His father was a U.S. ambassador, but as a kid, Charles Rivkin thought that career path was an “impossible dream—like wanting to coach the Yankees.” So he went into finance instead, then moved into the entertainment business, rising to CEO of the Jim Henson Co. in 2000. When he appeared on our 2009 MCP list, Rivkin was the president and CEO of Wildbrain, the companybehind Nickelodeon’s toddler-world phenomenon Yo Gabba Gabba!.
But government was the family business, and Rivkin never lost interest in public service. He was a major fundraiser for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, and in 2009 the president rewarded him with the ambassadorship to France and Monaco. After a successful run in Paris, he was named assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs in 2014, part of a push by John Kerry to bring more business leaders into the state department.
Rivkin’s current responsibilities include managing international trade and implementing economic sanctions against the likes of Russia and Iran. (He also started the state department’s first podcast.) His overall goals—grow the economy, generate jobs—aren’t so different from a CEO’s, even if the challenges are new. “Leading large bureaucracies is fun, but different from anything I’ve experienced in the private sector,” he says. “It’s about how you engage.”
President Obama’s leadership. “Obamacare will be a lasting legacy.”
Terrorism, intolerance, “ethnic and religious enmity,” and climate change. “We’re living in a very complex world.”
As a political appointee, his current position will likely expire with the arrival of a new administration, a state of affairs that has proved to be freeing. “I’m not interested in getting promoted. My focus is simply on making things better.”
“Jim Henson used to always say that media, if used properly, could be an enormous source of good in the world. I think that goes even more for government.”
“When I was in Paris, I was the first ambassador to have town hall meetings with every member of the embassy.”
Like, really communicate
“It’s amazing when you go into a meeting and explain to people that there really aren’t any bad ideas. I’ve been very impressed by the creativity that our foreign service officers are capable of exhibiting.”