New face, same commitment.
The new Consul General of Sweden in New York—Who is he and how will things work in the future? New face, same commitment to service. An extensive interview with Mr. David E.R. Dangoor.
by Ulf Barslund Mårtensson
The final two months of 2009 were a busy time for the new Honorary Consul General of Sweden in New York. The consulate needed an office, telephones, computer lines and furniture. And a staff. The office opened in the new year, as planned on January 4. Since then, things have quieted down a little.
We’re at David Dangoor’s office, two floors beneath the new honorary consulate on Park Avenue. We’ve met before, while the new Consul General to Sweden in New York was still in a top management position at Philip Morris at the end of the 1990s.
Dangoor has a long and successful career with the multinational corporation, both in traditional tobacco and other areas of the former conglomerate of food and beverage, including the venerable Swedish brands Gevalia and Marabou. He is also a private person with a good portion of integrity. I felt I had to share that I never thought he would have accepted this highly visible position.
He is relaxed and comfortable, at first laughs at my remark, and explains with a smile, “Whatever made you believe I am not vain?”
Vanity, however, has very little to do with the decision, and Dangoor adds, on a more serious note, “I honestly will be forever grateful to our country. Growing up in Sweden in the 1950s and 1960s was a true blessing. I don’t think anyone of us who did, actually understood how lucky we were. Or, at least not until we were exposed to the real world, that is, pretty much the rest of the world. I feel that this is my opportunity to give back a little to a country that offered me so much.”
The controversial decision to close the Consulate General became official in July 2009. Met with disbelief and shock by most local Swedes, along with several former diplomats to New York and industry and trade representatives in both countries, the decision was based on an expressed need to save and devote resources to other areas in the world.
The appointment of the new honorary consul was then publicized on Oct. 27, 2009, and it became clear that Sweden would not disappear entirely from the map in New York. The new consul would be in charge of an office with five specialists, covering regular consular activities, cultural and economic promotion and publicity. In the weeks leading up to the new year, it started to look more like a reorganization than a closure.
And a new start
Three people were hired to start the office on January 1: Niklas Arnegren, Gunilla Forsberg and Melinda Martino. And it has remained just the three of them for the first couple of months.
“It is important for the Swedes in the area to feel our presence,” Dangoor says.
“But we are few, and to be able to offer the same level of service as before it is important that every person in the office can handle the consular assignments. And not necessarily nine to five.”
“For instance, the staff has already dealt with one urgent incident: A visiting Swede’s passport was stolen. Gunilla Forsberg had just been authorized to sign temporary passports. So they tracked her down on a Saturday, and she arranged for a temporary replacement on short notice.”
The new office is full service, serving Tri-state area Swedes, with one exception: Applying for a new regular passport. To apply for a new passport you will have to go to Washington, unless plans and efforts to create some kind of ambulatory, mobile service can be arranged.
“You can, of course, pick up your new passport at the new office, and we offer everything else you need. We handle birth certificates, assist Swedish citizens in distress, and in the case of an unfortunate death, all of my consular rights and privileges along with responsibilities step in.”
The smaller office will also take on communications and cultural and economic promotion.
“Although everyone should be able to handle consular services, we will be a group of specialists also. We will have two people assigned to consular duties, one promoting culture, another promoting culture and working with publicity and a final working with the promotion industry and finance. Five in all.”
Midsummer at Battery Park
The Swedish Midsummer celebration will continue at Battery Park. As will the annual inscriptions of American Nobel Laureates at the Nobel Monument in New York’s Theodore Roosevelt Park.
But he also sets expectations: “That said, we cannot possibly offer the same kind of presence as the earlier office. Former Consul General in NYC, Olle Wästberg put it well in a newsletter in early December, saying ‘Be careful, don’t promise too much’.”
Wästberg was one of the last consuls general to reside at the stately 600 Park Avenue townhouse. What will happen to the building is still under discussion, according to Dangoor. These are really three buildings, 600, 602 and 604 Park Avenue, with the latter two used as apartments for staff.
“To keep 600 Park is wise for a multitude of reasons,” says Dangoor. “Often when you sell off property to save short term, it turns out not to be so clever. Looking at what the houses cost at the time of acquisition, looking at the value of having these fixed points in NYC and compare it with the cost of renting every time you are about to set up something major for the country makes this clear. The only ‘cost’ today would be the alternative resulting revenue if you were to sell minus the on-going costs of the alternatives.”
If the government were to sell the other town house it owns, which is presently the UN Ambassador’s residence, and let him move into 600 Park, it would need a major renovation.
Dangoor mentions one more important assignment for the new position: maintaining contacts with the other consular offices in the area and continuing to coordinate the meetings among the other Swedish official institutions in New York.
“In a way, what the Swedish government decided here may well be the way of the future. Who knows for how long countries will maintain full consular offices in the way it has been for years. Sweden was always among the role models of the world, more often then not a trendsetter when it comes to its ways to develop and problem solve. There are so many new ways of getting the job done today when compared to even ten or fifteen years ago.”
Dangoor’s priorities are clear: “My personal goal is for us to be so efficient at what we do that I’d like them [the Swedish population in the area] to say in a few years that ‘there was nothing to the decision in 2009; it really didn’t change much.’”
And, he has a vision: “I want to create a professional environment for us at the consulate. I would like us to be the kind of operation that ever-more capable people join, learn at, develop from and help develop our activities for the good of Sweden and then move on to new jobs or careers. This environment will enable us to recruit, continuously grow and excel at what we do.”
Starting up fresh
The new honorary consul is no newcomer to reorganizing and starting up fresh. He spent 27 years with Philip Morris, in positions on just about every continent. His last position there involved him in breaking up the former corporate structure, selling off Kraft to the public, then dividing the traditional business into two separate entities, Philip Morris International and the U.S. operations, under the trade name Altria. Philip Morris International relocated to Switzerland, where Dangoor spent a year setting things up prior to deciding to return to and stay in New York, home to the globetrotting executive for a majority of time since 1987.
