Ambassador Robert Sherman’s Economic Capstone Remarks

Boa tarde a todos. Good afternoon to everyone.

Anne, Mariana, Sofia, Antonio, thank you so much for the very poignant and overly generous introduction.  It’s proof of what I’ve learned the last three-years — there are no more kinder, warmer, or sweeter people, anywhere on the face of the Earth, than here in Portugal.  And I want you to know Antonio, that your mentioning the case Spotlight, a case that was very important to me, is particularly timely because this week speaking to the Journalist Congress, the Embassy brought Michael Rezendes, son of Portugal, reporter for the Boston Globe and member of the Spotlight team,  to Portugal to talk to journalists throughout Portugal. So right up to the last minute, we’re working on that.

I want to acknowledge a few people who made it possible for me to be here today, starting with Sofia Tenreiro, the new president of the American Chamber of Commerce.  Sofia, although you’ve only been President of AmCham for a few months, your leadership in the organization and in your own company throughout my three years here has been truly phenomenal.  I know how prized your dynamic, inclusive, open style is at Cisco – since your worldwide CEO John Chambers was telling everyone exactly that at Web Summit – and I know what it will mean for AmCham.  You have made Cisco a valued Embassy partner – and you have become a dear friend to Kim and me.  I know AmCham will benefit from the fresh approach you bring.

I know, because I see it already.  I see you revitalizing and reenergizing this group – looking for ways to not only bring the American business community together, but to harness your collective voices and make it a power for positive change.  And your leadership comes at an important time:  American business is not only alive and well in Portugal, it is blossoming!  And the Chamber’s role in their success is critical.

I want to also acknowledge Graça Didier, who deserves special thanks as well – thank you, Graça, for all we’ve done together these last years on behalf of the Amcham!

To Mariana Abrantes de Sousa and Anne Taylor of the American Club of Lisbon, and Antonio Neto da Silva of the Portuguese American Friendship Association – you all have been good friends and counselors to me during my time in Lisbon.  And I appreciate that more than you know.  Most importantly, thank you for what you’ve done to promote people-to-people engagement between the United States and Portugal each and every day!  Your organizations are the living embodiment of the ties that bind the United States and Portugal together, the links that we must always nurture.  Mariana, I know you’re leaving your position as president, but your presence will always be felt and I salute you for the work you’ve done.

A huge and heartfelt thanks to the sponsors of today’s event.  To AIG, EDP, MDS, PWC, and United Airlines, I would like to say muito obrigado a todos.

I want to acknowledge my good friend, the Minister of the Economy. I’m not going to go into much detail right now, because I’m going to mention him later in my remarks.

To my colleague Allan Katz, who was here a little bit earlier. Oh there he is… He’s the former Ambassador and he’s sneaking out.  But I can tell you, the pathway for Kim and I to come to Portugal was made smooth by Allan, his guidance and mentoring and I am indeed truly grateful for everything he did for me, and for the friendship that we have.  Thank you.

To the Secretary of State of Tourism, thank you for being here.

To my colleagues at the Embassy, led by the Deputy Chief of Mission, Herro Mustafa. Thank you as well for being here.

To my diplomatic colleagues, my friends, thank you, you honor me with your presence.

And finally, I want to acknowledge my partner in this great adventure, who also happens to be my best friend – my wife Kim.  When we first came to Portugal, I told the story of the time in 1962 when President Kennedy traveled to France with his wife Jackie.  The French people, and particularly President Charles De Gaulle, were so captivated by Jackie Kennedy’s elegance, her intellect and her charm, that when it came time for the President to introduce himself at a formal dinner, he simply said:  I am the man who accompanied Jackie Kennedy to Paris.  I predicted then that when we leave Portugal some years in the future, I will be remembered as the man who accompanied Kim Sawyer to Lisbon!  And I could not be prouder.  Hon: you have been a spectacular embaixatriz.  Your presence here will be felt for years to come.  And your mark will be measured by the hundreds upon hundreds of lives you changed.  Thank you.

It’s hard to believe that our great adventure here is about to end.  It has been the honor of a lifetime to represent President Obama and the American people in Portugal.  And to enjoy a little futebol – particularly Euro Cup futebol – while I was at it!!

I wanted to come here specifically today, because back in 2014, ten weeks after we arrived, in this very room at an identical event hosted by these same organizations, I gave my first major speech and shared my initial impressions of Portugal.

I talked about what I’d heard after traveling around the country and meeting people at all levels of society.  I talked about the defeated spirits and pessimism I’d encountered.  The two words I heard the most – “We Can’t.”

