Meet Eleni Kounalakis

Eleni Kounalakis is a California businesswoman, Democratic Party activist, a wife and the mother of two teenage sons, and the former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary under President Barack Obama. Eleni was raised the proud daughter of an immigrant father who started out as a farmworker, and she believes in the values of hard work, education and political activism.

In 1992, Eleni started her career as a staff member of the California Democratic Party in Sacramento and worked in the historic election, which elected two women to the U.S. Senate and turned California blue.

After the election, Eleni joined her family business, AKT Development, one of California’s most respected housing development firms. Over the next 18 years, Eleni worked her way up from project manager to president. Her work building master planned communities and delivering housing for middle-class families in the Sacramento region earned her recognition as one of Sacramento’s most prominent businesswomen.

In 2010, Eleni was appointed by President Barack Obama as the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary and served side-by-side President Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton promoting democracy. She is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Madam Ambassador, Three Years of Diplomacy, Dinner Parties and Democracy in Budapest, published in 2015 by The New Press.

During her 18 years in the housing industry, Ambassador Kounalakis continued to work as a democratic activist, working on the campaigns of countless progressive candidates and initiatives. Passionate about early childhood development, she served on California’s First 5 Commission and the California Blue Ribbon Commission on Autism. She was appointed by Mayor Ed Lee to the San Francisco Port Commission, and currently chairs the California Advisory Council for International Trade and Investment.

Eleni Kounalakis graduated from Dartmouth College in 1989, and earned her MBA from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business in 1992. She also holds an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the American College of Greece. She lives in San Francisco with her husband, veteran journalist Markos Kounalakis, and their two sons Neo and Eon.