Felicia Wright Roark: Global Business Consultant
Where do you work, what is your title and what does your job actually entail?
As a business consultant for BTS, a global consulting firm, I design and deliver custom programs that optimize innovation, digital transformation, leadership development, business acumen, and strategic alignment for Fortune 500 companies.
How long have you been performing this work?
I’ve represented businesses for more than seven years including my time as a lobbyist, with the last year specifically focused on internal consulting on strategy execution, leadership development and profit growth.
Where are you from?
I’m a SoCal gal - born and raised in Laguna Beach, California. Life on the beach was amazing, but I’ve been in Austin for 12 years now and there’s no looking back.
What did you study in college and where did you attend school?
I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, and an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin.
Political party affiliation?
As a former lobbyist, my response to this question was always, “I collaborate with both parties, because the businesses I represent need support from each side.” As a business consultant, the same still rings true. Each of my clients have international offices and seek to grow their global reach, so their Government Relations departments deal with multiple international issues, including foreign exchange policies when financing M&As, hedging foreign currency, and bidding for land rights with government leaders. When working on international issues, political party affiliation is not relevant.
“I collaborate with both parties, because the businesses I represent need support from each side.”
How did you get your start in government?
This is my favorite story to share about my career! Bear with me, because it’s a good one.
I moved to Austin with hopes to be in broadcast journalism, because I thought the news was the best way to educate people on important issues. My first job in Austin was with the Texas Association of Builders. At one point, the association was trying to pass a Freedom of Information bill at the Texas Capitol. I followed the Executive Director Ann Arnold (who was the first female press secretary to a Texas Governor, Mark White) around the Capitol handing out one-pagers and sitting in on meetings with legislators. Walking around that big, beautiful pink building on those marble floors and walking into the grand, wood framed doorways opened my eyes to a new way of educating people. I realized that legislators were really the people who needed to be educated on the important issues that the everyday citizen and business owner faces.
Deciding that I wanted to work in politics, I grabbed a hold of the Texas Lobby Directory (aka the lobbyist yearbook) and emailed 80 lobbyists. I asked them for advice on how to get a job in the Capitol and whether I needed a law degree. I still have that directory! It has my pencil scribbled notes on who I emailed and who replied. Out of the 80 lobbyists I contacted, five met with me and one of them is still my mentor to this day. One female lobbyist offered to meet with me every Wednesday morning at 7:30 am until I found a Capitol job. Each week she’d give me two new people to introduce myself to at the Capitol. I knocked on doors at the Capitol for about a month until I had an offer. I was 24 years old and left a full-time job with benefits to become a part-time staffer for Rep. Carl Isett (R-Lubbock) and a part-time Senate Messenger. Only a few months later, Senator Van de Putte (D-San Antonio, and former Lieutenant Governor candidate) hired me as her full-time health care policy analyst and veteran affairs committee clerk.
I worked in the Senate for two years and one session before leaving to be the legislative director for Rep. Dennis Bonnen (then the Chair of the Sunset Committee and now the Speaker of the House). At the start of the 83rd Legislative Session, I was hired as a lobbyist for the Texas Association of Builders, which was my favorite job and team to be a part of in my political career.
“Deciding that I wanted to work in politics, I grabbed a hold of the Texas Lobby Directory (aka the lobbyist yearbook) and emailed 80 lobbyists. I asked them for advice on how to get a job in the Capitol …”
When did you know you wanted to work at the capitol? When did you know it was time to step away?
I knew I wanted to work in the Capital the first day I walked into the grand Pink Dome with Ann Arnold and sat in on a meeting with Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston). I watched as Mrs. Arnold spoke to and educated Sen. Ellis and his staff on an important issue affecting the broadcasting industry. She was influencing change right in front of my eyes! That meeting, along with the history that lined the Capitol walls, sparked my curiosity and I wanted to be part of it somehow.
I don’t recall a specific time I was ready to leave policy or government relations. Each departure happened as part of an evolving life. After seven years at the Capitol, I enrolled in the Executive MBA program at UT, which demanded all of my time outside of work. I knew I wouldn’t be able to be in school and commit to the long hours of a legislative session, so I left lobbying and started consulting part-time. There’s a big part of me that misses the Capitol and, who knows, I may be back one day.
What do you find to be essential skill sets for being a good lobbyist? What about for a good staffer?
