Remarks at the 15th Annual Awards for Corporate Excellence

John Kerry
   Secretary of State
Patrick F. Kennedy
   Under Secretary for Management 
Kris Urs, Acting Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
January 29, 2014

ASSISTANT SECRETARY URS: Well, I want to wish a very good morning to everyone this morning. I’m delighted to welcome you here to the Benjamin Franklin Room at the State Department. I’m Kris Urs, the acting Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs.

The Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs works closely with U.S. businesses across a wide-range of activities, including assisting companies in their efforts to operate responsibly and sustainably overseas, negotiating trade and other international economic agreements, and promoting democracy, free markets, fairness, and other American values.

In line with the Secretary of State’s focus on the importance of economics in our foreign diplomacy, we have made economic issues a core component of our foreign policy. Partnerships with companies are essential to promote U.S. interests and values. We are here today to honor U.S. companies that contribute to that mission through their exemplary corporate citizenship.

These three U.S.-based companies have done exceptional work in giving back to the communities where they do business. They are setting the highest standards for responsible business conduct through sustainable development and showing the world that it’s indeed possible to do well by doing good.

I want to emphasize the crucial role that American businesses play around the globe, representing our country and our values. The importance that we attach to the role of U.S. companies as global ambassadors for responsible and sustainable economic growth is reflected in Secretary Kerry’s presence here today, to announce the winners of the 2013 Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence. Now I would like to introduce Patrick Kennedy, the Under Secretary of State for Management.

Patrick Kennedy chaired the 2013 ACE Interagency Principle Selection Committee that reviewed the 43 nominations submitted by our embassies overseas for the Secretary’s Award for Corporate Excellence.


UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Thank you very much, Kris. I’d like to extend a warm welcome to our many distinguished guests who are here today, and a very, very special welcome to those joining us by satellite from Cameroon, Honduras, and Mexico.

In recognizing American firms for their exemplary corporate social responsibility, the Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence underpins an important aspect of America’s economic diplomacy. Secretary Kerry is committed to putting economic work squarely at the center of our foreign policy. Our active economic engagement ties to State Department toward Americans, whether they work on farms or in factories, offices and stores, care about jobs. We’re helping to create opportunities for upward mobility and economic growth for our nation and our children’s future. I can tell you the State Department is committed to those goals, and is working tirelessly to fulfill them. And as we continue this work, the State Department demonstrates to American businesses, workers, farmers, and innovators, that what we do in this Department, and in our embassies around the world, clearly and directly benefits them at home, and we will strive to make that link even more apparent.

Essential to supporting world-class U.S. businesses is cooperation with these firms, in stressing the commercial and technical merits of U.S. exports and the competitiveness of U.S. workers. And make no mistake: American firms active around the world represent America and its values. The quality of their products and people and the business practices they adopt overseas is for many millions of people abroad the face of America. And before we get to that, now we have the honor of hearing from Secretary Kerry, who has been a tireless advocate of American businesses abroad, and is the driving force for all that we do in this vital area of American policy.

Please join me in extending a warm welcome to our Secretary of State.

Mr. Secretary.


SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you.

Thank you very, very much, Under Secretary Kennedy, Pat, thank you very, very much. I don't know how Pat does all he does for us, but he somehow juggles this magnificently large portfolio, and he does an incredible job for the Department and the country. And I appreciate his leadership and his partnership in so many different initiatives. I also want to thank Assistant Secretary Kris Urs and his team for the very important work that they have done around the ACE awards and that they do around them every year.

And I’m particularly pleased to welcome all of you here today to the State Department to this wonderful resplendent Ben Franklin room where we can share the significance of these three awards being made today.

I’m delighted to welcome Ambassador Bienvenu Foe-Atangana from Cameroon, Ambassador Milla from Honduras, and Ambassador Medina Mora from Mexico. And we’re very, very grateful for their presence here. And I’m also happy to see – somewhere, where – he was here a minute ago – Congressman Farr from California is here in the audience today because one of his constituents is receiving an award. And I assure you there was no collusion in that at all. (Laughter.)

I particularly want to welcome those who are joining us, participating via satellite in Mexico City, Tegucigalpa, and also Yaounde. They are part of the webcast, and we’re delighted to have them, which are locations of these plants. We’re happy to have them with us here today.

The Secretary’s Award for Corporate Excellence is a special event in my view, to underscore what both Kris and Pat Kennedy have emphasized to you. I do believe that increasingly in this globalized world of extraordinary voracious competition for resources, jobs, revenues, and everything else, economics plays a more and more significant role – the choices that we make in terms of helping our businesses, where our businesses locate, how they locate, what they’re doing, how they do it. All of these things have a profound impact on people’s lives and people’s perceptions of the United States and of other competitors.

