Charles Rivkin

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Charles Rivkin
Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs
Assumed office
February 13, 2014
President Barack Obama
Preceded by Jose Fernandez
United States Ambassador to France
In office
August 3, 2009 – November 20, 2013
President Barack Obama
Preceded by Craig Stapleton
Succeeded by Jane Hartley
United States Ambassador to Monaco
In office
August 3, 2009 – November 20, 2013
President Barack Obama
Preceded by Craig Stapleton
Succeeded by Jane Hartley
Personal details
Born 1962 (age 53–54)
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Susan Tolson
Alma mater Yale University
Harvard University

Charles Hammerman Rivkin (born 1962) is the current Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs. Confirmed by the U.S. Senate on February 12, 2014, Rivkin assumed office the following day, and was sworn in publicly by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on April 15, 2014.[1] Rivkin's confirmation marks the first time a U.S. ambassador and former CEO has ever led the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs at the U.S. State Department.

Prior to his appointment, Rivkin served for more than four years as the United States Ambassador to France and Monaco where he led America’s first and one of its largest diplomatic missions, which has six constituent posts throughout France and represents over 50 U.S. government agencies and sections.

Early life and education[edit]

Of Russian Jewish heritage,[2] Rivkin is one of four children of William R. Rivkin, the United States Ambassador to Luxembourg under President John F. Kennedy and United States Ambassador to Senegal and Gambia under President Lyndon B. Johnson;[3] and Enid Hammerman,[4] who was the daughter of the owner of one of the largest children's clothing manufacturers at the time.[5] Rivkin's father died in 1967 when he was 5[4] and his mother remarried to Chicago obstetrician Dr. John S. Long in 1971.[4][6]

Rivkin earned a B.A. from Yale University in 1984 where he graduated with distinction in political science and international relations. During his time at Yale, he was a member of two of Yale's a cappella groups: the underclassmen Spizzwinks and the all-senior Whiffenpoofs. He then earned an M.B.A. from Harvard University in 1988.[7]

He speaks fluent French and spent years as a youth studying, traveling and working in France, including studying in Rennes, France, with School Year Abroad and working as an intern at Renault. Business interests regularly brought him to Paris or Cannes prior to his appointment as ambassador.[8]

Business career[edit]

Prior to entering government service, Rivkin worked in the media sector for over 20 years, serving as president and CEO of award-winning entertainment companies such as The Jim Henson Company, home of the "Muppets". He also served as CEO of Wildbrain where he won a BAFTA Award as Executive Producer of the hit TV series Yo Gabba Gabba!.[9] Rivkin helped engineer the sale of The Jim Henson Company to EM.TV in 2000 for nearly $1 billion[10] and was named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company.[11]

Political activities[edit]

Rivkin served as an at-large California delegate for Senator John Kerry at the 2004 Democratic National Convention and for Barack Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.[12] Rivkin was the California finance co-chair for Obama's 2008 presidential campaign[7] and one of his top fund raisers.[13][14][15][16][17]

Ambassador to France and Monaco[edit]

Ambassador Rivkin's service in France came at one of the bilateral relationship's strongest moments in recent history.[18][19] To honor the legacy of Franco-American friendship and to commemorate the 68th anniversary of the Allied invasion of mainland Europe during World War II, Ambassador Rivkin took part in a mass parachute jump over the coast of Normandy on June 3, 2012.[20][21] During his 12,000-foot jump, Rivkin was accompanied by members of the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team.[22] An estimated crowd of 25,000 watched Rivkin land in a field near Sainte-Mère-Église amidst heavy winds, as he became the first U.S. Ambassador to France to jump from a plane in honor of the troops who fought on D-Day.[23] In support of the U.S. Navy, Rivkin became the first U.S. Ambassador to take off and land on a Navy aircraft carrier in an F-18 Super Hornet when he participated in a training exercise with naval aviators on the USS Eisenhower in March 2013.[24]

According to the Department of State Office of Inspector General’s report in May 2012, Ambassador Rivkin placed new emphasis on support for U.S. exports of goods and services into France.[25] The report called Rivkin a "dynamic and visionary noncareer Ambassador", and credited him with expanding the U.S. Embassy’s public diplomacy activities, particularly through his use of social media and his appearances on French national television.[25] Ambassador Rivkin introduced social media to Embassy Paris, establishing its first ever Facebook[26] and Twitter accounts.[27][28]

