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Ambassador John Rakolta Jr. (ret)

February 14, 2024

Ambassador John Rakolta Jr. (ret)

Ambassador John Rakolta, Jr. (ret) is Chairman of Walbridge, a privately-held construction company founded in Detroit in 1916. The company is one of the largest contractors in the United States. He is the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Commissioner General of Expo Dubai 2020, having served from 2019-2021. He played a hands-on role in the diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and the UAE, serving as a go-between in the delicate negotiations, resulting in the historic signing of the Abraham Accords. The groundbreaking accords forged the foundation for normalization of diplomatic relations across the region, resulting in more Middle East peace agreements signed in 5 months than had been signed in the previous 25 years. 

Rakolta is currently Chair of Michigan’s Growing Michigan Together Council. Established by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the council is focused on growing population by attracting young talent and building a statewide framework – through education, innovation and infrastructure – in efforts to expand opportunity for every resident. 

Rakolta joined Walbridge in 1971, shortly after graduating with a degree in Civil Engineering from Marquette University. He also completed the Smaller Company Management Program at the Harvard Business School. However, his first job at Walbridge was at age 12, working at the company construction yard painting safety barricades yellow under the watchful eye of his grandfather, who was yard manager at the time. After joining Walbridge as an adult, he worked as a project engineer, estimator and held positions of increased responsibility. He was named Chief Operating Officer in 1975, followed by President in 1979, and he succeeded his father as Chairman, CEO and Majority Owner in 1993. 

Walbridge is consistently ranked as the top U.S. builder of automotive and manufacturing facilities and has achieved considerable market diversity led by the expansion into the hyperscale data center market. In 2019, the company began supporting automotive customers with its transition to an all-electric future by providing construction services focusing on redeveloping current and new facilities throughout North America. The company also serves customers in the aviation, education, health care, power and energy markets. 

For his commitment to public service, Ambassador Rakolta has received the United Arab Emirates Zayed II Medal, 2021; United States National Security Medal, 2020; The Detroit News Michiganian of the Year, 2019; Urban Land Institute Michigan Lifetime Achievement Award, 2017; New Detroit Leadership in Race Relations Award, 2015; Urban League of Detroit Distinguished Warrior Award, 2014; Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, 2010; Engineering Society of Detroit’s Horace H. Rackham Humanitarian Award, 2010; Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship, 2005; and Romanian National Order of Merit, 2000. 

A third-generation Romanian American, Rakolta served as Romania’s Honorary Consul General to the United States from 1996-2019. Rakolta and his wife, Terry, have four children, Eileen, Lauren, Paige, and John III.