I met my wife during the Clarence Thomas hearings. That’s a true Washington love story. She was covering the Supreme Court for the Washington Post and I was running Senator Kohl’s Judiciary Committee. I don’t know if this relates to leadership, but it certainly relates to happiness and the quality of my life.
If you ask me for something that contributed to the leader I am today, it was working with a bunch of people from both parties who really cared about public policy and working for terrific leaders in their own right.
I’ve been fortunate in the jobs I’ve had. I worked for Paul Simon who was a wonderful senator; for Herb Kohl, who was a terrific senator; and for the legendary, transcendent Washington legend Jack Valenti, who learned how to do things via Lyndon Johnson.
What leadership lessons did you learn during your time on Capitol Hill and how are you applying them to your role at the FTC?
I think things like being candid with folks, treating people honestly, listening to both sides of any issue, working hard at trying to accomplish your goals – those are the things that are always respected. They are the things you always want to see in your employees and that we see at the FTC.
You always have to respect the people you work with, even if you disagree with them. It’s partly because, in Washington, what goes around does come around. But, it’s also partly because it’s just the right thing to do. People respect you if you do things the right way.
When I came to the commission, I was fortunate enough to work with a number of wonderful other commissioners – real-life heroes like Orson Swindle, who was a commissioner and a POW in Vietnam and who once in a while would say, “You know, you’re doing a great job here, but I need to sit down and talk about one thing you shouldn’t be doing, or one thing you should do differently.” So, I’ve been really fortunate.
I’ve worked with people on the Hill, off the Hill, at the commission, who understand that there are often two points of view, that reasonable people can disagree, and that most people in government want to accomplish the same thing. They just come at it from different perspectives.
What are your top three priorities?
One is consumer privacy, which has both enforcement and a policy role. On the enforcement side, we brought major privacy cases, including Google and Facebook. In the Facebook case, we required that if they modify their privacy settings, they have to give an opt-in notice to consumer – or express affirmative consent, the technical term. It affects 850 million people worldwide – 200 million in America, 650 million people internationally. That’s an extraordinary reach for privacy protection.