As ambassador, Rivkin made youth outreach one of his key priorities and connected the embassy to the next generation of leaders throughout France, including in disadvantaged communities in the banlieues outside larger cities.[29] Ambassador Rivkin organized a series of seminars for French youth, inviting them to meet with prominent American government officials, actors and musicians. Beginning with actor Samuel L. Jackson’s April 2010 visit with students in Bondy, an economically depressed Parisian suburb, Ambassador Rivkin set up seminars with Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, as well as Woody Allen, Jodie Foster, of the Black Eyed Peas, Robert Zemeckis, Allen Stone, Tony Bennett, Herbie Hancock, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and many others.[25][30] "Much of the embassy's outreach is meant to dispel 'mistruths' about the United States", Ambassador Rivkin said in an interview, adding, "It's easier to hate something you don't understand".[30] In January 2012, Ambassador Rivkin broadened his outreach efforts by creating the Washburne Award for Innovation in Diversity, recognizing one French and one American company for their best practices in fostering diversity in hiring practices.[31]

In January 2013, Rivkin commented on the pending parole and release of Lebanese militant Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, who was sentenced to life in prison for complicity in the murders of an American and an Israeli diplomat: "I am disappointed by the decision today...Life imprisonment was the appropriate sentence for Mr Abdallah’s serious crimes, and there is legitimate concern that Mr. Abdallah would continue to represent a danger to the international community if he were allowed to go free."[32]

On July 16, 2013, French President François Hollande awarded Ambassador Rivkin the rank of Commander in the Légion d'honneur at the Elysée Palace. Rivkin is the first U.S. Ambassador in half a century to receive the decoration from a sitting French president.[33] Rivkin's tenure as ambassador to France received highly favorable reviews by both State Department audits and from his embassy's employees.[14]

Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs[edit]

As Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, Rivkin leads a bureau at the U.S. State Department that is responsible for managing trade negotiations, investment treaties, economic sanctions, transportation affairs, telecommunications policy, international finance and development related issues, as well as intellectual property right protection. The Bureau is also the Department of State’s primary link to the private sector through its Office of Commercial and Business Affairs, which supports U.S. business interests internationally and works to create U.S. jobs by facilitating foreign investment in the United States.[34] In addition, Rivkin provides guidance to the Department of State’s 1,600 economic officers around the world and to the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In his first year as Assistant Secretary, Rivkin led multiple economic policy dialogues on behalf of the State Department, including discussions with Colombia,[35] the United Arab Emirates,[36] and Turkey.[37] In June 2014, Rivkin co-chaired a meeting of the U.S.–Israel Joint Economic Development Group (JEDG) with the ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, in Tel Aviv; held bilateral meetings with Israeli Government officials in Jerusalem; and bilateral meetings with Palestinian businessman and officials of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.[38]

In February 2015, Rivkin received la Grande Médaille de Vermeil de la Ville de Paris, the city of Paris’ highest honor, from Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

Personal life[edit]

In 1990, Rivkin married Susan Tolson in an interfaith Catholic and Jewish ceremony.[3] They live in Washington, D.C., and have two children, Elias and Lily.

His brother Robert S. Rivkin was appointed by President Barack Obama as the 21st General Counsel of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT)[39][40] and his brother's wife, Cindy S. Moelis, was appointed director of the Presidential Commission on White House Fellows.[40] His aunt, Joanne H. Alter, was the first woman to be elected in the metropolitan Chicago area.[41] His cousin, Jonathan Alter, is an award-winning author and NBC correspondent; and his cousin Jamie Alter Lynton, the wife of Sony Executive Michael Lynton, is one of California's biggest political fundraisers.

His family has presented the "Rivkin Award" at the United States Department of State since 1968 as a way to honor intellectual courage and constructive dissent in the American Foreign Service.[12] The award was created in part with the help of Charles Rivkin's godfather, Hubert H. Humphrey, after the elder Rivkin's death at 47, in 1967.[7]


