do in the way of creating synergy among the regional chambers.
Does SACC-NY cooperate with other Swedish organizations active in North America?
Emphatically yes! We are very active in Team Sweden USA, which is a network of government authorities, agencies and companies that all work to promote Swedish exports abroad.
According to a newspaper article, you are “carbon-footprint conscientious.” Tell us about your pre-occupation with global warming, green energy and related ecological issues.
This is a passion of mine, and I am committed to the green agenda. For example, as Town Supervisor I was the chief instigator behind Southampton’s bold “green code” legislation for new buildings and pools. I also saw to it that our Town became the first to ban plastic shopping bags and also founded The NYS Clean Water Technology incubator at SUNY. I think it is important to help Americans understand that pursuing a green agenda can also be profitable expressed in dollars and cents, and is therefore good for business. Sweden and Swedish businesses are a great showcase for that!
How old are your children? Are they fluent in Norwegian or Swedish, in addition to English?
My sons are 24, 29 and 31 years old, and my foster child is 29. The boys all speak Swedish and English.
Do you maintain ties with Sweden?
Absolutely! My frequent travels to Sweden on business give me a welcome opportunity to keep in close contact with my siblings and old friends.