There’s a difference between the way we do some business and the way a lot of other countries do some business, and I think we carry in our businesses and in our enterprises our values. And that is a huge part of American foreign policy, our values.

So this is important. It’s important because – it’s important anyway with a burgeoning youth population around the world, extraordinary explosion in numbers of people in various countries, so that 60, 65 percent of some countries are under the age of 30; 50 percent are under the age of 25 or 21; and 40 percent under the age of 18. If these people don’t have jobs, and if we don’t provide them with opportunity, then a lot of bad things can happen. And that affects our security, it affects our prosperity, it affects our choices. That is why it is so important.

It’s also important because in an age of diminishing budgets, being able to attract the private sector to help us leverage engagement in countries can sometimes be the difference between whether or not those countries will be stable or able to market to their populations the prospects of the future, which too many of their citizens, given the world of the internet, are aware of out there. There’s no lack of contact with the rest of the world with everybody nowadays. It’s changed leadership. It’s changed politics. And it has changed diplomacy. We need to change with it, and we need to adopt policies that reflect this.

I also want you to know I have a special appreciation for what it takes to run a small business, or any business. I was chairman of the Small Business Committee for a number of years in the Senate, but more importantly, I started a small business. When I was a board attorney in Boston, I walked out of a restaurant one night with a friend of mine, probably having had too much of a good bottle of wine, and looked out and saw an empty space in Faneuil Hall marketplace. And desperately craving a good chocolate chip cookie at that hour of night, I decided that I was going to make sure they were available for the future. And so within a week, I found myself negotiating with The Rouse Company, then the landlord of Faneuil Hall marketplace, and next thing I knew, I was opening a gourmet food store in Faneuil Hall marketplace in addition to my law practice.

And I learned firsthand just how complicated it is with all of the health requirements and certifications and lease and part-time employees and tax forms, and you name it, to do this simple enterprise. More importantly, I learned about a week before I opened that if I was going to sell cookies I needed a recipe, and I better make some cookies pretty quickly. (Laughter.)

So I want you to know that I turned up the stove at home and I learned about the chemistry of food as I magnified my recipes many times over, and proudly can tell you that in the first year of our existence, we won the Best of Boston, as we did for a number years thereafter until I sold the store so nobody would accuse me of having conflict of interest or anything. But I am proud to tell you – I think I started this in 1980, 1981 – it’s still there today. And I’m very proud of that. (Applause.)

So I have a lot of respect for business, and I think it’s hard enough to do well; it’s even harder to do good as you’re doing well. And those are important choices that we are celebrating here today. Every single one of the winners today have set a high standard, and they’ve all done really remarkable work in communities around the world as a result of the choices that they have made in the corporate board room.

There’s a reason that this award comes from the Secretary of State, because here at the State Department, our mission is to create more secure, democratic, and prosperous – a more prosperous world. But obviously, everywhere that we are in our 275 posts, this is our mission. And we want to benefit the American people and the international community by exemplifying the role that U.S. businesses play in helping our businesses to be able to play this role. I talked earlier about all of the stakes and what it means.

We can only do what we do with the cooperation of the private sector. And through innovative business models and investment in local communities around the world, countless United States businesses are today markedly improving the ability of our nation to continue advancing our economic leadership around the world. We are working hand in hand. We are linked hand to hand, toe to toe. This is really a partnership.

The State Department wants to tell America’s story, and we want to promote our values at the same time. And as I have underscored to you, the relationship with all of our companies around the world is critical in the end to doing that. If people feel they’re just exploited, we lose. If people feel we’re there working with them and for them in a joint effort and respecting their lives, as these companies have chosen to and as many companies do, it makes all the difference.

So let me begin with these awards with the small business category. This year, that award goes to a company that any serious guitar player or any faux guitar player like me knows well – (laughter) – and that is Taylor Guitars.

When Bob Taylor started Taylor Guitars back in 1974, he made a commitment to produce the best instruments from the best materials. And quality ebony is near the top of that list. You all know guitar necks and you see ebony on many of them, most of them. But over the years, ebony has become harder and harder to obtain, and it’s increasingly threatened with extinction because of the illegal harvesting practices that have become common throughout Central African forests. I might add, ebony is one example of this. There are a lot of hardwoods in the Philippines and Burma and other parts of the world where logging practices, illegal smuggling of forest and so forth, is destroying sustainable harvestry and ultimately making extinct various types of wood.

So instead of joining the race to the bottom, in order to procure as much ebony as was possible as cheaply as possible, which is sometimes an instinct people follow, Bob decided to change the race altogether. And what he did was he bought an ebony mill in Cameroon, the only country in the world where it’s still legal to harvest ebony. And through that mill, Bob and Taylor Guitars have fundamentally changed the entire ebony trade.