“We’re only a small country, we can’t compete;

We can’t be a significant wine exporter because our production is low; and

We can’t sell in America because only the Portuguese there will buy our products.”

I kept hearing that Portugal did not belong on the world economic stage.  That the country could not manage itself – that it could only careen from crisis to crisis.  That the next generation of Portuguese, rather than aiming high, had to lower their expectations.  And by the way, I heard, where were the Americans to help?

I told then of brief remarks I had given at an incubator in Lisbon – a place brimming with innovation – and afterward I took a few questions.  The very first reporter’s question was: do Americans have a negative opinion of Portugal?”  You could feel the energy drain out from the room like air leaving a balloon.  My answer was: “no, it’s the Portuguese that have a negative opinion of Portugal.  Americans don’t know Portugal.”

That attitude of self-pity was so prevalent I said, that there was even a Portuguese word for it – Sebastianismo – the notion that it was not within the capability of the Portuguese people to fix their problems.  Someone else had to do it for them.  That Portugal needed a miracle – the day when the boy king, Sebastian, would return and save Portugal from its darkest hour.

I saw that Sebastianismo, this pessimism, was cancerous, and that it had metastasized throughout the country and was holding back the boundless potential Portugal possesses.

Now you might conclude from this look back, that my speech was one of despair.  You’d be wrong.  It was actually one of hope.  I said I didn’t understand why the Portuguese had such lack of confidence.  I talked about my own observations.  The Portugal I had seen for myself – not the one described to me – was a country with a richness of beauty and spirit; with a wealth of history and experience in the world; with vibrant ties that spanned the globe; with a budding spark of entrepreneurial zeal only in need of some oxygen to burst into flame; with cutting edge innovation; with world class food and wines waiting to be discovered.  With a young generation filled with ideas and passion.  And yes, with beautiful beaches, golf courses, and ample sun to go along with a people whose generosity of spirit knew no bounds.

And from all that, I concluded that there was no need to wait for Sebastian to return, because he was already here.  The ingredients were in place.  All that was needed for the Portuguese people to again take their place in shaping the world’s future, as they had five centuries before, was to believe in themselves – to change “can’t do,” into “can do.”

Indeed the antidote to Sebastianismo comes from no less an authority than President Barack Obama.  He said: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.  We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  We are the change that we seek.”

And now, fueled by a new found confidence, the Portuguese people of today have been that change, and what a difference it has made.  Does anyone really think that in yesterday’s Portugal, the National Team would have won the Euro Cup?  Last year they did, for the first time in the country’s history.  Let’s remember how they did it.  Playing in Paris against the heavily favored French, a team they hadn’t beaten in over 40 years, the great Portuguese star, Cristiano Ronaldo, goes down with an injury and is carried off the field on a stretcher.  A sure loss would ensue – if you were a negative thinker, that is.  But in the second half, a substitute – Eder – comes off the bench and ends up scoring a goal, his first ever in a competitive match for Portugal.  It’s the only goal, and Portugal wins the championship!  I was invited to be in Paris since I played a little supporting role in Portugal’s title run, and I watched first-hand what that victory meant to Portuguese national pride, and to collective self-esteem.

Now, playing on a global stage encompasses more than sports.  When the nations of the world needed a new leader at one of the most turbulent and critical times in recent memory, where did they look?  To Portugal.  The job of United Nations Secretary General called for a statesman, and no one was better qualified for the role than António Guterres.  Last fall, it was a Portuguese who was unanimously chosen to become the new Secretary General.  Think about what I just said.  Every day we are exposed to conflict and dysfunction in the world community.  But there was one person for whom the countries of the world could set aside their differences and rally behind.  António Guterres was – and is – the right person to lead the UN during these turbulent times.

And finally, who would have believed two-and-a-half years ago that Portugal would be identified as a world technology hub?  The Web Summit moved to Lisbon, and will be here for at least three years.  Last year – its first year – brought 50,000 techies from every continent to Lisbon.  That included over 5000 Americans!  I dare say there were more tattoos and body piercings per square meter than ever before seen in Lisbon.  But they were creators, they were innovators, and they were doers.  And they were joined by 700 CEOs in the largest technology event on the continent.  One major American CEO familiar with American innovation from the east to the west coast, summed it up best when he said that in his meetings with Portuguese companies, from startups on up, he could not tell the difference between the people he encountered here and their counterparts in New York or Silicon Valley.  The spirit of innovation, entrepreneurship and confidence was the same.   He came away convinced that Portugal needed to be a much bigger part of his global thinking, and of his business.  The organizers of next year’s Web Summit are planning for over 60,000 innovators, entrepreneurs and investors to come here.  And the following year it will be bigger and it will be better!