When I started at the Capitol, I was given a lot of advice: wear your hair back in a bun, don’t wear make-up, don’t smile too much. All of this advice was given to a young woman trying to build credibility in a building full of experienced people. In hindsight, none of that advice mattered. I followed that advice for a long time, until I realized that being myself and showing up to do the hard work is what really matters.
Being authentic, genuinely connecting with people, and communicating clearly are the core competencies that any staffer or lobbyist needs to be successful. Yes, being an expert in your area of interest is important, but you can always learn a new topic, you can’t always get the moment back where you should have spoken up. In a building filled with people of all backgrounds, opinions and skillsets, it can be hard to speak confidently and know your value. My advice would be to differentiate yourself by working extremely hard, not taking any experience for granted (even answering the phones as a Senate messenger) and staying true to yourself regardless of what other people may think.
Being authentic and genuine, along with hard work, applies to all careers and is very much applicable to my current role as a business consultant. There is value in being able to build trust with people quickly and being able to communicate well.
Oh, and being able to make your boss the best coffee (or drink of his or her preference) is always good. If you are the one your boss wants her coffee from, you get a couple of extra minutes to talk to her about the work you are doing.
“When I started at the Capitol, I was given a lot of advice: wear your hair back in a bun, don’t wear make-up, don’t smile too much.”
I’m a young woman and I want a job like yours. What do I do now?
Great! If you want to become a lobbyist, I recommend first working for an elected official as a legislative staffer so you can learn every aspect of the legislative process and build your Capitol network. After you have a few legislation sessions under your belt, reach out to lobbyists that you have built a positive relationship with and ask for offers they may be aware of. If you’re a great legislative staffer, chances are a lobbyist will reach out to you before you even start looking!
If you want to be a consultant, I recommend having a business or finance degree from undergrad or an MBA. Reading as many case studies as you can to learn about corporate turnovers, culture integration, and financial accounting will prepare you for the intense interview process.
“Being authentic, genuinely connecting with people, and communicating clearly are the core competencies that any staffer or lobbyist needs to be successful.”
What is the most rewarding part of your current job? Biggest challenge?
The most rewarding part of being a business consultant is seeing the impact that our programs have on businesses and the professionals we work with. As an ever-curious person, I love learning new topics, but helping people improve their leadership skills so they can take their companies to the next level is what motivates me every day.
The biggest challenge is balancing time. There are many meetings in a day and a lot of writing, but I also need long blocks of time for deep thinking in order to develop the best execution model for each client.
Anything you find to be misunderstood about your profession?
I think there are many misconceptions of what a consultant and/or a lobbyist does. Both fields are relatively unknown or vague to most people, so it’s important to be able to clearly and concisely communicate your value to current clients, potential clients, and the public.
Describe a time that you knew you were “good” at your job.
In my 20’s, it was difficult for me to identify what my best skills were. It wasn’t until I had a boss (Scott Norman at the Texas Association of Builders) who helped me recognize my strengths and build upon my weaknesses. He did so by openly discussing them with me and pushing me out of my comfort zone.
I’ve since learned that I was a good lobbyist because of my ability to relate with people and build trust quickly. This has helped me in all of my jobs and most certainly in consulting. To relate to people, you must be a good listener and offer an unbiased open-mind to your conversations. To build trust, you have to work at being the most knowledgeable and credible person at the table, which is done when no one is watching (those long hours at your desk at night and early morning).
Hardest issue you’ve ever had to work on or client to represent?
One of my first clients after switching from lobbying to business consulting was a major oil and gas company. The only thing I knew about oil and gas was the Texas Fracking Bill by Senator Fraser a few years back, which was nothing compared to the geology, capital structure, and reserve-to-production ratio that my client expected me to know. Fortunately, I had access to research I could absorb. In addition, I reached out to one of my UT professors who worked in oil and gas and to O&G lobbyist-friends as resources. It was an intense process learning everything I could about the oil and gas value chain, but, hey, that’s the nature of consulting! Currently, I am focused on the fintech industry, so I’m learning a whole new and exciting industry.
Do you mind sharing a little bit about your relationship working with other women (or supportive men) in your profession?
Women working with women is complex topic. While there is a movement for women to support other women, there will always be women (and men) out there that won’t have your back or simply won’t know how to support you. Thus, it is important to never take things personally and to befriend women (and men) you identify with.
