"You Get What You Give..."
and other words of wisdom from Texas Lobbyist lara keel
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As a testament to her support for other women working in and around the Texas Capitol - Lara Keel of the Texas Lobby Group never hesitated to be interviewed for Pink Granite's May feature despite the fact that she and I don't know one another well. We connected through her associate Carrie who greatly admires Lara as an example of what hard working women can accomplish in a male dominated industry like the Texas Capitol.
So to Lara I say, thanks for sending the elevator back down. We're all ears.
Where do you work, what is your title and what does your job actually entail?
I am a Partner at the Texas Lobby Group. As a partner my job entails some day-to-day actions of running a small business. That can be interesting. Particularly when you see how Government can affect a business. As for my real job – lobbyist – it entails a lot of multi-tasking between issues, clients, legislators, staff, other lobbyists, state agencies and advocating on behalf of my clients and our interests. It’s different all of the time and I love it!
Describe the main industries you represent.
My main specialty began in the late nineties in the Texas State Senate working on Healthcare, Human Services, Insurance Issues and Budget items. I transferred that knowledge base to the Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce (TABCC) in 2000 where I was a Government Relations Manager on those issues and broadened my understanding of more cross-cutting business issues. Fifteen years ago, I joined the Texas Lobby Group as a contract lobbyist where I still have a specialty in healthcare and insurance issues, but also represent Fortune 500 companies of various specialties and varied issues.
How long have you been performing this work?
I have been working inside and outside of the dome for a total 23 years. (this question makes me feel old)
Where are you from?
Fort Worth, Texas.
What did you study in college and where did you attend school?
I majored in Political Science and minored in History at Texas Tech University.
Political party affiliation?
Conservative and Pro-Business Republican (you can be both).
How did you get your start in government relations?
I started the old fashioned way. As a staffer wanting to do policy work. As I came through the ranks I can think of only about a dozen women lobbyists in the Government Relations field. At that time, one didn’t think, “Oh, I want to become a lobbyist”. Back then, there were a lot fewer lobbyists, and most of them were former members of the Legislature. Mary Miksa, the lead lobbyist at TABCC, was without a doubt my first mentor. She was one of the first women to navigate this industry. She did it with smarts, class, honesty and she was tough when she needed to be. She taught me that “no matter who you are up against, you can always out work them. “
As I moved to the ‘hired gun” lobby, Mike Toomey, my now business partner, became – and continues to be – my mentor. No matter how smart I can be at times, he is always the smartest person in the room. I’m constantly learning from him. I think feeling like you are still learning and growing keeps work life interesting and fulfilling.
"As I came through the ranks I can think of only about a dozen women lobbyists in the Government Relations field."
When did you know you wanted to work at the Capitol and later become a lobbyist?
I knew I wanted to work at the Capitol as a teenager. I loved politics and history my whole life. The lobbyist part, I sort of stumbled upon in my journey. I ended up exactly where I was supposed to!
What do you find to be essential skill sets/personality traits for being a good lobbyist?
Number one is reputation, trust and honesty. Period. If you don’t have that, you don’t have much. Well, you may for a while, but not for very long. You’ve got to know your stuff and be detail-oriented. Especially to win. And I think you have to be organized and patient in an industry where timing can be everything.
I’m a young woman and I want to be a lobbyist. What do I do now? How do I get started in this career?
Go work at the Capitol. Period. And work hard. Learn the system and the issues. Then decide if lobbying is really for you. It’s a lot harder work than it looks.
"Number one is reputation, trust and honesty. Period. If you don’t have that, you don’t have much."
What is the most rewarding part of your current job?
My amazing firm and the friends and clients that I met along the way and getting to work with them doing what I love. Our firm is small, but it provides a lot of firepower.
Hard to say, challenges happen daily in this business. You just have to be wired to overcome them and not get bogged down by them.
Anything you find to be misunderstood about your profession?
It’s not “House of Cards”.
Describe a time that you knew you were “good” at your job.
I can’t remember the first time I knew I was “good” at my job. I just knew that the minute I first walked into the Capitol building that I “loved” my job. I think when you love what you do – you can become very good at it.
Do you mind sharing a little bit about your relationship working with Carrie, how you learn from one another or share in successes as a team. Any tips on nurturing a relationship with other women in your workplace?
We both respect each other greatly in many ways – hard work, attention to detail, insights and knowledge. I think we show success as a team by seeing things through our own lenses and ultimately sizing things up together with the best strategy. We talk – and listen - through the issues or the policy and come up with a consensus on the best way moving forward. We are also blessed to be friends, and that keeps things fun. We rise and fall together as a team for true success. If you can’t do that, you’re not a real team. As far as nurturing a relationship with other women in the workplace – you get what you give.
It’s not “House of Cards”.
Generally – without giving away proprietary info – how do lobbyists find clients, and what’s the process like for gaining that contract?
In my case I was lucky that I joined a firm that had an array of clients, and through my work at TAB, a few member companies who did not have lobbyists- hired me as I stepped out.
Any tips for landing your very first client?
Tip number one when entering the lobby: Don’t poach other’s clients.
You could never do your job without...
Best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Never, Ever, Ever, Ever Give Up!
Advice you wish you could give your younger self?
We didn’t have social media when I was a younger self. But I’d definitely tell younger folks today what they often don’t realize: Social Media stays with you. You cannot delete it. Be careful out there. The past can follow you forever – so make smart decisions.
Best tip(s) for staying on top of your to-do list/staying organized?
Write down everything on your to do list. Check it off – and double check it.
You can have dinner with anyone, living or dead - who and why?
Jackie Kennedy. She was a woman way ahead of her time. And she had a lifetime of experiences from being First Lady of the United States in her young 30’s to becoming a professional, successful businesswoman and editor in her later years. A fascinating history and history lover – extremely well world traveled - and such an elegant and classy lady.
"As far as nurturing a relationship with other women in the workplace – you get what you give."
What’s always in your bag during session?
A bottle of water and a blue book.
Favorite place for a business lunch?
Favorite place to get your news?
The Legislative Clips.
Favorite political TV show/movie?
TV Show- Scandal (the early shows when the Pope Team kicked butt, before it got all weepy on the romance stuff). Movie – “The American President” for fun, “All the President’s Men” for serious stuff.
Favorite social media apps?
Facebook. But in general I would rather to talk to someone face-to-face.
Favorite book for career advice?
I’ve never read a book on career advice.
If you weren’t in your current role you’d definitely be...
living in Italy.
Any final thoughts?
We need more women to run for public office.
Thank you again to Lara for sharing her insights with Pink Granite readers. If you'd like to learn more about Lara's work you can find her at the Texas Lobby Group here.