  1. ^ Secretary Kerry's Remarks at Assistant Secretary Charles Rivkin's Swearing-in Ceremony
  2. ^ LA Times: "U.S. envoy in France is making the most of his opportunity" By Devorah Lauter April 24, 2010 | "But the 48-year-old Yale alum and Harvard Business School graduate with Russian Jewish roots shook hands with everyone in the room, and asked in fluent French about their various projects"
  3. ^ a b "Ms. Tolson Wed To Charles Rivkin" Aug. 5, 1990, The New York Times.
  4. ^ a b c Chicago Tribune: "Enid H. Long, 71 - Served on college board, medical relief missions" By James Janega January 29, 2002
  5. ^ Chicago Tribune: "Robert Rivkin takes on challenge of Toyota inquest with Transportation Department - Chicago attorney’s family ties to national politics run deep" By Melissa Harris
  6. ^ Chicago Tribune: "Dr. John Sterry Long, 1921-2013 - Rush obstetrician-gynecologist delivered more than 10,000 babies" By Patrick Svitek January 11, 2013 | Neal Ball, the committee's founder, met Dr. Long and his second wife, the late Enid Hammerman Rivkin Long
  7. ^ a b c "New U.S. Envoy Takes Up Post" by Brian Knowlton, The New York Times, Aug. 16, 2009. Retrieved 8/16/09.
  8. ^ "US Embassy France". 2011-09-12. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Henson tab near $1 bil", Variety, 24 February 2000
  11. ^ "Most Creative People 2009". Fast Company. Retrieved 22 March 2015. 
  12. ^ a b announcement
  13. ^ USA Today: "5 Top Bundlers for Barack Obama - All five have collected more than $500,000 in campaign donations from other people" August 22, 2008
  14. ^ a b The Atlantic: "Being Good at Raising Money Doesn't Make You a Good Diplomat - Will foreign policy skills, rather than campaign fundraising, ever matter when it comes to political ambassador appointments?" by Nicholas Kralev March 19, 2013
  15. ^ Chicago Magazine: "Key Obama campaign backers who were appointed ambassadors - Winners’ Row: A sample of bundlers for Obama who are now ambassadors posted abroad" By Carol Felsenthal February 1, 2010
  16. ^ New York Times: "Obama Rewarded ’08 Fund-Raisers, Barring Some From Helping Now" By MARK LANDLER JULY 24, 2012
  17. ^ Variety magazine: "Hollywood’s Diplomatic Intrigue - Industry figures see last chance for ambassadorship" by Ted Johnson March 2, 2013
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Interview: «Cooperation Has Reached an Unprecedented Level»", Les Echos, 26 March 2013.
  20. ^ "US ambassador marks D-Day with Normandy parachute jump". MSNBC. 
  21. ^ "U.S. Ambassador Charles Rivkin marks D-Day with a parachute jump" (Video). YouTube. Retrieved July 1, 2012. 
  22. ^ "U.S. ambassador to France joins paratroopers for 12,000ft skydive over Normandy to celebrate D-Day anniversary". The Daily Mail. June 4, 2012. 
  23. ^ "US ambassador in D-Day jump". The Connexion. June 4, 2012. 
  24. ^
  25. ^ a b c "Office of Inspector General's Report on Embassy Paris, May 2012" (PDF). 
  26. ^ "Embassy Paris Facebook page". 
  27. ^ "Embassy Paris Twitter account". 
  28. ^ "Ambassador Charles H. Rivkin's Twitter account". 
  29. ^ "How the U.S. Engages with French 'Banlieues'", Le Parisien, 26 January 2013.
  30. ^ a b Sayare, Scott (Sep 22, 2010). "Feeling Slighted by France, and Respected by the U.S.". The New York Times. 
  31. ^ "Un plan coordonné en faveur de l'innovation | Nos amis américains | Prix Washburne", Le Monde, 30 May 2013.
  32. ^ Jewish Telegraph Agency: "France paroling Lebanese man involved in murders of Israeli, American" By Cnaan Liphshiz January 11, 2013
  33. ^ "US Embassy France Internet page". 2013-07-26. 
  34. ^ "Charles H. Rivkin - Bio". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  35. ^ "Department of State Public Schedule, February 28, 2014". 
  36. ^ "Sixth UAE-US Economic Policy Dialogue in Washington concludes". Gulf News. 
  37. ^ "Turkish officials meet American diplomats in D.C. to discuss economic partnership". Daily Sabah. 
  38. ^ San Diego Jewish World: "Amid tumult, Rivkin heads for Israel and P.A." 13 June 2014.
  39. ^ All Gov: "Ambassador to France: Who is Charles Rivkin? July 14, 2009
  40. ^ a b Huffington Post: "All in the Family -- Husband, Wife, Brother all Make Obama's Team Rivkin's cousin" by Carol Felsenthal May 25, 2011
  41. ^ Jensen, Trevor (November 11, 2008). "Joanne H. Alter: 1927 - 2008". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 13, 2014. 

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Craig Stapleton
United States Ambassador to France
Succeeded by
Jane Hartley
United States Ambassador to Monaco
Preceded by
Jose Fernandez
Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs