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Politics and Trade

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and San Francisco Mayor Edmund Lee visit Gensler San Francisco to discuss trade initiatives.

Last week I was returning from Seattle at 2 a.m. due to some flight delays, and I was a little tired, but I remembered that I had an important meeting later in the morning: Gensler’s San Francisco office was hosting Edmund Lee, the mayor of San Francisco, and U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk to discuss trade initiatives and showcase some of our international projects. We stay active in the political arena to promote trade and help other businesses get a foothold in overseas markets.

I rarely wear a tie these days, and I couldn't decide whether one was appropriate or not (I’m not really a tie guy). I opted for the easy way out and wore a suit with no tie but brought one along just in case I changed my mind.

Mayor Lee arrived first and immediately put me at ease. It was the first time I had met him and he was refreshingly approachable, smart and unassuming...and he wore no tie! Ambassador Kirk arrived shortly thereafter and after taking a look at the mayor and myself, said "Thank God" and immediately removed his tie. This set the tone for our entire conversation!

What impressed me most was how well prepared both men were. They knew each of our names, a little bit about us, and understood the nature of our business. For the first half hour or so, we had a chance to show them around the office and showcase some of our international work. We showed them projects from China, Korea, Thailand, South America, India, the Middle East, and some of our work in the U.S. When possible, staff who worked on a project briefly described the design concept. As always, I was immensely proud of everyone and the quality of our work.

It really surprised me that both men had a very no-nonsense “I am here to learn and here to help get it done” approach. They both had a sincere interest in what we had to say and were very interested in our work as an international design firm.

The most enjoyable aspect of the meeting for me was discussing trade issues in Korea, China, and South America with Ambassador Kirk. He was very frank and talked about some of the difficulties that he was having getting agreements concluded. We also briefly discussed the protection (and theft) of intellectual property, taxation issues, and barriers to entry that we have experienced in many markets. He pledged to always be of assistance and asked us to make sure that we called upon his agency whenever we needed help.

In today's world it is easy to get extremely frustrated by the apparent ineffectiveness of politicians and our political system, but I came away from this meeting feeling optimistic and positive. If there are more men and women in politics with the attitude and commitment of Mayor Lee and Ambassador Kirk, then we couldn’t be in better hands...maybe they should both run for Congress.

Dan Winey is a member of Gensler’s Board of Directors and the Regional Managing Principal of our Northwest region. Our offices in Shanghai and Beijing were launched under Dan’s purview, and he’s been a key member of our Shanghai Tower team from initial project win through construction. Contact him at dan_winey@gensler.com.

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