Business Council Hosts Luncheon in Honor of New U.S. Ambassador to the U.A.E.October 17, 2019
The U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council hosted a luncheon on Wednesday October 16th in Washington, D.C. in honor of recently confirmed U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates John Rakolta, Jr. to begin introducing him to the U.S.-U.A.E. business community.
The luncheon provided U.S. and U.A.E. business executives with an opportunity to engage in substantive dialogue on the U.S.-U.A.E. commercial and trade relationship with Ambassador Rakolta as well as his counterpart, U.A.E. Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba.
From L to R: U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council President Danny Sebright, U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates John Rakolta Jr., and U.A.E Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba
Ambassador Rakolta began the luncheon by emphasizing his sincere desire to hear from U.S. businesses about their priorities in the U.A.E. and to hit the ground running in working to build even closer U.S.-U.A.E. business ties.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Abu Dhabi Marcelle Wahba and former U.S. Ambassador to Oman Frances Cook subsequently shared insights gleaned from their experiences in the region. Ambassador Wahba notably observed that Emirati women are “real agents of change.”
General Joseph W. Ralston, former Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, spoke about the longstanding defense and security ties between the U.S. and U.A.E., recalling a phone call from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed volunteering the U.A.E. to participate in allied operations in Kosovo. Ambassador Al Otaiba stressed that the U.S. remains the U.A.E.’s key security partner and the “first, second, and third choice” for military cooperation and defense equipment.
Ambassador Rakolta addresses attendees
Discussion then turned to the U.A.E.’s flourishing tech space. David Roth, Director for International Public Policy at Amazon, spoke about the company’s 1,500 employees in the U.A.E. and its landmark acquisition of Souq.com. Moreover, Cisco Senior Vice President and Chief Government Strategy Officer Michael Timmeny noted the U.A.E.’s remarkable progress in this vertical, highlighting the U.A.E.’s appointment of a Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, His Excellency Omar Al Olama.
Afterwards, Christian LeNoble, President and Country Manager for ExxonMobil in the U.A.E., lauded the transformations underway at ADNOC under His Excellency Sultan Al Jaber to increase oil and gas production. Other oil and gas executives spoke of the importance of newly emerging digital technologies in this sector.
The thriving healthcare relationship between the U.S. and U.A.E. was then highlighted by Robert Stall, Executive Director for International Relations at Cleveland Clinic, who spoke about the hospital’s partnership with Mubadala Investment Company to build Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. Representatives from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Johns Hopkins Medicine elaborated on their activities with the U.A.E.., and Lesley Macherelli, Director at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, discussed the importance of healthcare diplomacy. Ambassador Al Otaiba added that 1,000 to 1,500 Emiratis receive medical treatment in the U.S. at any one time.
Ambassador Al Otaiba speaks with guests
Jahaan Johnson, Senior Vice President for Global Government Affairs at Citi, spoke about the opportunities for U.S. companies in the U.A.E.’s financial services sector. Paddy Mishra of Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank spoke next about the advantages of consolidation in the U.A.E.’s banking sector.
After a brief discussion of recent VAT and excise taxes, the conversation concluded with a discussion about Expo 2020 Dubai and the importance of having a U.S. Pavilion. As part of its partnership with Expo 2020 Dubai, Krista Pilot, Senior Vice President for Public Policy at PepsiCo, noted that PepsiCo has committed to having the Expo 2020 logo on 4 billion packages in the year ahead.
Finally, Chinese competition with the U.S. in the U.A.E. market permeated the discussion throughout lunch and with regard to every business vertical. Emirati partners reiterated repeatedly that if they cannot get key technology required for their legitimate self-defense needs or to build their digital economy, they will have no choice but to turn to others.
In his closing remarks, U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council President Danny Sebright said, “I know I speak on behalf of the entire Business Council, its members, and the business community when I say that we sincerely look forward to working closely with you in the coming years.”
For more information about Ambassador Rakolta, please see the below biography.
Ambassador John Rakolta, Jr.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.A.E
U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi
Prior to being confirmed by the U.S. Senate as U.S. Ambassador to the U.A.E., John Rakolta, Jr. was the seventh individual to lead Walbridge, a leading construction company, in its 100-year history.
He joined the company in 1971 as an estimator and held positions of increasing responsibility. He became President in 1979, and succeeded his father as Chairman and CEO in 1993.
During his tenure, Walbridge grew from a regional constructor with annual sales of $40 million in the mid-1970s to a global entity registering sales of more than $1.5 billion in 2016. Walbridge is an acknowledged industry leader in the areas of safety, quality and lean construction.
Ambassador Rakolta has been a leader in both business and the community, especially in the area of race relations and corporate citizenship.
A third-generation Romanian-American, Ambassador Rakolta has served as Romania’s Honorary Consul General to the United States in Detroit since 1996.
Ambassador Rakolta received a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from Marquette University in 1970 and later completed the Smaller Company Management Program at Harvard Business School.
Ambassador Rakolta and his wife, Terry, have four children: Eileen, Lauren, Paige and John III.Back to News