The social event of the season for the San Francisco area occurred on Friday, October 22 when the first annual Swedish Bay Area Achievement Awards ceremony was held at Regency Centre.
By Ted Olsson
The awards ceremony, honoring three categories of Swedish entrepreneurs, was presented by the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce of San Francisco and Silicon Valley, together with the Swedish Consulate General in San Francisco and the office of the Swedish Trade Attaché. With this official backing and that of the San Francisco Chamber, 160 entrepreneurs came together to celebrate the Sweden of today and tomorrow, as evidenced by Sweden’s standing in the top tier among nations for health, good government, science, technology and general well-being, much of which is due to its extraordinary success in national and global business.ADVERTISEMENT
The highlight of the evening was the presenting of awards. With the first award, SACC Chairman Nils Welin told the audience how difficult the distinguished jury had found choosing a single winner from among the nominees.
The Most Beneficial Exchange Award was presented to Dr. David Nordfors, co-founder and executive director of the Stanford Center for Innovation and Communication. He was recognized for promoting Swedish-American collaboration, which strives for a long lasting, mutually beneficial exchange between both countries.
The second award was for The Most Original Cultural Achievement. Many worthy social entrepreneurs were nominated, but the jury decided the Swedish American Library and Archives Committee—Susan Bianucci, Muriel Beroza, Astrid Olsson and Ulla Sabelstrom—was the most meritorious.
While presenting the award to them, Professor Mark Johnson commended the Chamber for recognizing the distinctive contribution that such Swedes make in the fields of art, culture and social entrepreneurism. They were honored for preserving our common Swedish heritage, a task they have performed for more than a decade by preserving histories and artifacts from local Swedish organizations. They preserved microfilmed copies of every issue, during its 121 year history, of Vestkusten, the local San Francisco and west coast Swedish newspaper, and donated them to the San Francisco Main Library’s History Room, where, as one of the longest published records of a local ethnic community, it is now conserved professionally and is accessible daily. They look forward to the day this weekly history will be available digitally.
Rikard Seiber of Google announced the final award, The Swedish-American Business Achievement Award. It went to Pia Andersson, founder-owner of Mimi The Sardine, a line of eco-friendly, Swedish designed bibs, aprons, bags, tablecloths and more. Andersson was recognized for her creativity and the perseverance typical of many Swedes who came here and created a business that thrived with a core of dedicated employees. This award recognized Andersson's company for establishing a sustainable concept, which successfully both benefits company and enriches society.
All three of the honorees were presented with a bouquet of flowers, a plaque announcing their award and a distinctive handcrafted crystal award by the internationally renowned Swedish glassworks company, Reijmyre.
Swedish traditions of innovation and collaboration
With all the accolades bestowed, the true laureates were Nils Welin and Maria Larsson. As Chairman of the Chamber, Welin conceived the idea of this banquet to build upon the Swedish traditions of innovation and collaboration. This was to be an event for honoring the entrepreneurial spirit of Swedes, which brought so many of them to the Bay Area—and its capital for invention, Silicon Valley—where these entrepreneurs for more than a century have thrived and distinguished themselves. Welin turned to Maria Larsson and interns Eva Danling, Emma Löfgren, Michael Ström and Carl-Olof Wilhelmson, who with an abundance of their own ingenuity brought Welin’s vision to life: a remarkable and memorable accomplishment of stunning proportions.
This was but the first annual Achievement Awards Banquet. With the standard set this high, we can’t wait for next year’s event. That event, like this one, is sure to be a stellar sell-out.
Entertainment and servings galore
After the guests were seated and some great wines donated by Malbec & Malbec Cellars (http://www.malbecmalbec.com/) were served, the guests were regaled with a stunning modern pas de deux ballet by Katja Björner and Garen Price Scribner (appearing courtesy of the SF Ballet-http://www.sfballet.org/), choreographed by Yuri Zhukov, a former dancer with the Kirov Ballet, who immigrated to Sweden as Ballet Master at the Royal Swedish Ballet and has established himself in San Francisco with his Zhukov Dance Theatre.
The evening’s Master of Ceremonies was Mark Friedler (http://www.markfriedler.com/), the well-known serial entrepreneur and consultant, who began his string of careers while a student in Sweden—when he first challenged Mrs. Field’s Cookies franchise with a better recipe, developing his company into an even more successful rival before selling it. Friedler now consults for some of the Fortune 500 and many other firms.
No Swedish dinner is complete without it …
Dan Parisi, executive vice president and senior partner of the Swedish company BTS USA (http://www.bts.com/), led the audience in “Helan går” after his keynote speech explaining how Swedish expertise in simulation software and business acumen had allowed his company to provide some of the great companies of Silicon Valley the opportunity to hone their marketing experience.
Between awards, the Swedish singing sensation Jan Johansen (http://www.myspace.com/janjohansen) wowed the audience with songs from his latest album, "En ny bild av mig." After the awards ceremony, he was called back to the stage and generously rocked the audience with his contemporary Swedish songs, which brought everyone swarming onto the dance floor, where they boogied into the late hours. Silent and live auctions kept the night frenetic and thrilled the winners as they were announced.
It was a hit to dine on the abundance and variety of hors d’oeuvres served in the lobby—Nils Welin’s concept for a cook-off among famous Swedish chefs of San Francisco. Chef Ola Fendert, executive chef and owner of Oola Restaurant and Bar (http://www.oola-sf.com/) challenged Chef Thomas Weibull, chef of Swell Modern Seafood Restaurant (http://www.swellsf.com/). Each appetizer was more exciting than the last, and the contest ended in a draw. The evening’s feast was by another local Swedish stalwart of the community, Chef Pelle (http://www.chefpelle.com/).
The Lodge Rooms at Regency Centre
The building (known previously as the Scottish Rite Auditorium) has been a San Francisco landmark for more than half a century. The irony is that for more than a quarter century before 1966, the U.S.’s longest running Swedish Midsummer celebration had been held in this building—in the grand ballroom, with its impressive stage and full horseshoe balcony. But this was the first time we had been allowed up into the hallowed chambers where the masons of the Scottish Rite held their ritual ceremonies and banquets. (http://www.regencycentersf.com/lodge.html)
That spot has certainly become a new venue for grand fêtes. Its wood paneled walls, tall ceilings and stained glass are reminiscent of a castle or cloister. At the far end of the room is a wonderfully deep stage with assorted backdrops. And high above the antechamber to this hall is a massive pipe organ, which must have accompanied many a ceremony—and could still be used for exceptional organ concerts.