Although David is as Swedish as they come, his father’s side of the family originates in the Middle East, as his name suggests. The story of their relocating to Sweden in the early 1950s is endearing. As Dangoor puts it it, “It wasn’t so much that we stayed in Sweden after having left Tehran during the unsettling time of conflict between the Shah and the democratically elected Prime Minister Mossadegh in 1951. Rather, Sweden opened its arms and decided to keep us.”
Dangoor’s father was born in Iraq, where his father’s family ran a publishing business. While on his way to the U.S. to pursue an education in medicine, WWII stopped him along the way in Bombay. There he took up residence during the war years. He became a businessman and was soon working as the agent for several Swedish forestry and trading companies, including Stora Kopparberg and Elof Hansson.
After the war he moved to Tehran to be closer to the family in Iraq and there he met his wife, a refugee from war-torn Vienna. When the unsettling times in Tehran set in, his mother saw too many similarities to the Austria she escaped. The young family moved to Stockholm, Sweden—a natural move for a man who often visited the country for business reasons. After living in a hotel for some time, they found a house in nearby Nacka, where David’s three sisters were born.
An ‘Innoventive’ Consul
In 2002, David Dangoor started Innoventive Partners LLC, which provides consulting services in the fields of strategic planning, marketing and PR. He works with a diverse group of clients, from construction to fashion. He was also involved in the much publicized Bacardi effort to buy Absolut.
He is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of BioGaia AB, a publicly listed Swedish biotech company that develops and markets pro-biotic solutions through food concepts and supplements; a member of the board of directors of Lifetime Brands Inc., which develops and supplies intelligent accessories for the household; on the board of tobacco company Lorillard, Inc., and on the board of ICP Solar Technologies, Inc., a public company that develops, manufactures and markets solar cells and solar cell-based products and building materials.
“BioGaia is exciting,” he says. “I was involved from the start, twenty years ago, as a passive investor. The company works with probiotics and has been a darling of investors for many years now. Starting with supplying probiotics to Stonyfield Farm yogurt the company works with a patented bacteria, L. reuteri, that is so unique that we decided to start selling pills, oil drops for babies and probiotic straws – and now under our own trademark.”
Sweden and America
Dangoor has also been active in the Swedish American Chamber of Commerce for years, served as its chairman for some time, and he finds this connection to the roots in Sweden important.
“It was different when I was younger. During my years at the Stockholm School of Economics (Handelshögskolan), I knew I wanted to go abroad. The atmosphere among my peers was to get out; the youth didn’t believe in Sweden’s future. The common feeling was that Sweden was going to deteriorate as a welfare state. As we know now, this never happened. Sweden has found new ways; Sweden is a truly incredible country, is to this day an example to the world. It has a tendency of sometimes biting off a bit much, of shouldering tasks that may be a bit too much in the short term, but it will always reinvent itself.”
“One of the things that fascinate me is that Sweden and the U.S. are in one essential way very similar,” he observes. “Free speech is as holy in Sweden as it is here in the U.S. For this to be so central is a thing that binds us, but there is one thing that then makes us different: Here in America, the DNA of society is all about individual rights, individual freedom, while in Sweden it has to be fair and just [for all]. It’s OK to diminish one person’s rights in Sweden to make things more just for someone else or for the common good of society, something completely unthinkable here. I am not sure what is the better of these views; the jury is still out.”
Dangoor is well read, spending his time on books on history and politics and more specifically Sweden’s history.
“I just finished a biography of Gustav IV Adolf and was fascinated by the extent to which the French revolution and the war of independence in America were such strong influences in Sweden at the time,” he says. “The Gustavians were unpopular, which led to the assassination of the father, Gustav III, and after the son lost Finland, he was forced to abdicate. His childless uncle was made king for an interim time and was then coerced to adopt Karl XIV (Jean Baptiste Bernadotte) rather than leave the throne to Gustav’s son. Very pragmatic, very Swedish and this in 1809. The Swedish constitution then lasted from 1809 when Gustav IV Adolf was forced to abdicate until 1974.”
As an educated advocate of Sweden, Dangoor is equipped with more knowledge and managerial experience than most, and seems well equipped to become a modern representative of the Sweden he openly admires and often visits. As a permanent resident, he holds only a Swedish passport and has no plans as yet to apply for U.S. citizenship.
The Olympics are starting up as we meet at the Dangoor residence for a photo shoot with the family. “It’s funny,” says the new consul general. “I will always root for Sweden at Games. It’s easy nowadays to root for the Rangers while in New York and Djurgården while in Sweden, but in a national tournament I always root for Sweden.”
Address to the new consular offices in New York City:
Consulate General of Sweden
445 Park Avenue, 21st floor, New York, NY 10022
Phone: +1 212 888 3000
Consular reception visiting hours: Monday: 10 am - 12 noon; Tuesday and Wednesday: CLOSED; Thursday: 2 pm - 4 pm; Friday: 10 am - 12 noon.
The Embassy of Sweden has initiated a portable passport station at Sweden’s honorary consulates in the U.S. Local resident Swedes can apply for passports through the service this spring/per appointment only:
April 12-13 New York
April 26-27 San Francisco www.swedenabroad.com/Start____8372.aspx
April 29-30 Los Angeles www.sweden-sandiego.org/
May 3-4 Seattle http://consulateofswedenseattle.com/
May 19 New York
(On appointment in LA through the Consulate in San Diego while station will be set up at the Swedish Church) For a detailed schedule and future notifications, see http://www.swedenabroad.com/News____7067.aspx?slaveid=103661