To start, today we can point to an ebony trade that is more sustainable than ever before. And Bob spent a year in Cameroon after purchasing the mill, and he found out that harvesters used to cut down 10 trees before they found one that contained the all-black wood, which was the kind that would sell internationally. So obviously, 10 for one is the definition of unsustainable. And today, Taylor Guitars uses, as Bob puts it, “the ebony that our forests give us,” and no matter what color it is. He has also gotten competitors on board, so that today guitar makers around the world are changing their definition of “usable” ebony in order to help ensure that it will still be available for decades to come.

The ebony trade is also, as a result of this, safer and more ethical, and – guess what – more lucrative than ever before. Taylor Guitars has become an effective advocate for legal and policy reforms to improve the permitting process around the ebony trade to better protect both the environment and the rights and needs of other forest users. Taylor ensures that its works are protected, and they ensure that their workers likewise benefit as a result of this. The 70 workers that they employ in Cameroon work with state-of-the-art equipment and machinery. This is a huge upgrade from the very dangerous and antiquated machinery that Bob found when he first went to the mill. And the company also provides education and training to its employees so they can make the most out of their skills and reap greater economic benefit from the local resources. And on top of all of that, they’ve doubled the wages that their employees receive.

So ladies and gentlemen, this is absolutely the example of how people ought to do business. We’re so proud to be able to tell this story, as each of these stories, because they’re a wonderful example of the best of corporate citizenship globally. It’s an honor for me to present the 2013 Award for Corporate Excellence to Taylor Guitars, and to invite their president Bob Taylor to the stage to say a few words. (Applause.)

MR. TAYLOR: Wow. Well, I came through these rooms 15 years ago as a tourist on a hot summer day, and it’s quite a different event today – and I’m not just talking about the weather. And Secretary Kerry, if you’d be so kind to travel with me and be my person that gives my speeches, you do a much better job than me. (Laughter.) Thank you very much.

Thank you, Secretary Kerry and Under Secretary Kennedy, Acting Assistant Secretary Urs, and the State Department and other U.S. Government agencies represented here, as well as His Excellency, the Ambassador of Cameroon to the United States. I would also like to extend my gratitude to Ambassador Robert Jackson, Deputy Chief of Mission Greg Thome, and the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon, who have proven vital in securing resources and offering guidance in navigating the cultural complexities of business abroad. I’d also like to recognize Kurt Listug, my business partner of 40 years in Taylor Guitars, and Vidal de Teresa, our business partner in Crelicam. Without their support and insight, this venture would not be possible and I would not be here before you today.

Three years ago, we began the difficult task of assuming ownership of Crelicam, a small sawmill that cuts ebony located just outside of Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. We purchased the business to ensure the legal harvesting of this important species and to guarantee our compliance with the spirit and the law of recent legislation regarding wood harvesting. Our purchase of the business was underscored by the rapid decline of the world’s ebony forests, therefore making Cameroon one of the last places on Earth to harvest ebony.

But we shared a much larger vision, a vision which would serve both the forest and the people by providing business solutions to an environmental problem. Our vision was to transform the way that ebony is harvested, processed, and sold into a new model of responsible social forestry while enriching the lives of our 75 employees through meaningful work. To accomplish this, we assumed the role of guardian of the forest and we operate with the philosophy to use what the forest gives us. To us, this means using ebony of all colors and all variegations, including wood that features spotted or streaked coloring, wood which prior to our involvement would have been left to deteriorate on the forest floor.

In our ongoing work, we are achieving greater transparency in our supply chain through GPS tracking and traceability programs, and establishing ethical sourcing requirements for our suppliers, thereby setting new standards for harvesting ebony. In our mill, we are mentoring sawyers who have previously not been taught to consider preservation of the resource and installing better machinery to maximize yield and minimize waste with the ultimate result of keeping more trees in the forest.

By banishing accepted quid pro quo practices and combatting corruption, we are able to operate transparently and with integrity, demonstrating respect for the forest, our employees, and clients of Crelicam. We have worked with Cameroon forestry officials to strengthen the local forestry laws, and more importantly, to enforce them. Rather than allow illegal operators to contribute to the degradation of the species, Crelicam prides itself on being a part of the solution to the long-term sustainability of the ebony trade and to retain the value of the wood in Cameroon for the Cameroonian people.