As a lobbyist, I started a women’s group called the Capitol Leading Ladies Coalition to foster mentorship between female lobbyists and female legislative staffers. During our networking lunches, we’d each share how we got our start in politics, what our end-of-year goal was, and if there was anything we needed help or advice on. The Coalition provided an environment to get support and nurture relationships. You don’t necessarily need to build a coalition, but surrounding yourself with people who will support and encourage you will have a positive impact on your career journey.
You could never do your job without… Investopedia.
Really! It helps me break down complex financial formulas that can be explained during client presentations. When metrics are delivered in a complex manner, there is the risk of losing the attention of my audience and then they can’t take away key learnings.
If only there was an Investopedia for political issues, so people could understand complex legislative initiatives! Let’s work on this…
Best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Be persistent. This wasn’t advice I was given, but I like to think that I am proof that persistence works. Also, don’t be afraid to speak up. Ask for feedback and be willing to give it. Feedback is a gift that will help you and your team become better. Lastly, “you can catch more bees with honey than vinegar” – be nice to everyone.
Advice you wish you could give your younger self?
Don’t give any energy to how other people think of you. Know your worth, know your truth and keep working hard to build up your own acumen and expertise.
Any leadership programs, mentorship opportunities or organizations you’d recommend?
For young women in Austin, I highly recommend joining the Young Women’s Alliance (YWA). I was a member and later a chairman which provided me with opportunities to meet successful and influential women in Austin. Also, the Young Chamber of Commerce is a great organization to be part of to learn about local issues.
Best tip(s) for staying organized?
I start and end every day with a list of my top priorities written on paper and keep all my tasks on Trello, which is an online platform that allows me to delegate tasks to my teams, set due dates and add in research links or scanned notes.
Best tip(s) for networking, Building your tribe in a potentially contentious or political environment?
Show up. You can only meet people if you leave your office and make the effort to know other people. People are more than their political affiliation or the legislative issues they are working on, so get to know them on a non-political level. This takes time and consistency.
“People are more than their political affiliation or the legislative issues they are working on, so get to know them on a non-political level.”
You can have dinner with anyone, living or dead - who and why?
Dead: Epictetus, a stoic philosopher. Unlike other philosophers of his time, like Marcus Aurelius and Seneca who were born wealthy, Epictetus was born a slave and through education became a philosopher and taught principles that still apply to this day.
Alive: Oprah, because, just like Epictetus, she was not born into fortune, but built it for herself and uses it to positively influence other people. Both Epictetus and Oprah have influenced politicians, too.
If I could add one more, it’d be Shirley Temple. Yes, the adorable curly haired actress from the 1930’s. I loved her when I was a child, but even as an adult, I find her life fascinating. She became an U.S. Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia and served as Chief of Protocol of the United States during her later years in life. There’s isn’t much available on what her life lessons were, so I’d love to pick her brain.
What’s always in your bag when traveling or during meetings?
I travel a lot, so having these items in my navy blue Senreve bag is a must: laptop and laptop AC adapter, Apple Airpods for conference calls, noise canceling headphones for the plane, Global Entry ID card, cell phone and battery pack, a Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt Raw Rev Glo bar, a pen and spiral notebook (I need a notebook that will lie flat, unlike a Moleskin), hand sanitizer, water, lip gloss, Altoids, and a book for when I need a break from work.
Favorite place for a business lunch?
Most of my lunch meetings are while I’m traveling for business. When I’m in Austin and working from our office in the Frost Bank Tower, my go-to lunch spot (ever since my lobby days) is the Roaring Fork on Congress Avenue and 7th Street. If a more private setting is necessary, I’ll host lunch at the Headliner’s Club.
Favorite place to get your news?
I start with reviewing any Google Alerts on my clients, then browse an email from the Washington Post Morning Ledger: The CFO Journal, which has a section specifically on regulations. Then, I’ll read the New York Times articles my husband forwards me. He reads the NYT every day and sends me the articles worth reading.
Favorite political TV show/movie?
Honestly, my favorite political “movies” are presidential documentaries, which my husband finds so boring! I love them! My favorite is The Wheelchair President on Netflix about FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Favorite social media apps?
LinkedIn and Instagram
Favorite book for career advice.
The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
If you weren’t in your current role you’d definitely be a motivational speaker.
Any final thoughts?
I love what you’re doing with Pink Granite. It serves as a platform to represent the voices of women who work in politics who, along with female elected officials, dedicate their lives to public service. It also allows for women interested in this mysterious field to gain insight on the various opportunities that are available within the private and public realm of government affairs. Thank you for your time, energy and effort in running this site!