Remarks at Studentafton, Lund University,

Hello, everyone!  It’s a great pleasure to be here in Lund.  I’d like to thank the Studentafton organizers, including chairperson Madina Refoi, for inviting me and Professor Johannes Lindvall for moderating the conversation tonight.  I understand that Professor Lindvall and I are about the same age, which is nice because it’s good to have some generational backup here on stage!

I arrived in Sweden to serve as the U.S. Ambassador almost exactly a year ago and, it goes without saying, that it has been a very eventful year — not only due to the pandemic, but personally as well.  I’ve been learning what it means to work in public service, something that I’ve always wanted to do, but a type of work that is very different from what I have done in the past.  This year, as you all know, is also an election year in the United States, which makes things even more interesting.  I don’t doubt it has been an eventful year for all of you at Lund University too.

Because of the pandemic, we’ve had to do things differently at the U.S. Embassy.  Not only have we had to adapt how we interact with the Swedish government, but, as some Swedish business travelers and students, and even Swedes generally, may have discovered,  some of our most basic functions, such as our Consular services, have had to radically change.  The Embassy’s Consular Section usually has lots of visitors every day, and we’ve been forced to curtail that.  At the beginning of the pandemic, our focus naturally turned to helping American citizens in Sweden: either in trying to get them home or helping out in any way we could.  To mitigate risk to our team members locally, those at the Embassy who could work from home have been doing so.  That has posed its own challenges when we are tasked to manage relations between Sweden and Washington, with a six-hour time difference, and everyone dispersed and using systems prone to cyberattacks and infiltration by hostile regimes.

So, while adapting to how the Embassy works and learning the history, culture, and customs of this great country, as well as managing the day-to-day business of keeping our relations strong and growing in spite of COVID-19, I’m sorry that it has taken me so long to get to Lund. But I’m very happy to be here now.

As I mentioned, I’m not a career diplomat.  I started my career as an entrepreneur.  After graduating from Stanford, I did not join a large, established firm, but instead I found my first job working for a small fund making  investments with a friend from university, Peter Thiel.  Our office was in a former broom closet with no windows.  It was so small that every time Peter left, I had to scoot my chair in as far as I could so he could get out the door.  However, we wanted to be on Silicon Valley’s famous Sand Hill Road, and that was all we could afford.

While working in our broom closet, our fund became the first investor in a small encryption company called Field Link.  Field Link was doing encryption for the most cutting-edge technology at the time:  the Palm Pilot.  Do any of you remember the Palm Pilot?  It was sort of a forerunner to smart phones but without cell phone functionality, where you could keep your contacts and calendar and use the screen with a stylus.  Well, intrigued by Field Link’s vision, but even more so by their excellent Chief Technology Officer, I decided to join their founding team and see where we could go with Palm Pilot encryption.

Not long after joining, a group of us from Field Link were at a local Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto for lunch.  Being recent graduates, our budgets were tight, so when the check came, complex discussions began about how we would split the bill.  In the middle of that conversation someone remarked, “wouldn’t it be nice if we could just use our Palm Pilots to ‘beam’ money to each other?”  Everyone stopped, thought, and the next thing I knew, we were changing our Palm Pilot encryption company into an ePayments company.

Several friends and I founded PayPal in 1998, but we had to try five different business models before we found one that worked.  In addition, our “brilliant idea” to beam money between Palm Pilots was called one of the ten worst ideas of the year by a local technology publication.  Not exactly a confidence booster.  It wasn’t until users started using PayPal to accept payments for eBay auctions that we really were able to find success.

When I think back on that experience, I often wonder how we did it.  No one from the PayPal team had payment experience; most of us didn’t even have Internet experience.  It was a huge risk to invest all that money and time – years! – on something outside our expertise.  However, by seeing the opportunity where others didn’t and madly embracing the unknowns of where that opportunity would take us, we were ultimately able to find huge success.

After nearly 20 years as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, I decided to embrace another unknown by leaving the private sector to serve in government.  Although being Ambassador doesn’t exactly carry the same risks as starting a company, it is quite unlike anything I have ever done.  Since I arrived, I have made it a point to get out and to meet as many Swedes across your amazingly diverse and beautiful country as possible.

I think that seeing opportunity where others don’t and fiercely embracing the unknown are qualities that many people in the United States and Sweden share, and I would suggest that is also why the our two countries are so successful in creating new exciting companies.  Just last week, The Economist reported on the large rise in startups in the United States during the pandemic and the positive prospects of that development for the U.S. economy and employment.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there were similar reports about Sweden.  One of the key elements of the U.S.-Swedish relationship is our economic relationship, and I am very pleased to report that our trade and investment ties are strong.  Today, we trade $25 billion worth of goods and services annually.  We have also invested over $90 billion in each other’s economies, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.  Sweden is the 13th-largest investor in the United States.