Although our primary focus is to harvest ebony, we recognize our moral duty to act in the spirit of compassionate capitalism, to enrich the lives of our employees, and to instill their ownership in the natural resources that their country offers us. As part of this, we have made considerable investments in our employees, offering technical training led by staff from Taylor Guitars in California and Madinter Trade in Spain. We have doubled employee salaries and we offer lunch prepared on an onsite kitchen, clean drinking water, and two breaks per day. Basic safety gear, a standard in Western factories, is now provided and required. Opportunities for teambuilding through recreational activities and monthly birthday celebrations demonstrate our appreciation and have helped to establish an open dialogue between employees and mill leadership, thereby making them partners in our vision. In the words of one of our sawyers, “We have a strong team with open, respectful dialogue, and the management keeps their word. Thus, the working man finds his joy.”

Nonetheless, operating in Cameroon has presented a myriad of complex cultural and business difficulties. The lack of basic infrastructure, from running water to stable electricity, has altered our production goals and the timeline by which we are able to make needed improvements. Continued development of employee skillsets through workforce education and training has been a top priority for us. Machinery and tools, custom designed at our headquarters in California, have been brought in to make improvements in our operations. However, we still find there is need for so much more. Yet with great difficulty comes great reward. And while many more challenges await us, it is with firm resolve that we hold true to our vision, and it is vital to the health of the forest and the people of Cameroon. We say to ourselves that we like to get in for more rather than to get out for less.

The reception of the Award for Corporate Excellence is a wonderful recognition of our accomplishments to date, and I am tremendously honored to accept this award on behalf of my business partner, Madinter Trade, our employees, and the forests of Cameroon. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Bob, thank you very, very much, and thank you to all of your workers and partners and – we are enormously appreciative.

Next up we have the ACE in the large business category, and this year that honor goes to Fruit of the Loom for its efforts in Honduras. Fruit of the Loom first opened its doors in Honduras because they saw the country as a promising place to complement the company’s textile production and distribution facilities in the southeastern United States. But the company, it had to overcome some pretty formidable challenges over the years, and that included the long history of management-labor strife throughout the country – again, one of the reasons that investment in corporate behavior is so critical.

After a contentious labor dispute in 2009 at one of the factories, Fruit of the Loom recognized it was time for a major change. So they partnered with civil society groups in order to develop a groundbreaking collective bargaining agreement with their employees. And this agreement is widely regarded as the most progressive in Honduran labor history. It includes investments in better machinery, free transportation to and from work, free lunches, wage increases – the list goes on. It’s a 180 from the widely accepted unfortunate standards of the past which created a lot of strife and tension, and obviously, difficult perceptions between countries.

It’s become the norm at every single Fruit of the Loom factory in Honduras. And today, the firm’s approach to organized labor and company management has become a model, not just in Honduras but throughout Central America. Let me also add that they’re also making remarkable strides on the environmental front. They currently operate a biomass energy generation plant in Honduras and purchase additional electricity from a hydroelectric facility. Thanks to these and other efforts, they are on track to have 100 percent of their electricity supply for Honduran operations come from renewable sources.

Now, these are truly remarkable achievements, and I am very, very delighted to present the 2013 Large Business Award for Corporate Excellence to Fruit of the Loom. And I would like to welcome Rick Medlin here, the CEO, to come up and accept the award on behalf of Fruit of the Loom. Thank you, Rick. (Applause.) He’s a former Clemson football player, folks. (Laughter.)

MR. MEDLIN: That’s why the orange. (Laughter.) Good morning. It’s my honor this morning on behalf of all of the Fruit of the Loom employees, but especially for our many employees in Honduras. I want to thank Secretary Kerry, the State Department staff, and other members of the selection committee for this prestigious award. We were honored to have been selected as a finalist for the Secretary’s Award for Corporate Excellence, but to actually have been chosen as a winner from amongst such esteemed group of U.S. companies is something that we will celebrate with 32,000 employees in 75 locations around the world.

As Fruit of the Loom – at Fruit of the Loom, our operational guidance is driven by our core values, the basic premise of which is respect for people. We believe that our employees are our most valued asset, and that each and every one of us has a shared responsibility to each other and to the company’s success. Several years ago, when employees in one of our Honduran facilities elected to organize, we knew we needed to forge a new model of labor-management relations if we were going to ensure the long-term sustainability of our operations in Honduras and the many jobs that those operations provide.

Working together with our local Honduran management, the local union board, the CGT labor Federation in Honduras, and labor experts in the U.S., we set about to create that model which had to include the principles of freedom of association, labor’s recognition of the role of management in operating the company’s factories, and responsible collective bargaining on both sides. In order to ensure bipartisan guidance, we established an oversight committee made up of outstanding third-party leaders from labor and business.

As a result of this model, we completed the first real collective bargain agreement in the apparel sector in Central America in 2011. We have now replicated that model successfully in a second Honduran plant, and we are currently in collective bargaining for a third plant. We know that creating the model does not reflect the completion of our journey. We face challenges every day. But the true belief that the model we have created with our Honduran associates and our oversight committee provides a framework for long-term success.

