On Thursday morning, leaders from Massachusetts’ most influential organizations gathered at the Boston Harbor Hotel for Solomon McCown’s 24th SMC Presents panel conversation. “From the Backroom to the Boardroom: The Changing Role of Government Affairs in Massachusetts” delved into the changing relationship between government and business.
Moderated by Dan Cence, Senior Vice President at Solomon McCown, our panelists were Matthew LeBretton, Vice President, Public Affairs, New Balance; Jim McGaugh, Executive Manager, Government Relations, General Electric; Kathi-Anne Reinstein, Government Affairs Manager, Boston Beer Company and Steven Walsh, President & CEO, Massachusetts Council of Community Hospitals.
Gone are the smoke-filled backrooms of yore as businesses of all sizes sit at the table with leaders at all levels of government in the Commonwealth, even if, as noted by SM& CEO Helene Solomon in her introductory remarks, they are not always holding hands.
Cence opened the conversation by asking the panelists how they got their start in public affairs. Several recalled their early experiences with government, with both Reinstein and Walsh citing parents who were engaged in political life piquing their interest in government.
McGaugh pulled back the curtain a bit on General Electric’s decision to move from Connecticut to Boston. The decision was not driven by taxes, but by the organization’s shift in focus to innovation. “Boston just had it all for GE,” McGaugh said, citing Boston’s excellent schools, active startup culture, willingness of state and local leaders of all parties to collaborate closely and other assets that made the Hub the ideal setting for GE’s future growth.
“Government affairs is a game of addition, not subtraction,” said LeBretton, recalling the dustup between New Balance and the federal government earlier this year on how shoes for the U.S. Armed Forces should be purchased, in which he went against his own philosophy. “Sometimes, you have to take a shot at the President on the front page of The Boston Globe,” he said to laughs, but explaining that the nuclear option is not the ideal way to get things done.
Reinstein echoed LeBretton’s advice not to “go nuclear” unless absolutely necessary. She said it takes good organizational instincts to bring government affairs to the table, saying she is often one of the few professionals representing the needs of craft brewers when she travels on behalf of Boston Beer.
Walsh recommended that community organizations should consider joining membership organizations like the Massachusetts Council of Community Hospitals if they do not have their own resources to dedicate to government affairs.
Walsh added that it’s critical to work with a communications team to tell your organization’s story. He said his group is working to highlight the economic value of community hospitals, which are often the largest employers in the communities they serve. McGaugh agreed, saying it’s critical to manage the narrative so elected officials and other stakeholders receive a cohesive message.
Thank you to our panelists for a lively and insightful conversation about the evolving relationship between the private and public sectors, and thanks to all who attended the event in person.