Remarks at the Awards for Corporate Excellence

Antony J. Blinken
Deputy Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 1, 2016

DEPUTY SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. Good morning, everyone. Thank you all for joining us today, both here in Washington and online from around the world. It is a great pleasure to welcome our distinguished guests, including Ambassador Gianelli and Ambassador Vinh, and our colleagues and indispensable partners from the business community.

It is my honor this morning to open the 17th annual Secretary’s Award for Corporate Excellence, even though, as you may have noticed, I’m not the Secretary.

He very much wanted to be here, not least because he believes deeply in the power and potential of American enterprise and entrepreneurship to shape a world that is just a little bit healthier, a little bit wealthier, and a little bit wiser. But we’ll have an opportunity to hear from him a little bit later.

This morning, I also want to start by recognizing our extraordinary team that leads the work of over 270 embassies, consulates, and missions in their support to U.S. companies abroad: Cathy Novelli, our Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment; and Charlie Rivkin, our Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs. Thank you for the extraordinary work that you’re doing every single day. Really appreciate it. Thank you. (Applause.)

So we’re gathered here this morning in the Benjamin Franklin Room, and I don’t think there is a more fitting place for this particular event. The room, of course, is named for our very first diplomat, and perhaps our most eccentric one.

Ben Franklin charted the Gulf Stream, he pioneered the study of electricity, he authored America’s first diplomatic treaty, he helped forge a new ethos of self-government – and virtually all of this he did while not sober. (Laughter.)

He was an innovator, one of our nation’s greatest. He never met a problem he couldn’t solve and he never crafted a solution that didn’t occur to the benefit of all.

Which is to say that he probably would have handed out a few pints with his awards this morning, but he would have been very glad to celebrate corporate excellence with all of you today.

As President Obama and Secretary Kerry have made clear, economic leadership is a cornerstone of our nation’s strength and standing worldwide.

When American commerce has raced with the trade winds or sped along broadband cables, it has brought prosperity and opportunity not only through good jobs and good profits, but through high standards of principle and practice.

Practices that strengthen local communities rather than displace them.

Practices that shape investments for long-term growth instead of just short-term gain.

That foster new innovation ecosystems rather than enrich and embolden entrenched interests in power.

And practices that sustainably manage our precious resources rather than drain them.

In driving a race to the top, our business represents the best of America in every corner of the world, and it shows.

In my own travels, I’ve noticed there’s one thing, without fail, that attracts people around the world to the United States.

It’s not always our policies.

And it isn’t even our politics, hard as that may be to imagine. (Laughter.)

It is our courage to aim high, our commitment to fair rules, our capacity to translate possibility into opportunity for all. In other words, it’s the profound attraction of American innovation, of American entrepreneurship, of the American way of doing business in which doing well and doing good are flip sides of the very same coin.

It’s a perception that has been forged because leaders in American business – leaders like yourselves – recognize that corporate social responsibility is not merely a complement to business, it is the core of business.

This is even more important because the goals that we’re trying to achieve around the world – from building global health, energy, and food security to expanding access to education for refugees – are only possible with the ingenuity, the engagement, and the leadership of the private sector.

We need the depth of expertise and commitment that you all bring to the table today more than ever before.

As U.S. companies invest in new generations of skilled workers, as they demand transparency, as they adhere to the highest labor, environmental, and intellectual property standards, and expand access to global markets, they do more than spur growth – as important as that is. They shape an enabling environment that allows good governance to thrive, the rule of law to take root, and individuals to reach their full potential.

If you asked experts fifty or a hundred years ago what constitutes the wealth of a nation, the answer that you’d probably get is, “Well, it’s the expanse of its land mass, the size of its population, the strength of its military, its abundance in natural resources.”

And, of course, all of those things still matter. They’re still important. But I think what we know now is that in the 21st century, the true wealth of a nation can be found in its human resources and their ability to be creative, innovative, entrepreneurial. Countries that unleash that potential, no matter how big or small, no matter how abundant they are in those other resources – countries that unleash that full potential will thrive in the 21st century.

That is the wealth of nations in the 21st century.

And that is the very potential that all of you are helping to unlock through leadership that stands out and sets us apart, and sets you apart. It’s a great privilege this morning to help recognize that excellence and celebrate it as a model to inspire and energize others.

And now, it is my great pleasure to introduce a message from the Secretary of State, who wanted to convey his gratitude and pride in each of you.

Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)

(Video plays.)