Entrepreneurship is helped enormously by fundamentally strong economies where the possibility for success is greatly enhanced.  By being sound and strong partners, the United States and Sweden provide the frameworks for entrepreneurial success.  That can be seen in Silicon Valley and the Stockholm Region — second only to Silicon Valley in producing ‘unicorns’, a term for  a privately held startup worth more than $1 billion.  I gather that Skåne Region also has a significant share of startups, particularly in the medical field, and much of that innovation is being sparked by this university.

Another shared value of Americans and Swedes is the concept of serving the greater good.  I come from a family in Texas that believes in public service, so when the President asked me to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, I jumped at the chance.  It is a privilege to represent the United States in any country.  But it is a particular privilege to serve as the U.S. Ambassador in a country like Sweden, one of America’s most important partners in Europe and a force for good in the world.

The relationship between the United States and Sweden has deep roots.  Almost four centuries ago, during the reign of Queen Christina, Swedes established a colony in present-day Delaware.  And in 1783, Sweden was the first non-belligerent country to recognize our new republic as an independent country.  (My most distinguished predecessor, Benjamin Franklin, had a hand in that.)

Since that time our relationship has only grown stronger, in large part because of the millions of Swedes who emigrated to the United States and helped make our country what it is today.  Roughly four million Americans can trace their roots back to Sweden and the United States continues to welcome on average close to 4,000 Swedish students to U.S. colleges and universities each year, as well as hundreds of thousands of other Swedish visitors.

Sweden is one of our most trusted and reliable partners in addressing many of the complex issues we face globally – issues like China, North Korea, the Arctic, Russia, Belarus, Afghanistan, Iraq, development aid, and nuclear non-proliferation, to name just a few.

As Ambassador, I want to:  strengthen our security and defense cooperation in order to counter the challenges posed by non-democratic regimes; prioritize deepening our economic cooperation to promote the mutual prosperity of both our countries; and, building on these two pillars, develop even greater connections between our peoples through artistic, cultural, and scientific programs and exchanges. Speaking to you here in Lund is a big part of developing greater connections between our two countries.  Whether you decide to take a degree in the United States or start working after you have graduated, in almost every field, industry or service, our two countries come into contact with each other.  The relationship only grows stronger the more we know about each other and the more connections that we have.

Before I end my prepared remarks, I would like to provide a little background on the electoral process in the United States.  In spite of all the reporting about the U.S. election in the Swedish press, it can be hard to understand at times.  Now, for those of you who have had Professor Lindvall’s introductory political science class here at Lund, this may already be clear, but I presume not all of you have had that opportunity.

I suspect that a number of you would really like me to speculate about who is going to win the presidential contest on November 3rd and why.  Unfortunately, I can’t do that – other than to say it will almost certainly be a Democrat or a Republican.  Even if I had a crystal ball that told me the outcome, I couldn’t share that information because of rules that forbid me, and all U.S. government employees, from engaging in partisan politics or giving the impression that I support one party over the other.  As an executive branch employee, I support the objectives of the U.S. government, not a political party.

But, of course, I can talk about the U.S. process.  First, it is not just a matter of deciding who will be President (or Vice President).  In two weeks, American citizens will also elect 435 Members of Congress, 35 Senators, plus state governors and thousands of other state and local officials.  Second, it is admittedly a long process. Candidates for president often announce their candidacy a year or two before Election Day in order to build their campaign teams and start fundraising.  In part that is because we have such a long nominating process for the two major parties, that takes up the better part of a year.  That process consists of the primaries and caucuses that we saw in the spring, and the (largely virtual) party conventions this summer.  In addition, the United States is a big country, by population and geography, and candidates who are often known well in only one state, have lots of ground to cover if they hope to be elected.  It is really after the first weekend in September that the campaign between the parties starts in earnest.

Page BreakThere is not a lot written in the U.S. Constitution about the process of picking our top leaders.  There are requirements of age, citizenship, and how long one must have lived in the United States to be a candidate for higher federal office.  There are stipulations about term lengths – and there are the provisions about the Electoral College, which is perhaps the most confusing part of our electoral system.  The way the Electoral College is selected has changed since the United States was founded, but its function, as the mechanism that decides who becomes President, and, its design, to give every state a say in the outcome of the presidency, has remained.  Each U.S. state has two senators and a number of representatives in the House of Representatives.  My home state of Texas has two Senators and 36 Representatives, so it has 38 electoral votes.  While North Dakota, for example, has two senators and only one representative, or three electoral votes.  The total for the country is 538 electoral votes and, as the Constitution states, the next President must get a majority of them, or at least 270.  That will be the magic tally that you see as the target on election night, with states colored blue or red depending on which candidate has gotten the most popular votes in a state.  In other words, a U.S. Presidential election is really 50 smaller elections combined into one large one.  Statisticians have made a sport out of dissecting polls from each state to draw conclusions about how the various states might add up.  And like any exciting sport where the stakes are high, it will make for great television viewing November 3rd and 4th.  I’m already planning my all-nighter and I imagine I’m not the only person in this room doing so.

I want to thank you all again for inviting me here to speak to you and I’m eager to hear what’s on your minds.  To start, Prof. Lindvall and I are going to have a discussion for several minutes. Then I will be happy to take your questions.  Thank you very much!