Land Developer to U.S. Ambassador via Haas: A Path-Bending Journey

[29 min 17 sec] – Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis will share personal experiences in a career arc that has taken her from land development in Sacramento to being President Obama’s senior diplomat in Hungary. She will discuss motivation, leadership challenges and strategies, and lessons learned from both the private and public sectors.

Ambassador Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis was sworn in to office by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on January 7, 2010. She presented her credentials to the President of Hungary, László Sólyom on January 11, 2010. Before accepting President Obama’s nomination to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis was president of AKT Development Corporation, one of California’s largest and most respected land development firms.

Ambassador Kounalakis and her husband, veteran print journalist Markos Kounalakis, have founded two university chairs in Hellenic studies at Georgetown University and Stanford University. Both chairs focus on the understanding of the origins of Athenian democracy. Further to their support of the understanding of democracy and international relations, they established the Tsakopoulos Kounalakis lecture series at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Ambassador Kounalakis is a staunch advocate of interfaith dialogue, and served for nearly ten years as a Trustee of the World Council of Religions for Peace. In recognition for her work with the WCRP, she was awarded the medal of St. Paul, the Greek Orthodox Church of America’s highest honor. Her appointment by the Mayor of San Francisco to serve as a Trustee of the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center allowed her to combine her skills in business and real estate with her love of the arts.

Actively involved in civil society organizations throughout her home state of California, Ambassador Kounalakis served four times as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and as an at-large member of the California State Central Committee. She also served as a member of the California First Five Commission, and the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Autism. She served as a Trustee of Robert Redford’s Sundance Preserve and on the Conservation Fund’s National Forum on Children and Nature. Ambassador Kounalakis earned her undergraduate degree from Dartmouth and an MBA from the Haas School of Business. In 2011 she received an Honorary Doctorate in Law from the American College of Greece.