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Robert Hormats

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The "American Brand" -- A Symbol of Quality and Innovation

Posted: 07/10/2012 11:47 am

During my extensive travels abroad, it has become abundantly clear to me that "Made in America" means something special. American companies sell innovative, high-quality goods and services that are highly valued around the globe. Moreover, the "American brand" itself has tremendous value because it symbolizes a commitment to quality, service, corporate responsibility, and strong ethics that is associated with our very best companies.

The "American brand" features the United States as an incubator of creative goods and services, and of entrepreneurial companies, many of which spread their best practices through their products, trade partnerships and investments around the world. American companies are innovative and adapt to change quickly; that's why people in so many countries look to our companies for state of the art products and services. U.S. businesses thrive on the free flow of ideas and information with universities and research institutions, and through interaction with customers and suppliers. They are the stewards of a culture if innovation and invention that dates back to Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, and extends to Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and beyond.

Large numbers of U.S. businesses in this country produce their goods and services with a workforce that is racially, culturally and religiously diversified. So our companies are comfortable working in diverse societies around the world. And as a nation that has benefitted enormously from waves of immigrants, with rich and diverse origins and cultures, our workforce reflects the world in which our companies operate.

Our most dynamic companies place a high value on talent and hard work looking to all employees to inject creative ideas and new ways of thinking and doing business. Such companies tend to be meritocracies that respect and value their workers as their most valuable assets, providing significant training, career development and opportunities for upward mobility--in the United States and wherever they operate in the world. This culture of opportunity and fairness is, in part, why men and women from all over the world strive to work for many leading American companies. There is, of course, always room for improvement regarding race, gender and other factors. Nevertheless, diversity and meritocracy have been one America's greatest strengths for decades, are practiced by large numbers of companies, and are a powerful engine in America's business model.

Strong business values are also synonymous with the "American brand" in many parts of world. For America's most respected companies, profitability and doing the right thing go hand in hand. This means adhering to the law; operating in an ethical manner; practicing transparency; and accountability to customers, shareholders and society. It also means high internal standards and compliance with regulatory and safety requirements, so that consumers can have confidence in the effectiveness and quality of American goods and services.

For example, America has high standards for pharmaceuticals--the companies who make them and the regulations that apply to them. That's why most Americans--88 percent according to a recent poll--are confident that prescription drugs made in the United States are safe, efficacious, and free from contamination. Foreign businesses that partner with U.S. pharmaceutical companies stand to benefit from this reputation and dedication to quality. Trust is based on a long-standing commitment of successful businesses to doing what's right, not just what is expedient, whether at home or abroad. Much the same can be said for American food products, engineering goods and services, advanced technology and capital goods, medical equipment and the output of many other industries.

Similarly, a large and growing number of American companies share strong commitments to sound environmental practices at home and take that commitment abroad in the products they sell and the investments they make. They view these practices as good business, good for their brand and good for the planet.

The "American brand" prioritizes responsiveness to customers as well as to the broader community. This is true whether companies sell abroad or invest abroad. That's why the United States has led the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index every year since its inception in 2009. This is a survey ranking international perception of 50 nations by polling over 20,000 respondents with respect to exports, governance, culture, people, tourism, immigration and investment. According to the survey, citizens from around the world generally prefer American goods, even, in many cases, over those made within their own borders. This is particularly true when it comes to high-value products, where quality is essential, such as airplanes, pharmaceuticals, energy-efficient appliances, sophisticated semiconductors, and the like.

Individual American companies--much like the "American brand"--are defined not just by their products or services, but also by their values and cultures. Every year, Interbrand, the world's largest brand consultancy, develops a list of "The Top 100 Best Global Brands." These highly innovative businesses respond to the needs of their people, their consumers and the world.

In 2011, Interbrand, the world's largest brand consultancy, determined that all of the top ten global brands were American brands: Coca-Cola, IBM, Microsoft, Google, GE, McDonald's, Intel, Apple, Disney, and Hewlett-Packard. Whether working at home or abroad, these companies, and many others American icons, often show the world what it means to do business, and what it means to be American. By engaging with local communities and civil society, recognizing the importance of social and environmental issues, and creating economic growth and upward mobility for their employees, the most successful American brands truly do well by doing good.

The Secretary of State's Award for Corporate Excellence--or ACE Award--was established in 1999 to recognize the important role U.S. businesses play abroad as good corporate citizens. Awardees highlight America as a positive force in the world through their companies' corporate social responsibility, innovation, exemplary practices and embrace of democratic values.

Secretary Clinton presented the 2011 ACE Award to Sahlman Seafoods and Procter & Gamble. Sahlman Seafoods' investment in Nicaragua goes beyond just its core shrimp processing business. As part of their operations, they have hired local women, sponsored a soup kitchen, invested in the health and education of the surrounding community and instituted numerous environmental safeguards for their facility. Similarly, Procter & Gamble, while working in Nigeria, has purified more than 2.5 million liters of water; built mobile health clinics that provide free medical care, baby care tips, and health education to mothers and their children; and worked with schools to create a health program specifically for girls that reaches more than a million students each year.

Last year, the United States exported an all-time record of $2.1 trillion in goods and services--a strong testimony to the success of American brands and the "American brand." President Obama's pledge to double U.S. exports by the end of 2014 is within reach because so many American companies offer high-quality goods and services and are committed to building shared value--finding win-win solutions for customers; improving the lives of people around the world; and building dynamic networks of suppliers, buyers and investors. And, that's why American companies are, and will continue to be, valuable international trade and investment partners.

 
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