Environmental sustainability is another of our core values at Fruit of the Loom. Mitigating the impact of our operations on the environment has been one of our goals for as long as I can remember. We have almost totally eliminated the waste we send to landfills and have substantially reduced the use of hazardous chemicals throughout our supply chain. But two years ago, we undertook our most ambitious sustainability project to date when we began construction of a biomass electric generation facility in Honduras to supply renewable energy to our plants. This facility will be fueled by king grass grown locally in Honduras.

By the end of this year, we anticipate that our biomass plant, along with our commitment to purchase energy from a hydroelectric facility being built in Honduras, will allow us to transition our entire electric supply for our Honduran operations to renewable resources. These initiatives will also allow us to reach a global corporate goal of reducing our carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent worldwide.

We’re fortunate to have customers who believe in and support the commitments we have made to people and the environment. Receiving the ACE Award represents, for our company, the validation that the hard work and dedication to the values we believe in are recognized and appreciated.

I cannot even attempt to name all the people who have made this recognition possible. I will say a special thanks to our people in Honduras, who have shown great leadership in forging new models of success for the future. We are extremely proud of their accomplishments, and I wish every one of them could be here to accept this award. But on their behalf, I want to express our appreciation for being recognized of this award. Thank you. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Rick, thank you very, very much. Appreciate the accomplishment and your comments very much.

I’m going to have to exit out of here for a phone call with a foreign minister that is coming up momentarily, and I hope you will all forgive me for doing that. But I will introduce our speaker and try and stay through as much of his comments as I can.

I am really pleased to be able to announce that our first ever ACE award for a medium-sized business will be awarded to Plantronics for its work in Tijuana, Mexico. Plantronics – many of you may have used their product; I have. It’s a leader when it comes also to environmental responsibility. And their plant in Tijuana today contains the largest rooftop solar facility in Latin America, which generates enough power to meet 70 percent of the company’s Mexican operating needs. The premium that Plantronics places on environmental stewardship alone probably would be enough to earn them the award of the ACE. But it’s what they do with their employees that really sets them apart. Plantronics does not just value their associates; they invest in them in every way – in their health, in their success, and in their happiness. Their workforce can take advantage of the preventative health care services that Plantronics offers its employees. They can pursue vocational training and career development. More than 2,300 associates have already received master’s degrees and other formal education thanks to programs that Plantronics subsidizes.

One employee, a woman by the name of Cristina Morales, finished high school, got her bachelor’s degree, and today is hard at work on her master’s – all with funding from Plantronics. And I understand that Plantronics even helps its staff get married. (Laughter.) Every year, the company helps dozens of couples to navigate the bureaucracy around getting married in Mexico and hosts a Valentine’s Day wedding ceremony at its offices. They provide invitations, photos – even a wedding gift. And Plantronics helps the newlyweds even apply for housing as a married couple.

Folks, that’s a full-service company. (Laughter.) If that isn’t going above and beyond, I don’t know.

It’s really no wonder that the company has been named the best place to work in Mexico three years in a row. I am really proud that today the State Department can add another title to that list. It’s an honor to present Plantronics with the 2013 Award for Corporate Excellence. And as I welcome Ken Kannappan up here, the CEO, really you ought to applaud for all three of these companies because what you’re seeing here today really is the future now. And it’s exemplary. We are so honored by all of them. But Ken, come on up here and share your thoughts. Congratulations to you. (Applause.)

MR. KANNAPPAN: Thank you, Secretary Kerry, Under Secretary Kennedy, and Acting Assistant Secretary Urs. Good morning, everyone. It is an honor for me to be able to represent the 3,500 men and women of Plantronics. And it’s a privilege to be able to accept this award on their behalf.

There are many remarkable things about Plantronics, but as Secretary Kerry said, it is really our people and our culture that set us apart. I remember when business was booming and the unemployment rate in Tijuana was 0.2 percent. We had 50 openings, and overnight we had 2,000 people applying for positions just through word of mouth. Because people need jobs, but they want careers, and they want an opportunity to contribute something meaningful.

There’s an old story about a couple of workers in a quarry. Somebody comes by and says, “What are you doing?” The first one says, “I’m digging rocks.” The second one says, “I’m building a cathedral.” The difference between perspiration and inspiration is vast. The people at Plantronics are not just making the world’s greatest headsets. We’re helping business people exchange ideas, we’re helping friends to catch up, we’re having families share their love, and if you’re driving in a car, we’re helping you to do it more safely.

The inspiration this has given our team in Tijuana has given us literally hundreds of ideas that we implement each year to improve our quality and to reduce our costs. We know our headsets have to be depended on, whether it is someone working at a 911 station dispatching fire, police, or emergency medical, or someone from the moon. When Neil Armstrong said “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” with a Plantronics headset, the headset had to work. (Laughter.) The FAA told me that as a matter of public safety, they considered it crucial that air traffic controllers use Plantronics headsets.

