Spring 2008 • Volume 14, Issue 2
Ambassador’s life on the Emerald Isle
Ambassador Kenny inspects Irish troops.
Ambassador Kenny is sworn into office by Colin Powell.
James C. Kenny ’76 became interested in working for the State Department after President Gerald Ford made Bradley a stop on his campaign trail on March 5, 1976. The business major would eventually serve as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland.
After graduation, Kenny began working in Chicago for his family’s business, Kenny Construction Company. He later became executive vice president of the company and president of Kenny Management Services, a division responsible for projects including the Midway Airport expansion and the Chicago Bears’ new stadium. His business career has been successful — Kenny has been recognized with several awards, including the Hispanic American Construction Association’s Contractor of the Year and a recognition in Crain’s Chicago Business “40 under 40.”
Kenny served as ambassador from 2003 until his retirement from the State Department in November 2006. “It was a great time to serve our country and an exciting time to be in Europe, to see what was going on,” he says.
Stepping back to look at the relationship between Ireland and America, Kenny points out a close partnership, particularly in the area of entrepreneurship. He recalls Ireland in the 1980s when it was in deep financial distress; now, he looks at the nation with the second-highest income in the European Union. He estimates that American investment in Ireland is four times that of India and China combined, primarily because American businesses like Google and Microsoft have European headquarters in Dublin. In addition, approximately half of Intel’s profits come from its Dublin plant, and Pfizer manufactures Lipitor in an Irish plant.
America is also currently experiencing a close partnership with Ireland through education. “We have to teach our students today that their education isn’t inside the 50 states; it’s out there in the world,” says Kenny. He did extensive work in Ireland concerning the J-1 visa, part of the Exchange Visitor Program. He hopes to see the number of international students in the United States increase so they will then return home with a more global perspective on leadership, education, and business.
One of the most interesting events Kenny participated in during his tenure in Ireland was the 2004 United States–European Union summit, held during Ireland’s presidency. The summit’s highlight was a two-day visit from President Bush and several cabinet members and government officials. For Kenny, handling the summit (a six-month project) was a highlight of his time in Ireland.
Kenny’s other most memorable moments include trips he took three times a year with the Irish Prime Minister to the White House. Kenny met with Bush in the Oval Office and briefed him about issues in Irish government and relations between the U.S. and Ireland and how they could be improved.
In 2004, Kenny received the Flax Trust Award and in 2005 received an honorary “Doctor of Humane Letters” from Lynn University and the American College Dublin.
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