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2013 Gala Honoree, Recipient of the Young Leaders Achievement Award
The French-American Foundation will honor Charles Ferguson, Academy Award-winning film director and Founder and President of Representational Pictures, as the inaugural recipient of the Young Leaders Achievement Award. For more than 30 years, the French-American Foundation has selected promising leaders from both sides of the Atlantic, giving them a unique opportunity to collaborate and learn from one another. The Young Leaders Achievement Award acknowledges a member of the Young Leaders network who has made a significant impact on the global community.
Mr. Ferguson, as a Young Leader and longtime friend of the French-American Foundation, we are truly delighted to honor your achievements as a producer of documentary films, including the highly successful Inside Job, which won the 2011 Academy Award for Documentary Feature. What led you to produce this film? What was your reaction to winning the award?
Several friends of mine were among the first to warn about the crisis. Beginning in 2007, they began making predictions that at first I considered ridiculous, but which rapidly began to seem if anything optimistic. When Fannie, Freddie, AIG, and Lehman Brothers failed in early September 2008 and the acute crisis began, I decided that I needed to make the film.
Winning the Oscar was of course amazing. I was grateful to everyone who helped us, very gratified that I could make the statement that I made, and then spent several hours floating while consuming a substantial quantity of champagne.
You were a Young Leader in 1996. Your class included a number of individuals who have gone on to great success, including French President François Hollande, French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici, former U.S. Senator Evan Bayh, influential French businesswoman Anne Lauvergeon (former CEO of Areva), and prominent American journalist Gwen Ifill (managing editor and moderator of Washington Week on PBS and senior correspondent with PBS NewsHour). How did this experience, with such a successful group early in their careers, help or shape your own? What has been your interaction with this network since?
It was an amazing experience. I learned a lot, and made a number of friends. The 1996 meeting also included Patricia Barbizet, now the chairwoman of Christie's among many other things, and Annick Cojean of Le Monde, both of whom became friends. It was a remarkable group.
Your career has spanned a number of fields, tackling issues facing both the United States and the world at large – technology development, security concerns, politics, and financial practices. With such a breadth of expertise, what do you consider the most pressing political, economic, or technological policy matters confronting the United States and Europe today? With these in mind, are you developing new priorities in your own work?
I've been incredibly fortunate to work in several fields, each time with incredible colleagues. Over the last decade, and through the work I've done, I have come to feel that the three most serious challenges we face are rising inequality, the corruption of governance by money in politics, and global climate change. These problems are related. And I hope to explore both in depth in my next two films. My next film will be about Hillary Clinton, and the following one is an extremely ambitious film about global climate change.
Charles Ferguson is the founder and president of Representational Pictures, Inc., and director and producer of Inside Job, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2011, and No End In Sight: The American Occupation of Iraq, which was nominated in the same category in 2008.
Ferguson was originally trained as a political scientist and received his BA in mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley, and obtained a Ph.D. in political science from M.I.T., where his research focused on interactions between high technology, globalization, and government policy. Following his Ph.D., Ferguson conducted postdoctoral research at MIT while also consulting to the White House, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Department of Defense, and several U.S. and European high technology firms. Ferguson spent several years as a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a director of the French-American Foundation, and supports several nonprofit organizations. He has been an independent consultant to Apple, Xerox, Motorola, Intel, and Texas Instruments, among other technology companies.
In 1994, Ferguson founded Vermeer Technologies, one of the earliest Internet software companies, with Randy Forgaard. Vermeer created the first visual Web site development tool, FrontPage™. In early 1996, Ferguson sold Vermeer to Microsoft, which integrated FrontPage into Microsoft Office. After selling Vermeer, Ferguson returned to research and writing.
He is the author of four books, including High Stakes, No Prisoners: A Winner’s Tale of Greed and Glory in the Internet Wars and Computer Wars: The Post-IBM World (co-authored with Charles Morris). His most recent book is entitled Predator Nation, which focuses on the roots of the financial crisis and rising economic inequality and was released by Random House / Crown in May 2012.