Portugal’s emergence in technology and innovation didn’t happen by accident.  It happened because of a world-class university system, it happened because of a generation of young people who have confidence their ideas can change the world, and it happened because of a government willing to invest in a new, 21st century economy.  One person who deserves much credit and who has that vision and commitment is my dear friend and motorcycle riding companion, the Economy Minister – Manuel Caldeira Cabral.  The Minister, together with the Secretary of State for Industry, João Vasconcelos, created Startup Portugal, essentially turning the country from Minho to the Algarve into one big incubator for entrepreneurship and innovation.

Minister Cabral’s attitude is obvious from the minute you walk into the ministry since he has turned part of the ground floor into a showcase for Portugal’s cutting edge commercial innovations.  There are things like high-tech textiles and future forward drones, and there is a model of WindFloat, the groundbreaking off-shore floating wind terminal developed by EDP together with their American partner, Principle Power.  Pretty soon I think the Minister’s going to need more than the ground floor, he’s going to need the whole building or maybe the whole street for that.

What the Minister and Portugal are doing in innovation did not just get the attention of the organizers of the Web Summit.  It got the attention of the President Obama’s team at the White House.  They were looking for government leaders who were doing more than just talking about innovation but whose actions and accomplishments could serve as global models.  And that is why, last summer, State Secretary João Vasconcelos, was one of only a handful of government leaders worldwide, not only invited, but asked to speak at President Obama’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Silicon Valley.

Let me give you some examples of the cutting edge innovation taking place in Portugal, starting with WindFloat, a joint Portuguese/American green energy project.  WindFloat comprises wind-powered generators that float on the sea that can be moved and manipulated to make maximum use of the forces of nature.  They’re not fixed; they take advantage of off-shore wind.  The WindFloat group just completed a five-year test off the coast of northern Portugal – I had the opportunity myself to see it last summer.  Let me tell you, I wished our boat had the same patented stabilizing technology as the turbine!  WindFloat is now deploying an even larger array of full-size turbines.  And it won’t be long before projects like these, and the world’s first wave farm not far away in Aguçadoura, are ready to go global.  It is through such efforts that Portugal is leading the world to a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.  As a matter of fact, both Washington and Wall Street took note last May when Portugal set the world record for running completely on renewable energy for 107 straight hours.

The collaboration between an American technology company and a Portuguese energy company brings me to another question I had heard before.  “Where are the Americans?” Back then, if you walked around town, there were British and French and Germans tourists, but hardly an American.  If you picked up the paper, you might read about an Angolan or Chinese investment, but not American.

But that is changing, and fast.  The number of American companies is growing, American investment is increasing, our trade is expanding.  We are now your largest trading partner outside the EU.  In April, the very first shipment of U.S. liquefied natural gas ever to Europe landed at the port of Sines.  The number of American students has more than doubled since I arrived, the number of American visitors in Portugal is exploding, and there are more ties between our people and our institutions every day.  The over 130 U.S. companies operating in Portugal employ nearly 30,000 workers, and generate about five billion euros in sales.  That’s around three percent of Portugal’s GDP.  American firms, whether world-renowned consulting houses like PWC, IT giants like Microsoft and Cisco, or food and beverage leaders like Coca-Cola, are partners in Portugal’s economic success and transformation.  Our companies are here and strong, and they are contributing to Portugal’s bright, modern future.

And American investors are doing the same.  It started last year with the privatization of TAP, when the Atlantic Gateway consortium and JetBlue Airlines founder David Neeleman stepped in to save the airline from the brink of bankruptcy.  In just a short time, they have restored TAP’s market footing and put it on a path to sustainable growth, preserving a national symbol while contributing to the country’s revival.  Lisbon in 2017 has become a global hub connecting North America, South America, Europe and Africa.  And Neeleman is bringing the same innovation to TAP that he brought to JetBlue.  The Portugal stopover program, for example, is a huge success.  Fly anywhere TAP flies between the United States and Europe and stay in Portugal for three days at no extra connection charge.  And, you get discounts to hotels, restaurants and tour operators.  What an amazing way to get to know this amazing country!

