Michael Schmitt has been passionate about economic and community development through his dedication, commitment and hard work in Illinois and beyond. His leadership inspires change and progress in the international stage because of his dedication, vision and inspiration. Michael Schmitt is the Executive Director of the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce Chicago (AICC). In that role he has established unprecedented cooperation with Chicago’s many Jewish and Israel-oriented organizations as well as with Israel, Illinois and City of Chicago agencies. Michael began his career in international trade as a part time employee at the National Association of America-Israel Chambers of Commerce in 1995. In 1996 he began working at the AICC, becoming its Executive Director in 2007.
Michael is also Executive Director of the America-Israel Economic Forum (AIEF), a Chicago-based business educational organization that provides the business community and general public with educational programs about Israel’s economy and the benefits of conducting business with Israel and other countries. In recent years he has played the key role in raising that organization’s profile to equal that of the AICC in Chicago and has worked with business, academic and community leaders beyond Chicago resulting in AIEF’s active programming and presence in the Quad Cities region (Moline/East Moline, Rock Island, IL and Davenport, Bettendorf, IA) along the Illinois and Iowa sides of the Mississippi River, home base of Deere and Alcoa.
Michael is an active member of the Petach Tikva (Israel) Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International Program and has served as a panelist at the U.S.-Israel Business Initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington,D.C. Michael has a Bachelor Degree in Music from Northern Illinois University, and two Master Degrees in Music, from Northern Illinois University and also Northwestern University, respectively.
NY Elite Interview with Michael Schmitt, Executive Director of the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce Chicago
NY Elite: What was your first job and what are you currently doing now?
Michael Schmitt: I was 16 years old when I got my first job at a warehouse production line at Bantam Books. Now I am the Executive Director at America-Israel Chamber of Commerce Chicago (AICC).
NY Elite: What projects have been your favorites that you have been a part of and why?
Michael Schmitt: Two projects stand out as my favorites to date.
The first was back in the latter half of the 1990s, before Israeli companies were regular participants at U.S. conferences and trade shows. Our office along with America-Israel Chambers of Commerce in other U.S. cities began introducing decision-makers from emerging Israeli high-tech and biotech companies to major U.S. firms at corporate hosted face-to-face meetings. Today Israeli participation in U.S. and international conferences and trade shows is ubiquitous.
The second was the November 2015 visit to Chicago of delegation headed by H.E. Madame President Atifete Jahjaga of Kosovo. Centerpiece of the visit was a multi-lateral economic conference. Visit included visits to Chicago and Illinois business and government officials and a visit with Howard Tullman and 1871 to learn about creating high-tech entrepreneurship pipelines between Chicago and Kosovo. Learning about Albania’s history and Besa was a revelation and an inspiration.
And I have to add that having an office full of Albanian interns is an outcome I never would have imagined, but is a reality today and it is inspiring.
NY Elite: What was the most significant change you brought about in a project / organization?
Michael Schmitt: Bringing a wider array of organizations, ethnic and religious groups, and individuals together in working with the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce Chicago (AICC) and America-Israel Economic Forum (AIEF) together to advance the mission of the AICC and AIEF respectively,
NY Elite: What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?
Michael Schmitt: People from diverse backgrounds, religions, histories, and circumstances can and do get along and work together productively every day all over the world.
NY Elite: What are the most important values and ethics of a leader?
Michael Schmitt: Try not be limited by your experiences.
NY Elite: How can one improve their leadership skills?
Michael Schmitt: Challenge yourself and work with people of different backgrounds to achieve change.
NY Elite: What is your advice for those who would like to reach higher in their career?
Michael Schmitt: Focus, work hard and do not give up. Find people who can help you.
NY Elite: What are you an advocate of? What are your life passions?
Michael Schmitt: I am passionate about gardening, history, art & music, wine, the environment….
NY Elite: Who inspires you?
Michael Schmitt: People who inspire me to move outside my limitations and effect change.
NY Elite: What are five characteristics that make successful leaders?
- Be yourself.
- Do not try to be everything for everybody.
- Ability to find commonality among seemingly disparate personalities and agendas.
- Distill and communicate precise actions.
- Don’t be afraid of failure.
NY Elite: What are your future plans/goals/projects?
Michael Schmitt: In terms of the AICC I look forward to the day when people come to our events and say “Wow! I had no idea the Chamber had such a broad following!” Personally, I want to continue to learn more about and promote the history of the Albanian people and their culture. The world can learn a lot from Albanians.