LAKEWOOD, Ohio — Born in Lakewood and raised in Rocky River, Keith Krach, a former U.S. undersecretary of state and CEO of DocuSign and Ariba, has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
The prestigious honor is tied to his work defending against Chinese “techno-authoritarianism” and leveraging the United States’ technological advantages toward a new form of diplomacy.
“This is something I never dreamed of,” said Krach, calling from San Francisco. “I don’t think anybody dreams of that, so at first I was in shock, but more than anything else just really humbled.
“I also think about the results of our work. It’s all about our team. I brought in a great bipartisan team in the United States State Department and we combined it with some of the greatest career foreign service officers,” he said.
“We made a difference, so that’s really humbling. I also think (about) what’s going on in the Ukraine. Freedom is worth fighting for. You have to put your life on the line to protect it.”
While the 1975 Rocky River High School graduate has traveled the world in various capacities, Krach still feels a very deep connection to Northeast Ohio.
Born at Lakewood Hospital, Krach lived in Lakewood until the fifth grade.
“I went to Hayes Elementary for kindergarten before attending St. Mark’s,” Krach said. “We lived about a mile away, so walking to school in the morning, it was like a parade. We’d stop from one house to another picking up all of the kids.
“This is what I try to tell my five children — I remember growing up as a kid we’d go to play with our friends and you could run through all of the back yards. There were no fences. You went everywhere. These are really great memories.
“I remember shoveling a lot of snow. I was industrious. I would get a quarter for every driveway. I thought I was making big money.”
Krach’s memories of growing up in Northeast Ohio include as a kid attending Cleveland Browns games where his dad, John, would offer to keep him warm, sharing “cough medicine” from a flask.
He also experienced normal juvenile shenanigans and lessons learned, such as during the summer after graduating from high school getting fired as a Rocky River tennis court supervisor due to paying more attention to his girlfriend than to the action on the courts.
“I miss Cleveland,” said Krach, a 1979 Purdue University graduate, who earned an M.B.A. two years later from Harvard University Business School.
“My 95-year-old mom (Elda) and my two sisters are right there in Rocky River, so I get back there quite a bit. In fact, I’ll still shovel my mom’s driveway. I reckon you just can’t knock that out of you. I grew up with good Midwest values.
“My dad was a steel salesman until his 40th birthday when he got let go. He then started a little machine shop where, in tough times, I was welding at age 12.
“He was a funny guy. We’d go into the shop on Saturdays to clean out the toilets. That’s when he’d tell me, ‘Keith, we can’t solve world peace, but we can try.’”
Little did Krach’s father know that those perhaps grand aspirations at the time would come to fruition a half-century later.
Not only is Krach the youngest ever vice president in the history of General Motors, he is also the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat to visit Taiwan since the United States recognized the communist government in Beijing.
Confirmed in 2019 by the Senate to become Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, Krach was one of the few high-ranking officials in the Trump administration to continue to have an advisory role with the Biden administration.
In addition to ensuring policy continuity with respect to China and U.S. leadership in technological diplomacy, he recently inaugurated the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue University.
The initiative grew out of Purdue’s Center for Tech Diplomacy as the premier U.S. think tank devoted to addressing emerging challenges such as artificial intelligence, hypersonics, synthetic biology, sourcing of rare earth minerals and semiconductors, quantum computing, 5G and 6G communications networks, and energy and climate innovations.
The aforementioned challenges are reordering international relations and creating new pressures on the United States as a beacon of freedom and human rights around the world.
Speaking of freedom, Krach noted that growing up in Lakewood and Rocky River during the latter half of the 20th century with white picket fences, 2.5 kids and a dog brings home the idea that democracy is a 250-year experiment.
“The natural order of things is the bad king, dictator or emperor,” Krach said. “Democracy goes against all of the laws of physics. You have to fight every day for that.
“That’s what I learned in my service to the country. I also learned if you stop the United States, 50 countries wouldn’t have their freedom. So it’s humbling and puts everything into perspective.”
As for what his family thinks of his Nobel Prize nomination, Krach said his mother’s reaction was priceless.
“I told her on Zoom I was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize,” Krach said. “She just looked right into the camera and said: ‘Of course you are. I always knew you would be.’ It was the funniest thing.”
As for whether that prestigious honor makes up for getting fired from the Rocky River tennis courts, Krach laughed, “Well, man, I don’t think I ever will live that down.”
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