Copyright: AmCham Germany/Ina Strohbücker

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Meet Our New President

Interview with Frank Sportolari, President of AmCham Germany

We congratulate Frank Sportolari, President of UPS Deutschland, on his recent election to President of AmCham Germany. On the occasion of his election, we sat down with him to talk about his new role, his plans for the Chamber and life as an American in Germany. Here's what he had to say:

AmCham Germany: Mr. Sportolari, shortly after returning to Germany in 2011, you became active in AmCham Germany. What first brought you to the Chamber?

Frank Sportolari: UPS is a big supporter globally of the American Chambers of Commerce, and we encourage our country managers - wherever they are - to join and support their local Chamber. So even though I moved here in the fall of 2011and came to my first meeting in 2012, I was actually a board member at AmCham Italy in Milan for several years prior to that and also participated in the board at AmCham Spain in Madrid when I was there in the 90s. So joining AmCham Germany was almost a given for me, because I value the goals and the work as well as the potential of the American Chambers of Commerce.

Would you say the global AmCham network is something unique to our organization then?

Sometimes I think it's not well enough known among our members that this is something we also offer. Even with business issues anywhere in the world, where there's an AmCham, there will always be a friendly door through our global network, and we're the ones who can make that connection happen.

Looking back at your time with AmCham Germany, what has your most memorable experience been so far?

One very memorable experience was the way I was "aufgenommen". Fred Irwin was President back then. I came in and immediately felt I was among people with similar interests. It was a great opportunity for me - coming to a senior position in Germany and having little to no network - to meet a lot of people right away who turned out to be important to me in other areas and also to be able to meet politicians at Chamber events and trips. I was amazed at how well that worked, and I was positively impressed by the breadth of AmCham Germany's membership as well as its culture and long legacy.

Now on to the question that's on everyone's mind: As our new President, what do you hope to focus on? What are your priorities for AmCham Germany?

I'm very proud and appreciative of being elected, but I recognize that with this position comes an enormous amount of responsibility. It's really my intention to work hard and to get to know our members as we move through turbulent times and on to the next generation.

That said, we have some very disturbing trends in global and transatlantic trade. It's obviously a time where the Chamber has to focus on its core competencies and legacy of being the strong voice for the many companies that have invested here and the many German companies that have invested in the US. We need to make sure that our voice is heard - and that it is a voice of reason. That means pointing out all the ways that transatlantic trade and business have made both of our countries very successful.

Also, I think it's important that in a time where the world is changing very quickly, we recognize that our voice has survived two world wars. It has always come back. We have to focus on making people understand how long-term and important transatlantic and German-American relations are.

Keeping with that thought, what can we do specifically to foster a stronger German-American partnership?

First off, we have to do a better job at storytelling. The "Deutschlandjahr", which will showcase Germany to people all across the US this fall, is one way we can do this. Overall, Germany has a phenomenal reputation in the US. But still, I don't know if everyone realizes the impact of German business. Sure, we like Jürgen Klinsmann and "Fahrvergnügen". (Laughs.) But I think everyone confuses the superficial knowledge we have with an actual knowledge and appreciation of how things are. It's really important that the German-American relationship stays alive by encouraging the free movement of people.

More Americans should be coming to Germany to study, and vice versa. That may not sound that impactful at first, but it can really change people in the long run. If you rise to some position of influence, it's great to know you're a friend of Germany. Those are really the interpersonal things that make our partnership strong. Trade historically has always transported culture and ethics. We can't forget about that.

Since you mentioned the importance of having a personal connection with Germany, what has living in Germany meant to you?

I love Germany and I've substantially lived my entire adult life in Europe. In a way, even when I'm "im Ausland", I'm with a German family. I'm married to a German and my kids are German for all practical purposes. I'm not a German, but I love this country and I'm really happy to be here.

Understandably, I have very strong connections to America. I try to take the best of both worlds when approaching the things that I do - both what we do as a family and what I do in business. And that will be my view to the Chamber, too. It's American. It's got to be American. But we also have members from both sides of the Atlantic, and that's the fascinating thing about it.

So did you have any preconceived notions about what Germany would be like before coming here?

Actually, my mother is of German heritage. Her father was born in Germany. But I grew up thinking I'm an Italian-American. And the last name - Sportolari - is obviously Italian. I really thought that I was going to go to Italy. I knew that I wanted to go abroad. I had been an exchange student for one year in Sweden and so I thought, okay, I've got to do something. And there would've been a great chance I would've gone to Italy. Instead, I landed in Germany. I had no idea. I didn't speak one word of German. That was in Munich in the 80s - and Bavaria back then was obviously a huge culture shock. So for everyone, it takes a while to adjust to things. But sometimes I'll talk to people, and there are shared experiences we've had - like calling home from the phone booth with "Zehnpfennigstücke" or not being able to wash your car on a Sunday. (Laughs.)

One last question: As President of UPS Deutschland and now the new President of AmCham Germany, you certainly have your plate full. But still, we're curious: What are you doing when you're not at work?

I've got six kids and one grandkid, so on the weekends, my family is my priority. I also play the saxophone miserably (laughs), and believe it or not, I like to read a lot about science. I'm also interested in politics, enjoy following "Fußball", and am active on social media. In fact, I'm delighted about my new Twitter account @FrankSp_AmChamG. Feel free to follow me.

Other than that, I'm very excited and proud to step into this new role and take on the challenge. I'm looking forward to it!

Thank you, Mr. Sportolari!