By Ted Olsson

A first event is unique and may set a precedent, but the second annual event establishes a tradition— especially when it exceeds the first. This was the case Friday, October 8th when the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce of San Francisco and the Silicon Valley hosted its second annual Swedish Bay Area Achievement Awards banquet and ball at the prestigious City Club. The Club atop its commercial tower and beside the former Pacific Stock Exchange were both designed by San Francisco’s esteemed architect Timothy Pflueger and is still stunning, both in its onyx lobby highlighting a glistening entrance and dramatic chandeliers. But this becomes even more distinctive at its tenth floor ballroom and eleventh floor banquet hall, joined by the unique laborers-themed staircase beneath one of the city’s three Diego Rivera murals.
The event honors members of our community in three categories: Cultural Achievement; Women’s Achievement, and Business Achievement. During the weeks before, names of the finalists had been released; so, there was great anticipation during the reception when everyone had the opportunity to congratulate each of the finalists for their individual achievements.
Guests began arriving punctually at 7pm to have a full hour of free cocktails, wine, and hors d’ouevres to spend with friends and those they had met last year. In this reception area there were tastefully located about the room on decorated stands the items available through the silent auction. So, initially people had to survey the treasures and determine their winning bidding strategy, but first they had to put in a better bid than those before them.
By eight, Master of Ceremonies Ted Olsson invited all to climb the stairs while admiring the mural and to take their seats as the program would begin immediately. By the time all were seated, he introduced Ms. Brett Ruona, a local operatic soprano who has performed widely throughout the Bay Area. Reading her audience well, she performed several pieces from the musical Sound of Music, and an encore, which had some in the audience mouthing the words with her.
Then it was time for Nils Welin, Chairman of the local chamber, to officially welcome all attendees to this recognition of achievement by members of our community. He thanked the Consulate General of Sweden and the Swedish Trade Council for supporting this event to truly recognize entrepreneurs who strengthen the collaboration between the US and Sweden. He appreciated how many had returned from last year’s event and welcomed those new this year to join us again next year and to keep in touch with the vitality of the entrepreneurial spirit celebrated here by joining the chamber for a year of events. Following this the MC introduced May-Britt Malbec and her husband, of Malbec & Malbec vintners, exclusive wine purveyors for the evening, who explained the wines that we were enjoying, particularly their distinctive Alienor blend of fine red wines, honoring Eleanor of Aquitaine, mother of kings both of France and of England, and master of some of the finest wine producing lands of France. One lucky attendee won a special 3-liter bottle of Alienor wine.
During the first course Consul General Barbro Osher was introduced to present the Cultural Achievement Awards. In addition to being Consul General, chairman of the Bernard Osher Foundation and President of the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation, she has also received numerous recognitions for her outstanding work. As the MC noted, certainly no one is better qualified to present this award than Ms. Osher, one of our most noted philanthropists, whose munificence graces cultural and educational institutions here in the City, throughout the Bay Area, the State, and the Nation. Her typically warm remarks about each of the finalists garnered recognition for each. The finalists for the Cultural award were: Ragnar Bohlin, Director of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus; The Scandinavian School in San Francisco ; and SWEA, San Francisco . With the suspense mounting, she opened the envelope and awarded the prize to Kristina Bünger, Annika McCrea, Johanna Nilsson, and Mimmi Skoglund of the local Scandinavian School. The winners spoke of the early times of starting the school and of the now prospering classes for children and adults.
When all had been served their first course, the MC welcomed to the stage the keynote speaker for the evening, former Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, then the highest Swedish-American government official in the nation. A native of the Bay Area, she is currently lecturing at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, while her husband, Dan Mulhern, is lecturing next door at UC’s Haas School of Business. Her mother and Swedish father, Shirley and Ivar, were also introduced to very warm applause.
Governor Granholm, a beautiful, warm, and thoroughly engaging speaker, is a pioneer with a boldly creative yet fixedly fair Swedish spirit. She was inaugurated just after the reckless spending of previous administrations came due in the nation’s automobile manufacturing heartland. She spoke of the lessons that she had learned in those circumstances, which the rest of the nation is facing today. Her lessons, encapsulated in the love story of her family, showed both how she led her state through a perilous period and how her family survived the stress of this period, for both she, her family, and her state persevered as more resilient and wiser. For those who could not hear her summary in person, she relates the experience in more detail in her new book A Governor’s Story: the fight for jobs and America’s economic future, which she signed for many that night.
During the main course of perfectly cooked meat or fish accompanied by Malbec’s delicious Aleinor wine, the MC once again called upon Consul General Barbro Osher, herself one of the most accomplished of women, to present the Women’s Achievement Award. The finalists this year were the four women of the Scandinavian School; Stina Ehrensvärd, a Swedish entrepreneur newly returned to her native Bay Area; and UCSF Professor of Pathology, Britt-Marie Ljung. Once again the Consul General was generous in her praise of all but only one could win and that was Britt-Marie Ljung. She has had a very distinguished career here in San Francisco, winning the vote of her colleagues to become President of the Medical School for a two-year term.
For a change of pace the MC next introduced a new Swedish import. For her debut US performance, the Chamber had flown in this year’s winner of Sweden’s Melodi festivalen prize—acknowledging her as the most accomplished of her peers in contemporary Swedish music—Anna Bergendahl with her accompanist, Joakim Tidermark. She regaled the company with half a dozen of her own songs in both Swedish and English, which brought people to their feet applauding. You could definitely identify all of the young Swedish entrepreneurs in the hall, because they were all in tune with her music and her lyrics.
By the time that a simple but delicious dessert was served, with people still lingering over the notable wine, the MC brought back to the stage Ms. May-Britt Malbec, fittingly to present the Business Achievement Award. This year’s finalists were: Accelion, which provides enterprise-class secure file sharing solutions that are easy to use and ensure enterprise data security and compliance for companies and governments; Prezi, software that allows one to collaborate online on digital presentations and present them dynamically; and Retail Solutions, which empowers retail execution management by converting the retailer’s downstream data into actionable visibility in the store. The winner was Retail Solutions.
In concluding the program, the MC thanked the hosts and sponsors, particularly the chamber’s interns who produced such a successful event, the keynote speaker and performers who entertained and enlightened the dining guests, the distinguished jurors, laureates and all finalists. But before everyone was dismissed downstairs, there were still a dozen superb prizes—such as an SAS flight for two to Stockholm or a night at the Ice Palace—and the winners of the silent auction to be announced. And that still left an evening of dancing and drinking in the ballroom downstairs.
If you missed the event but want to glimpse the glitter and glamour of this evening, or merely want to whet your appetite for next year’s gala, you can see mementoes at YouTube. A fitting successor to last year’s event, this one guarantees next year’s gala. Mark your calendars now and don’t miss it!