February 9, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

The CFA Society Boston hosted its 32nd Annual Market Dinner on February 7th, and the featured speaker was Madeleine K. Albright.  Ms. Albright was the 64th Secretary of State of the United States.  When she was appointed in 1997, Ms. Albright became the first female Secretary of State and the highest ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government.  In this role she reinforced America’s alliances, advocated democracy and human rights, and promoted American trade, business, labor, and environmental standards abroad.  She had previously served from 1993 to 1997 as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and as a member of the President’s Cabinet.  She has since authored five New York Times best sellers, received the U.S Medal of Freedom (the nation’s highest civilian honor), and served as the Chairman for several firms.

J.P. Marvel’s Director of Research, Robert T. Stephenson, attended the CFA Society Boston event and provided the following report:

“Ms. Albright was a very engaging speaker. She spoke at length about her upbringing, retold stories about her family, and shared interesting anecdotes about her time as Secretary of State. She exuded energy, intelligence, and a great sense of humor.

Ms. Albright began by talking about her childhood and family.  She was born in Czechoslovakia and lived there until she was nine, when her family left to escape Hitler’s Nazi regime. Her father was a professional diplomat and his closest friends were British and American ambassadors.  They acquired passports for her family for purposes of emigrating to America. She, her mother, and her siblings moved to America in advance of her father, who later defected and asked for political asylum. They settled in Denver, her father acquired a job at the University of Denver, where he was a professor of international politics and later founded The Josef Korbel School of International Studies. Ms. Albright told a fascinating story about her father’s favorite student, an African American from the Deep South who was studying music at the time. He convinced the student to change majors and study political science instead. She did so and later became the second female Secretary of State. The student was Condoleezza Rice.

Ms. Albright spent her formative college years in the Boston area. She loved going to Wellesley College, where the university trains women for global service.  Ms. Albright later founded the Albright Institute where, each year, forty fellows are selected to work in multidisciplinary groups to address significant global challenges.  She mentioned to the audience that she prefers juniors who have junior internships and later to the college as seniors. The Institute keeps her tied to this area, but Ms. Albright spends most of her time in the Washington DC area, teaching at Georgetown University, where she once taught in the 1980’s before assuming roles for which she is more well-known.

While working for the State Department, Ms. Albright used the tool of diplomacy extensively. She explained that U.S. diplomats should know the language, history, and concerns of the countries they visit. As U.S. diplomats, they need to represent the U.S. well, conveying an understanding of and empathy for international affairs. They should also be good promoters of U.S. business and interests. Ms. Albright conceded that the job of a diplomat is difficult and often dangerous.

In Ms. Albright’s opinion, funding for the State Department is currently insufficient. She supports the Department of Defense but questions whether that department ($72B budget) is overfunded compared to the State Department ($35B budget). She concedes that cutting into the Department of Defense to better fund the State Department could have its own adverse effects. She also made any interesting comment regarding the general public’s incorrect perception of the State Department, namely its understanding that 25% of the State’s budget is aid for foreign countries when in fact the allocation is only 1%.

Ms. Albright spoke a bit about President Putin and the first time she met him.  In 2000 she and President Clinton visited President Putin at a summit meeting. When they were first introduced, Ms. Albright could not resist telling President Putin that she despised his global policies, calling them “evil”.  Putin was predictably furious, and Clinton was not pleased and gave her a look like “you just totally destroyed this summit.” She admitted it wasn’t a good start but the three were able to get some work accomplished. She mused that Putin decided from the beginning that he needed to reach out to his countrymen and rekindle national identity.  She believes Putin played a weak hand very well as China and Russia became two of America’s biggest threats, and Putin is surely happy to be mentioned in that company.  She also spoke on Korea, particularly North Korea, calling it perhaps the most dangerous place in the world right now.  She mentioned that Vice President Pence is heading to the Olympics and will be meeting with high-ranking Korean officials. She also claimed responsibility for the friendship between Dennis Rodman and Kim Jon II, citing her meeting with the later and her personally handing him an autographed picture of Michael Jordan, thus cementing his interest in the great Chicago Bulls team, of which Mr. Rodman was a member. She also lightheartedly spoke on Mr. Rodman’s reputation for general craziness, but she believes he is in fact sane.

Ms. Albright adamantly considers the word “retired” insulting, and she is anything but retired. After serving in the State Department, a friend recruited her to join the NYSE as a Board Member. She originally said no but later changed her mind. She enjoyed the NYSE experience and felt she learned a lot.  She later took this business experience and transformed it into two of her present roles.  One is founder and owner of Albright Capital Management, whose Global Investment Strategy Fund manages roughly $500mm in private investments. The other is Albright Stoneridge Consulting Group, an organization that helps countries and companies to create value through shared synergies. She told a story about John Chambers, who asked her to speak to his Cisco employees the ways government and corporations can work together. Ms. Albright is particularly fascinated by emerging markets, and she mentioned her company’s investments in towers located in foreign countries.

Ms. Albright concluded her talk by mentioning Harry Truman, who was the U.S. President when she first arrived in America.  In honor of President Truman, Congress created The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, which grants a scholarship to a U.S. college junior who demonstrates leadership potential and a commitment to public service.  Ms. Albright cited this foundation when making the case that more people are needed for public service and more people need to make a point of giving back to their communities.  Certainly, Ms. Albright embodies both beliefs, having immigrated to America at the age of 9 to later start a long career of public service, which included a stint as the U.S. Secretary of State, the first woman to hold the office in our country’s history.”