Americans’ newfound focus on Portugal is seen in other areas.  It is no secret that problems in the financial sector have weighed on Portugal’s growth.  Yet now, not one, but three American investment houses want to play a part in restoring the health of Portuguese banks by buying Novo Banco and returning the bank to its rightful place at the heart of the economy, serving once again as an engine of growth for small and medium-sized enterprises.  Whether the ultimate winner is the Apollo/Centerbridge consortium or the Lone Star group, I have no doubt that an American solution will bring the fresh capital, knowhow, transparency and healthy market practices that are needed right now in Portugal, and would only strengthen the ties that bind our two countries together.

As part of this, we at the Embassy have made increasing transatlantic commercial engagement and investment opportunities a top priority.

We played a role in the sale of TAP, advising the Neeleman group and discussing with the government that privatization – and an accompanying injection of fresh capital and ideas – was the only viable option for the airline’s long-term viability.  TAP’s expansion and new routes, like the Washington route that United launched last year.  And I’ll tell you, we at the Embassy who spend a lot of time in Washington, really appreciate that route.  I have brought increasing numbers of U.S. students, business persons and tourists to Portugal, and airline recently was recognized as one of Europe’s best.

We have brought major U.S.-based technology missions to Portugal, including a biotech mission we persuaded Craig Mello – the 2006 Nobel Prize winner in medicine – to lead.  We created Portugal Day at one of the world’s largest biotech hubs, MassBio in Cambridge, Massachusetts, not far from my home.  It was only the second time in its history that this organization – which counts as its members some of the premier biotech companies in the world – agreed to devote a whole day to pitches and networking by companies from a single country with investors and decision-makers from the United States right there in the room.  So right before Christmas, Minister Cabral and I brought a delegation of Portuguese biotech companies to meet with investors and decision-makers at MassBio, and to forge strong ties between your leading life science companies and ours.

As part of the Web Summit, we partnered with Microsoft to facilitate the Microsoft Start-up Challenge, a pitch competition for Portuguese start-ups ready to go international that offered the winning start-up the opportunity of a lifetime – a free display at the Web Summit, incubator space in Boston, access to American investors, and free legal assistance for establishing its business in the United States.  And not only that, all eight finalists had their pitches filmed and those pitches were showcased on TAP’s transatlantic flights.

We have invested in and partnered with six American Corners at some of the best universities in Portugal, bringing equipment to furnish newly launched FabLabs and MakerSpaces, and U.S. experts to deliver workshops on the technology, giving Portuguese youth the opportunity to test their ideas and develop their projects hands-on.

And just because Kim and I are leaving in a week, that doesn’t mean we’ve stopped working on this.  Indeed tomorrow, Steve and Judy Pagliuca will be staying with us for three days.  Steve is the owner of the Boston Celtics, but more importantly, he is the Chairman of Bain Capital, one of the most renowned private equity firms in the United States.  Judy, like her husband, is a Harvard Business School graduate, is an investor in biotech startups.  Their agenda is already full with meetings with entrepreneurs and startups, including finalists from the Microsoft Start-up Challenge.

And of course, there is the program that I am incredibly proud of – Connect to Success, the women’s entrepreneurship and empowerment initiative created by my wife to help women-owned businesses turn their commercial ideas into viable companies.  We now have 750 women from the north to the south and out to the Azores participating in our Corporate Mentoring Program, MBA/Masters Consulting Program and our free workshops. After we leave, FLAD will take on a major role to lead on Connect to Success.  So it is a program that is here to stay.  Pretty amazing for a program launched just over two years ago that has now been recognized globally as a leading innovative model of public-private partnership in support of women entrepreneurs.  The State Department is considering Connect to Success a best practice to be replicated elsewhere in the world and we are in discussions to do just that.  So, this was a program started by Kim as a volunteer.  She paid for her flights back and forth to Lisbon, she put in countless hours, not because she was paid to do so, but because she believes in what she was doing.  Honey, please stand.  I salute your accomplishment!

So, I am both at the end of this speech, and at the end of my tenure as Ambassador.  It’s a time for both reflection and predictions, in other words.  So how do I see the future?  In Portugal, I see a country with thriving and growing links across the Atlantic.  A country that could easily become an international business hub, with energized entrepreneurs and cutting-edge research.  With innovative thinkers developing future-forward solutions to global challenges.  I see in the coming years a time when Portugal will again take its rightful place on the world stage.   And I will be proud to say, I was there when confidence in Portugal was restored.

I am confident that I’m right about this.  And the reason is, as anyone who followed the 2016 Euro Cup knows, I’m pretty good when it comes to predictions!

Obrigado.  Até breve.