Regeneration and renewal – How one of Lisbon’s most prestigious organisations is successfully adapting to changing times
The American Club of Lisbon, created 71 years ago, is one of the oldest and most prestigious organisations of its kind in Lisbon. But since the 1980s it has fought to counter a declining membership. A new strategy from its president Patrick Siegler- Lathrop is paying dividends.
Hear mention of the American Club of Lisbon and the mind springs to presidents and prime ministers and business leaders using one of Portugal’s oldest, respected and most celebrated institutions as a platform for policy and a springboard for ideas. It was always traditionally a place where leading US business leaders in Portugal and Portuguese entrepreneurs could get together at lunches, social and networking events.
In the post-war period, until the end of the 1970s, it was usual for US businesses in Europe to appoint US management staff in countries like Portugal to run these country branch offices but with improved communications it became cheaper more attractive to have non-US nationals on the ground representing and running these US companies at local levels.
A consequence of this deleveraging of US management was a gradual decline in membership for the American Club of Lisbon – a non-profit organisation with limited revenues which are principally derived from membership fees. While the objective of most of its events is not to make money, it needs support; financial support from companies and membership.
New US residents in Portugal
This trend has begun to invert with a swelling membership from a new class of US citizens coming to Portugal to either relocate in terms of work or retire. In fact, according to the Portuguese immigration and border authority SEF 2018 saw a rise of 18% in US citizens wanting to retire or live in Portugal while 14 applied to reside through the Golden Visa investment programme.
Last month Forbes magazine noted that Portugal was among the top 10 retirement destinations worldwide for US citizens because of its warm but agreeable climate, its relatively low cost of living and good public and private healthcare provision.
Regarding Portugal, Forbes also noted that there was no significant language barrier for US pensioners in Portugal, andwhile the crime rate was low. Furthermore, Portugal has a tax agreement with the United States as well as having frequent flights, but although the lack of direct flights to many US cities could be a disadvantage.
Forbes highlights the Algarve and Lisbon as the two most attractive places to live in Portugal with 400 US citizens choosing to live in Portugal between January 2017 and August 2018.
Increased membership in the American Club of Portugal is also down to a substantialthe result of a membership drive from both its small buta dedicated team led by executive director Anne Taylor who has had a wide experience in media, public relations and events organisation and who has tapped into online social networks like Americans in Portugal as a membership source..
“When it comes to retirement they (US citizens) see Portugal as an attractive alternative because , in terms of the cost of living when given a choice between say Lisbon or Fort Lauderdale, the cost of living here is lower than many alternatives, the cultural offer is incomparable to what it might be in many resorts in America, and we have meet many Americans who feel that it is opportune to live at least for a period of time outside of not to mention people who are unhappy with the political and economic evolution in the United States and have decided to look elsewhere,” says Patrick Siegler-Lathrop.
The ACL aims to increase and broaden its membership and its balance between US citizens living in Portugal and non-US citizens and welcomes both.
For the newly arrived US citizens, the ACL has developed a programme of cultural visits, some given by museum curators, and social events in some of Lisbon’s most prestigious bars and restaurants.
A three-four year project
While the ACL strategy is to maintain the traditional position of the American Club with speakers who are Portuguese politicians and high-level government officials typically addressing a Portuguese audience, — and it will continue to do that — the ACL Board also aim to make the club more dynamic, including bringing more American Leaders to Portugal to address the Club..
This year is a Portuguese nationaln election year and the ACL plans, as usual, to have at least one or two of the leading candidates as speakers at its luncheons, that are usually hosted at the Hotel Sheraton & Spa in Lisbon.
But Patrick Siegler-Lathrop and the Board have, from the outset of his tenure as ACL president in 2018, developed a three-four year project which includes widening the scope of speakers and, events and also possibly expanding to the north of Portugal focusing in Porto where so many US companies have representations and branch offices.
Strengthening the US link
Tied to its statutes and the purpose of the American Club in “creating goodwill between the people of Portugal the United States” the ACL is, in a sense, going back to its roots by fostering and strengthening a much stronger US link.
“This involves a strategy of actively seeking more new American members. There has been an increase in US citizens choosing to live in Portugal and Lisbon and the ACL wants to capitalise on this influx by persuading offering them attactive events for them to want to become members,” says Siegler-Lathrop.
“One way of doing this is by providing events that will interest them. Secondly, in terms of speakers, to have more speakers and more diverse ones and at different venues, not just the Sheraton Hotel & Spa. The relation with the Sheraton is very important to us and we will maintain it, but to we also intend to broaden the choice of venues where we will hold our events” adds the ACL President.
For example, over the past year the ACL has welcomed speakers including U.S. astronaut Mae Jemison, co-owner of TAP David Neeleman, and Superintendant of the Miami-Dade school district (with over 350,000 students) Albert M. Carvalho. In addition, the Club organised a photo exhibition on 25 March the ACL welcomed guest speaker US educator Alberto M. Carvalho, organised a lunch with David Neeleman co-owner of TAP Portugal on 27 September 2018 at the Grémio Literário, The Kennedy Years photo exhibition at The Consulat in Lisbon’s Chiado on 19 June 2018 and will host anthe upcoming talk by EU Commissioner for Science and Innovation in Europe, Carlos Moedas on 23 May at the Sheraton to name a few.
In fact, the ACL has over the past year held events not only at the Sheraton but also at the Grémio Literário, but also the Sociedade de Geografia, Circulo Eça de Queiroz Centre and will continue to find interesting venues in the Lisbon area to host events and with more speakers from the United States.
“It is my desire that the American Club becomes a forum to discuss ideas of importance, not only forto Portugal, but also for the relationship between Portugal and the United States. An example of this was the presentation given by the Chief of Staff of the Portuguese Armed Forces, António Silva Ribeiro who spoke about the ‘Military and Strategic Relationship between Portugal and the United States’ on 9 July 2018,” says Siegler-Lathrop.
“There are many other subjects of interest: the rise of right-wing populism, the evolving mechanisms and role of capitalism, inequality and its consequences, shifting world power dynamics, climate warming are some of the ideas that come to mind, is another subject of interest to a broad audience as is the evolving mechanisms and role of capitalism and business in the world today since it is very clear that there is the beginning of a shift in attitude as to whether or not business should have a responsibility not just to their shareholders, but their employees, local communities, their country and the environmental sustainability of the world. These kind of issues are important, and if we at the American Club can contribute to them in somea small way to foster discussion andhrough dialogue on these and other important subjects, then we will do so,” he continues.
Branching out to Porto
The ACL is sensitive to the suggestion that it makes sense for organisations in Portugal to not be solely Lisbon-focused.
“In particular, for an organisation like the American Club, most of the subsidiaries of American companies are located in the Porto area, which is the industrial centre of Portugal, and it therefore makes sense for the club to have a presence there,” explains Siegler Lathrop.
“We are hoping that some time within the next year we can have a launch event want to begin holding events in Porto, attract new for new club members from Portothere, and. We certainly have the intention, if this project is successful, to organise regular events for our Porto members offer board membership status to some and organise regular monthly events,” the ACL President continues.
“To achieve this the ACL would seek the support of the regional government, the mayor and the quite substantial number of US business subsidiaries in Porto and the North. It’s not something that will happen overnight and we are currently testing the level of interest there, with a favourable initial reaction,” Patrick Siegler-Lathrop concludes.