Irina Bindlechner

Meet the Consul: Franz Kolb in Utah

Irina Bindlechner
Meet the Consul: Franz Kolb in Utah

Dear Mr. Kolb, can you tell us a little bit about where you are originally from? Where did you spend your childhood? 
My parents are from the Kainach valley, west of Graz in Styria, Austria. In the 1950's, they moved to Riedersbach in Upper Austria, where I was born. Riedersbach is about 25 miles north of the city of Salzburg. We have never forgotten our Styrian roots though. As children we would spend our vacations in the beautiful Kainach valley and mountains surrounding the area and we would visit our wonderful relatives. After the summer break we would return to Upper Austria.

How did you come to the United States in the first place? 
After my discharge from the Austrian army in Vienna, I moved back to Salzburg. During an outing with friends we met American students from Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. They came to Salzburg on an academic exchange program to study German andMusic – some of them at the Mozarteum University of Salzburg. We developed a wonderful friendship with the students and one of them eventually invited me to her native Wisconsin six months later. I ended up bringing her back with me to Salzburg and we married nine months later. We lived in Salzburg for three years before we decided that my wife would go finish her education at Brigham Young University. Therfore, we moved to Utah where I also continued my studies. When I saw the beautiful mountains, the ski resorts and the safe environment and met all these kind and welcoming people, we decided to stay and raise our family there.

Can you tell us a little bit about your professional background?
I have worked as the director of international services at Ernst & Young helping many U.S. and European clients to internationalize their businesses. Eventually, however, the travel became unbearable and taking my family into consideration, I made the decision to work for the state of Utah as the director for Europe in the International Business Development Office. In addition to that, I began teaching international business at local universities and have taught over 3500 undergraduate and graduate students to date. I am still working for the state of Utah – now as the director of diplomacy and protocol in the Governor's office of Economic Development.

Can you name some of your personal professional highlights? 
One highlight was in 1995 when we organized a delegation to travel from Utah to Budapest to bring the Winter Olympic Games to Salt Lake City. Before going to Budapest, we visited Vienna with over 400 Utahns. There, we had many key meetings and receptions. We were told this was the largest American delegation to come to Austria since WWII. We built many bridges between the U.S. and Austria on this trip. In Budapest, the city of Salt Lake City was eventually awarded the XIX Winter Olympic Games for the year 2002.

For how long have you been serving as the Austrian Honorary Consul and how did that come to be?

I have always been proud of my Austrian heritage. I founded the Austrian Club of Utah – Freunde Oesterreich and served as its president for many years. I have always been the main point of contact in Utah for the Austrian Consulate General Los Angeles and the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. So whether it was Ambassador Friedrich Höss, Ambassador Türk, Ambassador Moser, or Consul General Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal or others, when they came to Utah, I was always privileged to help. When the XIX Winter Olympic- Games took place in Salt Lake City, I was asked to formally become the Austrian Honorary Consul to help Austrians and the Austrian government. Ambassador Peter Moser came to Salt Lake City in 2002 and officially inaugurated me as the first Austrian Honorary Consul in Utah since it became a state in 1896. It has been an honor and a privilege for me to officially represent my homeland.

Is there a big Austrian community in Utah? Are you in regular contact with the expats living in the area? 
We have a small but vibrant Austrian community in Utah. Many Austrians came here during the 1950's for economic and other reasons. We have Austrians who came because of educational and employment opportunities. Some Austrians work in one of the fourteen world class ski resorts in Utah. Every February, the annual Vienna Ball event takes place, which also serves as a fundraising opportunity for the Salt Lake Symphony. On average, about 400 Utahns and Austrians have attended the event over the last 30 years. And of course the guests' favorite dance is the waltz. Furthermore, there are various educational institutions that have Austrian-themed events on a regular basis. I would also like to mention that we have two Austrian bakeries in Utah. This might not seem important but to have fresh "Semmeln" (rolls) in the morning and real "Schwarzbrot" (dark rye bread) is a taste of the homeland for the many Austrians residing in this state. 

Do you go back to Austria at all? Is there anything about Austria that you miss in particular? 
I try to go back once a year – sometimes I go back more and sometimes less often. All of my relatives now live in the beautiful Kainach valley. With many I communicate via electronic media. I have kept my Austrian dialect over the many years since I have always maintained that the beauty of a language can be found in the dialect one speaks. I have lived in the United States for over three decades. I have raised my children here, who are Austrophiles. Austria will always be "meine Heimat" (my home). My Austrian roots give me identity, my Austrian values give me tolerance and my Austrian upbringing gives me perspective. 

Are there any special stories that you would like to share with our readers? 
One of the highlights in my career was the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City in 2002. I had the privilege to serve as the Austrian Olympic Attaché and to walk with the Austrian athletes in the opening and closing ceremonies. The first Sunday of the games was the Alpine downhill – the most important event. I will never forget the moment when Austrian skier Fritz Strobl won the gold medal. The celebration at the Austrian House, which was known to have the best hospitality of all the 23 hospitality houses, was unforgettable. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all ambassadors, consuls general, consuls, all other Austrian public officials as well as all Austrian citizens visiting Utah and living in Utah for their support and kindness. In all these years that I have been working with my fellow Austrians, I have not had one rude or insulting comment from anybody. It has been an honor and a privilege to represent the Republic of Austria in Utah. 

Born in Riedersbach, Upper Austria, Franz Kolb was educated both in Austria and the United States. He received an Associate, Bachelor, and Master's degree from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Besides serving as the Austrian Honorary Consul in Utah, he is the Regional Director for International Trade and Diplomacy responsible for Europe, India, Middle East, and Africa in the State of Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development. Mr. Kolb assists Utah companies on a daily basis in their expansion through international growth.