Mexico has a national quality award. Plamex entered that competition and won. And as a national quality award winner, we were eligible to compete in two international competitions against over 50 other country national award winners, including the Malcolm Baldridge Award winner from the United States, and the Deming Award winner from Japan. We won both of those competitions, which is a real testimony to the extraordinary quality of our products as well as the Plamex organization that produces them.

But of course, whether you’re a Fortune 100 company or somebody looking to play games on your computer, you want great products but you want them at an affordable price. The team at Plamex has come up with ideas that have saved us over $100 million through improvements in product cost and processes. But it isn’t just our existing products that they contribute to. We have a team of over 120 people in Tijuana in our design and develop center that are developing us new products that have added to our revenues, including one that won a Best of Innovations Award at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. This has also, in turn, helped us add to our resources, including in California and the United States, increasing our staffing levels.

Secretary Kerry was kind enough to mention some of the things that we do for our people, and it really is what sets us apart. And as I said, it is that focus combined with our policies towards community engagement, which Alejandro Bustamante will talk about, as well as environmental stewardship that really set us apart.

Across the globe, we are very careful with our conservation of water, of energy, and our waste production. Globally, we have solar facilities in Santa Cruz, in Chattanooga, in the United Kingdom, and in Tijuana. Seventy percent of our power comes from solar. You, hopefully, have seen some images of our plant in the background. Let me tell you that there are very few factory floors with ceilings that are at the lowest point – 35 feet high – with louvered roofs to provide natural light, much less where you can get health services and have sports facilities.

The opportunity for Plantronics to work with our associates and become a global communications leader has really set us apart. Our shareholders have benefited from record levels of revenue and profit; our customers from phenomenal quality and innovation; and our associates in Mexico who help us develop, produce, support, and sell our products. I am very, very fortunate to be able to work with such talented people. The cross-border partnerships that we’ve established with Plamex is a win-win for our customers, for Tijuana, for Santa Cruz, for Mexico, and for the United States.

Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Ken. Congratulations again to Taylor Guitars, Plantronics, and Fruit of the Loom, and to everyone tuning in from Mexico, from Honduras, and from Cameroon. Thank you all for setting such an exemplary example.

As our 2013 ACE winners have shown, American corporate leadership isn’t only about selling guitars or headphones or t-shirts. It’s about bringing our values and our standards to every corner of the world, and that’s what our winners and so many other American businesses are doing every day. Thank you all very much, and let me pass the microphone back to Kris. Thank you. (Applause.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY URS: I wanted just to start by thanking Secretary Kerry and Under Secretary Kennedy for joining us this morning. Thanks very much for their participation. And I want to just reiterate once again, for the guests of honor, congratulations – really marvelous, marvelous achievements.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d now like to turn your attention to one of the three screens in the room. Our chief of missions in the winning countries have been watching the ceremony, and you may have seen them. They’ve peeked on to the coverage from here from moment to moment. Now we’re going to ask them and the local representative of each company to offer a few remarks.

First, I’d like to introduce Greg Thome – Gregory Thome, our Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon. Greg, will you take it away?

MR. THOME: (Inaudible) play guitar all over the world. We are very – just absolutely thrilled that the committee chose Taylor Guitars as one of the recipients of the Secretary’s Award for Corporate Excellence. Of course, everyone knows that Cameroon is blessed with ebony trees, but we all know that ebony is under threat from overexploitation all over the world. We’re very encouraged in Cameroon that one of the most important guitar makers in the world is doing its part to help conserve this species for the production of musical instruments and for other things for generations to come.

Bob Taylor and Secretary Kerry spoke very eloquently about the risks that Taylor took in coming to Cameroon, and about the great things they’ve done not just to help conserve ebony, but also to better the lives of their workers. We’re very proud of them for that. And I can say for those of us who have seen Taylor and Crelicam’s operations up close, it’s no exaggeration to say that this is really what the Secretary’s Award for Corporate Excellence is all about. Taylor exemplifies responsible corporate governance, creating decent jobs and paying fair wages in a developing country, honestly and sustainably harvesting endangered tropical wood, and even ensuring that local communities share in the profit.

But outside of Cameroon, if I could also add, Taylor’s really changing the worldwide conversation about how we use ebony. Everyone understands that ebony-producing countries like Cameroon need to take responsibility for sustainably harvesting this valuable wood. But Taylor is also teaching musicians and guitar players and guitar buyers and hopefully those who listen to the guitar that if the countries where guitars are consumed don’t play a role, the countries where the ebony is produced can’t succeed.

