SACC-Texas celebrates 30 years this year and we have met with two of our former presidents who played a crucial role in the formation of SACC-Texas; Gunnar Nilsson, who is one of the founders of SACC-Houston, and Richard Koehler who expanded SACC-Houston to a state-wide organization by creating chapters in Dallas and Austin. We have also met with the current president, Stefan Lloyd, to hear about the future visions of SACC-Texas. Read about the creation of SACC-Houston and SACC-Texas and the future vision of SACC-Texas!
The creation of SACC-Houston
Gunnar Nilsson was working with The Swedish Trade Council (Exportrådet) in Houston during the 1980’s. The Swedish Trade Council in Houston worked to facilitate Swedish export and to grow Swedish companies in the Houston area. In that context he and his colleagues received many queries from American companies showing interest in the Swedish and European markets and who needed assistance in expanding their businesses. The queries were referred to Swedish consulates and the Swedish Embassy but Gunnar and his colleagues experienced that the consulates and the Embassy had not the time to guide American companies to the Swedish market. He had the sense that something was lacking to support the American industry. A group of representatives from the Swedish business community, himself and the Consulate of Sweden, amongst others, started to discuss how to fill the gap and The Swedish-American Trade Association in Houston was created in 1983, with the purpose to exclusively support American companies entering the Swedish market.
As The Swedish-American Trade Association in Houston grew they realized that the questions they were dealing with were larger than they could handle on their own. Gunnar told us that they contacted SACC in New York and some other SACC chambers to discuss the possibility of cooperation. Early in the discussions they realized they had a broad base to cooperate on and within a few years from the creation of The Swedish-American Trade Association in Houston the collaboration with SACC had turned into a merger and the name was changed to the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce in Houston.
At that time SACC-Houston worked exclusively with the oil and gas and pulp and paper industries. As regards oil and gas there was limited knowledge in other parts of the U.S. and SACC-Houston could therefore contribute and strengthen the SACC network. The focus in respect of the pulp and paper industry was the southeast geographical area of the country, with Atlanta as the area center at the time.
In the start-up phase SACC-Houston had 10 – 15 members and grew to 20- 30 in a few years. Early members were Ericsson, local banks and smaller American companies amongst others.
The creation of SACC-Texas
In May 1996 Richard Koehler took over the presidency in SACC-Houston. Richard told us that from a business standpoint SACC-Houston had restrictions on growth despite being located in a metropolitan city. He had a clear view to grow the chamber, observing that all other SACC Chambers were anchored in single cities with natural limitations on geographic and economic resources. The thought of expanding SACC-Houston into a single state-wide chamber offered a better business strategy. “Since each Texas region has its strengths and skills that attract Swedes it made sense to create a united state-wide chamber offering the reservoir of economic strength over the entire state while providing regional convenience to current and future members wanting to do business in Texas” Richard told us. As a 4th generation Texan he was familiar with the heritage and natural rivalries of Texas regions and understood their strengths could be converted into unified state-wide assets as opposed to competitive segments. He gave considerable thought to chamber reorganization and searched to find people with skills the chamber needed for state-wide expansion and regional offices in Austin, Dallas and Houston.
He and the board started to promote the state with its regional diversity, strengths and skills, established new chapters in Dallas and Austin, and encouraged all offices to plan events particular to their region, always with support from the other offices. The newsletter was strengthened and published regularly, and the SACC-Texas business directory was created for national and international distribution as a marketing tool, always encouraging members to first look in the directory for whatever they needed, i.e., members doing business within the chamber first. The chamber continued with regional business and social events such as lunches with presentations and holiday parties to constantly build continuity and camaraderie among members. Their strategy and efforts worked well. In three years SACC-Texas had grown from a single office into a state-wide organization with three regional offices and membership had increased from 30 to 160. The focus of the chambers’ business had also turned from exclusively supporting American companies entering or operating in Sweden to also focusing on enhancing Swedish exports to Texas.
Richard finds today’s organization close to his vision when creating the united state-wide chamber in the mid-1990’s.
SACC-Texas vision and special thanks
SACC-Texas current president Stefan Lloyd is determined to carry on the heritage from former presidents and to take the organisation a few steps further. ”Since Texas is a major business hub in North America and growing fast, SACC-Texas’ challenge in today’s fast moving world is to is to keep creating new ways to link-up people in our network that can add-value to each other” Stefan said. Together with SACC-USA, SACC-Texas is now connecting all the SACC Chamber-networks in the USA creating a Pan-American force with direct links to Sweden. The value of this expanded network of c. 2000 people is great for anyone with the ambition to initiate or grow Swedish-American business relationships. Stefan’s vision for SACC-Texas is to become the number one network of choice for people with personal or business links between Texas and Sweden.
SACC-Texas wants to thank our former presidents and boards who have all contributed to the success of our organization throughout the years.
Jennie Hagegard, SACC-Texas