Farewell Remarks from Ambassador Daniel W. Yohannes to Council

Daniel W. Yohannes

Remarks delivered on December 13, 2016

Secretary General,

Fellow Ambassadors,


I’ll be speaking for longer than I normally do today.  But if you retain one thing,make it “bring it home.”

As you know, I’ve spent most of my career—more than three decades—in the banking and financial services industries.  And even if I served as the head of the Millennium Challenge Corporation before coming here, I’m not a professional diplomat.  So when I arrived in 2014, l had a lot to learn about multilateralism. Luckily, the OECD has some great teachers.

What did I learn?

First lesson: multilateral politics are anything but boring. At least not with someone like Secretary General Gurria at the helm. His energy, vision and, –let’s face it– flare for the dramatic, keep this organization on its toes.

Second lesson: location really is everything in Council.  And the best location in the house is the corner seat.  Why?  Because you can slip out easily when Council runs long.  Location; Location; Location!

More seriously, the third lesson I learned is that consensus is a precious commodity. The decisions that are made at the OECD through consensus are powerful.  But the process isn’t easy.  It requires patience and creativity.  And most importantly, it requires listening.  Listening not with the intention to reply, but to understand.  Consensus isn’t about who shouts the loudest. Rather, it is something that emerges from genuine dialogue and exchange.

Finally, I learned that to be successful here, you must pick and choose your involvement.  I realized that if I tried to be in every room and focus on every issue, the quality of my input would suffer. So I tried to concentrate on where my involvement could have the greatest impact.  Issues like inequality, LGBT inclusion, and enlargement.  Speaking of LGBT, I hope to see all of you on Thursday morning at the event Ambassador Van Hulst and I are hosting on why LGBT inclusivity matters.

I could go on about all of the things I’m coming away with. But suffice it to say that I am leaving the OECD a wiser man.  And for that, I can thank my mentors, who are in this room.

Now, if you will indulge me,  I’d like to leave you with a few lessons of my own.  These are things that I learned over the years working in the private sector.  But they are universal.  And I believe they apply well to the OECD.  First, the private sector teaches you to pause every now and then, and ask yourself – What have I accomplished?  Is what I’m doing working?  This reflex allows you to adapt and to be effective.  Without it, it is easy to go off course and get out of synch with your key constituencies.

Which brings me to my second lesson—nothing is more important than your relationships to your clients and your shareholders.  This doesn’t mean doing whatever these groups say.  It means you have to pay attention to how they are feeling, and work hard to make sure you’re on the same page.  Now, relationships are naturally complex.  There are ups and downs.  Good moments and bad.  This is true of the relationship between executives and their shareholders – just as it is between OECD and its members.

During my time, we’ve had a lot of great moments and accomplishments— the new approach to horizontal projects, the climate agreement on coal-fired power plants, Resolution 78, and more.  But we’ve also had challenging moments.  And like any relationship, what should be a small issue can quickly snowball and become quite serious, such as the IEA-OECD office space decision.  I’m pretty sure that I lost what remained of my hair during that process.  And I think the Secretary General and Fatih Birol got a little greyer too.

But, ultimately, what matters is that we were able to agree on an outcome.  The final lesson I’d like to leave with you is the value of questioning everything. Of not being afraid to question practices or working methods. Boards do this all the time.  We should be able to as well.  Here in Council, for example, we shouldn’t be afraid to say: Does this Council structure fit our needs?  Could it be improved?

Now, before I close, let me say a few words about the current global context, and what it means for the OECD.  As I mentioned at last week’s reception, 2016 has been a year of upheaval.  For many of us, it has been a wake-up call.  But to quote President John F. Kennedy, “in a crisis, be aware of the danger, but recognize the opportunity.”

I think the disruption we are facing truly is an opportunity for us to make meaningful, positive change.  The reasons behind public discontentment are complex.  But there is no doubt that part of it stems from inequality.  Inequality is a defining issue, and I am convinced that the OECD can help solve it.

This organization- more than any other- can help bring the challenge of inequality down to a practical level.  It can develop concrete solutions and promote them across the world.  I hope that you will continue what we started on inclusive growth, and confront this challenge head-on.

But it’s not just inequality.  This organization is critical to confronting so many other crise — climate change, lagging global growth, democratic disengagement.

The OECD makes the world a better place. It preaches the values of cooperation, transparency and good governance.  And it helps governments, businesses and other stakeholders advance them through its policy guidance.

But — Mr. Secretary General and Members of the Council — we need to practice what we preach.  We need to bring those values back home to this very room.

If we cannot do this, I believe there could be negative consequences for this organization.  And we cannot afford to let this happen.  Because the world needs us, and we need each other.  Maybe more than ever before.

So we all need to work together to model successful problem-solving.  We need to listen, learn and work together to solve issues without always having to reach back to capitals.

We need to bring it home if we are to make positive and meaningful change. We need to bring it home.

In closing, I want to thank Secretary General Gurria for his leadership, his tireless energy and his determination to make the OECD count in the world.

I want to thank the Secretariat for all of its fine work.  Some of the finest minds in the world are here in the OECD, and I have great admiration for the work you produce.

And to my fellow ambassadors—my mentors and my friends—I want to thank you for all the kindness, generosity and support you have shown me over the past two years.  I’m eternally grateful.

Bring it home, ladies and gentlemen.

Bring it home.

Thank you.