As was mentioned earlier, Bob Taylor has been sending a message out that different varieties of ebony can be used and still produce the world’s best guitars, and as we know, when Bob Taylor talks to guitar players, we all listen. So to this end, this ACE award does more than just honor the good work that Taylor’s doing in Cameroon. It also strengthens Taylor’s efforts to protect ebony far into the future.

So with that, again, congratulations to Taylor, and if I could, I’d like to turn it over to Anne Middleton, who operates the Crelicam plant here, and have her say a few words.

MS. MIDDLETON: Thanks, Greg. I would also like time to personally thank Ambassador Robert Jackson and his wife, and Deputy Chief of Mission Greg Thome and his wife, and the staff at the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon, who have not only tirelessly supported our business endeavors, but have also become great allies and great friends.

Despite the many challenges, we have an excellent team of people working to make this project succeed. And it is with great honor that we are here today to accept this award. Included on that team, of course, are the 75 employees here in Yaounde whose indefatigable work ethic and playful spirit have helped shape what this company is today and what it will be tomorrow.

Businesses can help become solutions to environmental and economic problems, especially if a business is willing to put in the extra effort and investment. We are. And we are very proud to be the recipient of this prestigious award. Thank you to all involved, especially you, Bob. Merci beaucoup. (Applause.)

MR. THOME: Thank you, and with that, we turn it back over to you, Secretary Urs.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY URS: (Inaudible) to Taylor Guitars and to our Embassy in Yaounde and thanks very much for joining us.

Let me now turn, if I can, by phone, I believe, to Ambassador Lisa Kubiske who is our Ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Lisa, are you there?

AMBASSADOR KUBISKE: I am here. Thank you very much, Secretary Urs. The – it’s very exciting and wonderful for Fruit of the Loom to be one of the winners of the ACE Award this year. It is a company that is doing things that help both its own bottom line and the security in Honduras and our message about the importance of good working conditions for workers as a way of recognizing them as people, and also contributing to the stability of the country.

So the Fruit of the Loom operates in a sector called the maquila sector, which is manufacturing for export that provides more than 120,000 jobs in Honduras. So it has an enormous impact. It started with its own companies – or its own plants in Honduras, but now the model is resonating and it’s quite possible that other companies will adopt it as well. So the power of what they have done goes far beyond their own plants.

I want to also recognize the labor confederation with which they were negotiating in the local plant. I’ve spoken to them many times, as I have with the Fruit of the Loom managers, and I can tell you that they have an enormous sense of satisfaction and pride in having been able to show a model in which there are profits for the company and the shareholders, but also workers’ rights according to the ILO’s definition of decent work.

So just to close this out, what Fruit of the Loom has done absolutely, as the Secretary said at the beginning, reflects U.S. values. It’s one of the best things that we can do to recognize the great work that they and their workers have done. Thank you. (Applause.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY URS: Ambassador Kubiske, thanks very much for those remarks, and congratulations to Fruit of the Loom and to our Embassy in Honduras.

And then, finally, I’d like ask Ambassador Anthony Wayne in Mexico to make some remarks. Tony, are you there?

AMBASSADOR WAYNE: Can you hear us yet? Okay, good.

It’s a great pleasure to join all of you and to offer my congratulations to Plantronics for winning this year’s Award for Corporate Excellence from the Secretary of State. It’s a special pleasure that they have won the first ever ACE for medium-sized businesses. Having participated in this process for six years, I know a lot about the excellence of American companies operating overseas, and this recognition is very close to my heart.

When I first heard about all that Plantronics is doing, I knew they were in the top category up there with the best the U.S. shares around the world. Plamex, which is the name of the company in Mexico, is really living the best practices of policies that U.S. companies bring to their communities. Felicidades and congratulations to Ken Kannappan, to Alejandro Bustamante with me here today, to Rosa Ruvalcaba, who’s with you, and to all of the employees of Plantronics, Mexico. This is a very special opportunity.

When I visited the plant recently, I could really see all that you’ve heard a little bit about that they’re putting into practice. They are building high-quality products and creating a workplace that really takes care of its employees, that serves its community, and that’s working comprehensively for a better world. Plantronics’ innovative manufacturing practices have moved operations well beyond the traditional maquiladora assembly in Mexico to a high-tech manufacturing and innovation model with just-in-time production that allows for a highly diverse mix of products. From partnerships with Baja, California’s best universities, to the environmentally responsible practices that you heard about in its newly inaugurated LEED-certified plant, they produce 14 million headset devices annually.

They’re demonstrating every day this exemplary commitment to socially responsible corporate practices. They’ve been an innovator in implementing self-improvement and morale-building opportunities for their employees, as the Secretary mentioned. That includes the career development programs that he cited of continuing in education and includes onsite healthcare for the whole family; it includes parenting classes; it includes a workplace art program that features opera singers and orchestra performances on the assembly floor. And as the Secretary very generously pointed out, it includes supporting employee weddings and wedding receptions and much more.

