For 38 years, Gerald Cassidy, a legendary name in the lobbying industry, grew the firm he founded, Cassidy & Associates, from a small consulting shop into one of K Street’s most profitable enterprises.
Last November, Cassidy announced he would step down to become chairman emeritus on Jan. 1, and left the reins to then-executive vice president Kai Anderson and president Barry Rhoads.
Anderson and Rhoads, now co-chairmen sat down with Capital Business to discuss the future of the firm. They insisted that not much would change, though they did frame the focus of the firm as “the nexus between defense and energy” — a departure from Cassidy’s historical success in lobbying for earmarks in the federal budget. Congress agreed to stop using earmarks in 2010.
Rhoads, a former Defense Department official, has worked with Cassidy since 1997, and in 2010, he merged his defense lobby shop Rhoads Group with Cassidy & Associates. His specialty is in the base closure and relocation process known as BRAC. Anderson, a former deputy chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), is a land use and renewable energy policy expert. He has a PhD. in geology.
1. What they’re framing as the firm’s sweet spot — where defense and energy meet — is a reflection of their own success and interests.
When Anderson joined Cassidy in 2005, he brought with him a new focus on environmental and energy work that the firm had not previously sold as its strong suit. He has since built a practice representing companies such as LS Power in its bid to build a high-voltage transmission line in Nevada, and Tiffany & Co. in the jeweler’s efforts to change a federal law so that mining companies that extract minerals from public land would have to pay royalties to the government. Rhoads has carved out a niche in military and homeland security issues, with one of his most notable wins being keeping the Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota off the government’s base closure list in 2005. The firm this week is hiring Dave Belote, who worked on renewable energy programs at the Defense Department, to help grow its DOD practice.
Anderson: We do defense-related work well and energy and natural resources work well. We’re increasing in the space of the intersection between those two areas. How does the military use energy? Can it be a laboratory for innovation? Those sorts of things.
Rhoads: Dave will not only be at that intersection, but will help us grow into a whole other area with the DOD, what people expect to be upcoming requests for BRAC. I’ve made my bed doing that type of work. Dave helps me solidify my practice in that area. We’re looking to grow that.
2. They would rather keep the same client for 30 years than sign a new one every month, and tout their client retention. Forty percent of the firm’s clients in 2013 had been clients for at least five years, and nearly half of those had been clients for at least 11 years. Ocean Spray, for one, has been with the firm for at least 33 years.
Anderson: I’d much rather sign fewer clients for less money for a longer period of time. Part of it is self-serving in that I hate to lose. I’m not going to promise someone something that we don’t have a good chance of doing. I think that leads to a good client retention rate. You sign people that you actually have something you can do for them, you do it, and if there’s a logical outgrowth of that, they’re going to want to ask you to do it again. That’s a much better way to live than to sign someone to something that you’re rolling the dice on. It takes a lot of emotional energy and general energy to get to know a client, become part of their team, to really integrate yourself. That ramp-up time is hard. If you’re doing that too frequently, that’s a challenge.
3. They prefer a client that wants to get something done — pass a law, change a regulation or achieve some other objective — over one that wants to stop something from happening.
Anderson: I like clients who want to solve problems. I’d much rather be doing that than someone who hires you to stop something from happening, unless it’s something really bad. Those are going to be more fulfilling and rewarding pieces of work.
4. They’re old-fashioned when it comes to communication.
Rhoads: Neither one of us are real big e-mail people. We still pick up the phone. The rule for me is if your punch line [in an e-mail] is below three lines, there’s a chance I’ll never get to the punch line. Come see me. It’s not a philosophical change, but it’s a philosophy we both stick by. I want to communicate verbally. There’s much less chance for a nuance I miss.
5. Their dream clients are those that think about sustainability.
Anderson: It’s a company like Patagonia that makes a great product but has their head up and thinks about how the manufacture and use of their product affects the world, how it affects people, how the people that rely on them as a company interact with what they make and do as a result. I want to work for companies that I respect what their mission is, and how they approach doing it. That can be a company in almost any sector. We would much rather work for those who share the sort of values we share about doing things in a responsible, sustainable fashion than those who wouldn’t.