Reaching into the Political Machine – A Powerful Visit to DC with The Alliance

Each year my visit to DC with The Alliance for Business Leadership turns into the single most impactful event I participate in. I invariably come away with a sense that the individual can impact government and as business leaders, we are duty-bound to participate.

A moment with John Kerry at The Alliance for Business Leadership (DC Photographer Marty Katz)

This year’s top thoughts:

  • I’m humbled by The Alliance’s membership — not the C-level titles, but the brain power, thoughtfulness, deep understanding of the issues and commitment to partner with government to ensure that business can do well and do good at the same time.
  • I left surprised by the focus, expertise and passion that government workers bring to the table:
    • Todd Park, co-founder of AthenaHealth, former CTO of Health and Human Services (HHS) and current CTO for the whole government, mesmerized a room-full of CEOs with his entrepreneurial spirit and tales of bringing government resources into the hands of existing and new businesses. He reminded us of what happens when government sets a foundation and then opens the playing field to business: government weather data helped fuel a $90 billion/year industry. GPS information has allowed for thousands of new products and businesses. And we all know what happened to that little DARPA project called the Internet.
    • During small-group visits to The Hill, Jane Oates, Assistant Secretary of Employment and Training Administration, told a few of us how the administration is partnering with businesses ranging from corporate giants like IBM to much smaller companies. These businesses provide feedback on the relevance of workforce development curricula and then partner with the government to hire young workers after their training. The achievement statistics impressed us, but more impressive was Oates’ energy and optimism about future opportunities. We offered assistance in certain areas, and within 24 hours she and a staff member had followed up to make sure nothing would fall through the cracks. This beats the response time of most businesses I know.
  • Our meetings with politicians and/or their staffs offered a few surprises.
    • John Kerry presented his concerns about the squeezing of our democratic process by unbridled financial contributions to political hopefuls, participants and causes. I left his talk lamenting the current political climate of non-cooperation, but with a renewed sense that a group of business people who embrace standards of reasonableness can help make government function better for all of us.
    • Cliff Shannon, Chief of Staff for Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), indicated positive interest in the Startup Visa Act, and then explained to us that businesses are unwilling to invest and hire because of “the uncertainty caused by an all-of-the-above energy policy and a looming debt ceiling debate.” I can’t think of a single business-person (even those I know in the energy arena) who would agree with this, but am glad for the meeting – where there is conversation, there is hope.
    • Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) welcomed our group of business people who see government as a partner and whose values include helping communities while seeking new business opportunities.

Among our top goals, we wanted to inform our political leaders about The Alliance, how its successful business community is willing to help, and how our shared values position us well for collaborating on a multitude of initiatives that will stimulate growth while also benefitting our communities and our country.

As they do every year, The Alliance staff showed extraordinary competence in adjusting and re-adjusting schedules, shepherding speakers, calling on participants to help and ensuring that everyone was well-fed, well-housed and well-directed during a fast-paced meeting. Thank you to Andrew Tarsy and his team of super-heros and heroines, including director of public policy Rachel Heller, operations manager Stephanie Querzoli, program assistant Christine Ferris, policy and research coordinator Jean Gulliver, resource development manager Audra Tafoya, policy advisor Kelly Bovio and of course senior vice president Chris Pinney. Finally, a huge thanks to my colleagues at HB for tolerating my absence for this extraordinary chance to participate in  how our nation moves forward.



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