During my visit to Plamex, I also learned that they have an employee-led committee to decide on what corporate social responsibility efforts they are going to make. And they choose the NGOs and other institutions that they’re supporting based on what causes matter to the employees.

So Plantronics and its workers in Tijuana have given time, effort, and funds to supporting the training center for the visually impaired, a foundation for special-needs children, the Children’s Hospital, the Red Cross, the Tijuana Fire Department, several local orphanages and homes for the elderly, and going out and cleaning up the beaches of Tijuana. These are just some of the examples of all the innovative employment practices that brought Plantronics the honor of three years in a row of Best Place to Work in Mexico.

Congratulations again to Ken, Alejandro, Rosa, and the 2,200 associates who work in Tijuana for demonstrating the very best that U.S. companies can operate when operating overseas. I wish you all continued success in Mexico, around the world, and in the United States. And I want to turn now to Alejandro and ask him to share a few thoughts with us.

MR. BUSTAMANTE: Thank you, Ambassador. Thank you to the State Department, to Ambassador Wayne, to Consul General Erickson. We are very honored for this award. Thank you, Ken, and all Plantronics associates around the world for their support.

Our team in Mexico has done extraordinary work in finding the right balance for us in meeting our stakeholders’ requirements. While creating programs that promote and improve the quality of life of our associates, engaging and exciting associates means that they in turn generate the productivity and efficiencies that our stockholders expect: building systems and processes the delivered products that – and services that delight our customers, and also creating the programs that generate value to our community.

The Plantronics, Mexico operation has become a worldwide benchmark in the fields of manufacturing, customer service, human resources, logistics, technology, environmental protection, and corporate social responsibility, winning more than 200 national or international awards during the last ten years. Our work culture is based on living our values, and for the three consecutive years, we have been named the Best Place to Work in Mexico.

We have developed 188 programs focused on the well-being of our associates, their families, and our community. For example, every year we sponsor a local orphanage with programs focused on bringing to them love and compassion that might be in short supply in their lives. We take these young people to the movies, we take them camping, to pro sports, and also do more activities. One of our associates becomes, in fact, the godfather, buying them gifts, and spending time with them. We talk about values, we buy them school uniforms and books, we go and improve their housing infrastructure. So far, more than 1,600 kids have been benefitted by this program.

Twice a year, our associates and their families volunteer to go participate in cleaning the beaches of Tijuana. Over the last few years, over 1,500 associates have participated in this program. Plantronics (inaudible) environmental best practices with more than 260,000 people in universities, schools, environmental seminars, expos and conferences.

To change the image of Tijuana, we helped coordinated the first (inaudible) conference, a 14-day event attended by more than 600,000 people, that highlighted the best the city has to offer. Our medical services offer professional care to our associates and their families to promote good health and to prevent illness. We also offer 32 different health campaigns such as lose weight and gain health. Our blood donors club and influenza prevention programs have been modeled for other companies in the community.

We offer a career plan for associates so they can prepare for the future, and also look for new opportunities. During the last five years, more than 1,000 associates have been able to grow to a new position within Plantronics, not needing to go outside and find new opportunities to grow.

We created and supported the kids symphony orchestra with our associates’ children. This program was created in conjuncture with the Baja, California Symphony Orchestra, where 32 children are taught to play different musical instruments and playing community events. Our associates’ children learn how to say no to drugs, alcoholism, and smoking, in our annual D.A.R.E program, offered in conjunction with the Tijuana police department. Kids go 30 – through 30 consecutive weeks of lectures of being able to finish the program. As of today, we have graduated 454 kids.

We truly believe that these activities and progress make Plantronics Mexico not only a great place to work; they make us a better business, able to consistently provide to our customers the most innovative and reliable products on the market. Congratulations Plantronics, and thank you all.


PARTICIPANT: Thank you, Alejandro.

UNDER SECRETARY KENNEDY: Thank you Embassy Mexico, and congratulations to Plantronics and also to the Embassy for preparing the – one of the winning submissions.

Guests of honor, ladies and gentlemen, friends and colleagues in Cameroon, Honduras, and Mexico, thank you for joining us today for the Secretary’s Award for Corporate Excellence ceremony. I’m sorry I can’t invite our guests who are participating by either teleconference or phone in Cameroon, Honduras, and Mexico to join us, but I do invite all of us here, everyone here in the Benjamin Franklin Room, to our reception downstairs in the Exhibit Hall, which will begin as soon as we leave. So thank you very much for participating in today’s ceremony, and congratulations to all the winners. Thank you.