FBLA Connect Interview - Ron Pierce
Ron Pierce is currently the President and Founder of RSA Consulting Group, LLC, a lobbying firm in Tampa, Florida. He has been very involved in FBLA-PBL for his entire life, serving as the 1995-96 PBL Southern Region National Vice President and the 1996-97 PBL National President. He is still involved with the organization, serving as the Business & Industry Representative on the Florida FBLA-PBL Board of Directors, and as the Business & Industry Representative and Board Chair Elect on the FBLA-PBL National Board of Directors. Ron agreed to sit down with FBLA National President Eu Ro Wang to share his experiences and his tips for FBLA members looking to go into politics.
What’s your best memory of FBLA?
My best memory of FBLA or PBL would be winning the Rob Kelleher Memorial Award, which is like the Member of the Year in PBL. I think one of the reasons it was so meaningful was at that point in time, I was a State President and in the process of running for national office in PBL. My mom and dad came to that leadership conference and meet the Kelleher family. Rob Kelleher was a PBL state officer who was killed in a car accident in 1971. His mother, Molly Kelleher, used to come to every conference. The last conference that she was able to attend was the year I received the Rob Kelleher Memorial Award. Having her meet both my parents and I was a very special moment.
From serving in multiple leadership positions, do you have any advice for the common FBLA or PBL students looking to get more involved on a higher level?
I think first and foremost is get involved, take advantage of every opportunity that FBLA gives you. This organization offers you so much. It could be from getting helping with a competition, to volunteering in a community service project, to running for a local, district, state, or national office. The organization offers so many different leadership opportunities and many service opportunities, but a person needs to be motivated to take advantage of those opportunities.
Talking a little bit more about you specifically, what did you major in college and how did you choose your major?
I was an English major with a minor in political science. I selected that major because I thought I wanted to go to law school — I wasn’t sure when I started down that path, but I knew that no matter what I was going to do, having a strong communications background, specifically a writing background, would be very beneficial. I ended up not going to law school, and getting involved in a political campaign, and then working in the political process for several years.
So, what do you do right now?
I am a lobbyist and own my own lobbying firm here in Florida. Basically, I am a contract lobbyist which means people hire my firm to represent their interest before state and local governments. What I mean by ‘their interests’ is that they have an issue before local or state governments they are either for or against. They may be looking directly at some type of appropriation or public policy related issue. They hire us to be their voice and advocate for them before those local or state elected officials. The majority of what we do is about 80% before the state legislature and about 20% before local government. People hire lobbyists for two reasons: number one — because of our knowledge of the political process or the public policy process, and number two — because of the relationships they have in that process. Just like any other profession, relationships really drive the political process. For the public policy process, I am very blessed because I spent eight years on the staff side working for several elected officials at the state level. In that time, I built up a lot of relationships in the process which were in a high level and I had to understand the public policy process. Having that background has been beneficial to growing my firm over the years.
Why did you choose to go into lobby or governments, and what inspired you or motivated you?
That is a great question because I can tell you when I was in the process working as staff, I thought I was going to run for office one day. If you had asked asked me when I was a staffer in the Senate, I would never have told you that I would become a lobbyist someday. What I discovered over the years is that people approached me because of my relationships and knowledge of the process to help on different projects or possibly to work with them on different issues they have in Tallahassee. When I left the Senate, I went in house with the Tampa Bay Lightning and spent three years working as their Director of Government & Community Relations. It was an absolute unbelievable experience that I would not trade it for anything in the world. When I left, I started my own lobbying firm, RSA Consulting Group, because I had an opportunity to leave the Lightning, start my own business, and have the Tampa Bay Lightning become my first client out of the gate. They are still a client today. I think everybody dreams about the ability to start your own business, to be your own boss, and I was presented that opportunity and took both advantages. In April of this year, RSA turned 10 years old.
What’s your favorite part about your job and what are some of the struggles that you face working as a lobbyist and working in the government?
I think what I like most about it is there is something different every day. We have so many different clients and deal with a variety of issues, from education to transportation, economic development to health care. On a daily basis, I am constantly dealing with a variety of different issues. I think what I like most about it is in many cases, you are on task to solve a problem. It starts with a phone call from a client saying an issue’s come up. From there we have to decide what is the best way to address the issue and then work with my team to develop a plan, execute the plan, and hopefully get to the end goal. I travel a lot, so one challenge is fundamental work- life balance, and being very diligent with my time from a family standpoint, due to so much traveling. When I am home, it is very important to spend quality time with my family.
What should people do to prepare for a job in lobbying or government, and what are some tips you would give to students who want to get into lobbying, political science, or government?
I think two ways. First is get an internship. You can have the opportunity as an FBLA member to get an internship with a local elected official, state elected official, a local lobby firm, or a business or organization that work from a public advocacy standpoint. Getting involved and engaged from an internship standpoint is a great way to understand the process and learn firsthand. Number two is get involved in campaigns. You know this is our democracy, and so I think students at a young age should learn about the political process. Republican, democrat, independent, it does not matter where they fall in the political spectrum. If you have the chance to go out and get involved in a political campaign to help somebody get elected, that is a great opportunity to learn about the political process and issues that are very important to their community. On the campaign trail you hear a lot about different issues very specific to the area that candidates have to address, and that people want to hear about. Maybe it’s a transportation issue, or it could be health care related issues, or education — whatever it may be, they can learn about those issues as part of the campaign process.
Do you have any final words of advice or tips for FBLA members about anything?
The one piece of advice I have is to get involved and get engaged and take advantage of every opportunity that FBLA has to offer. My success as a professional today is directly related to my time in the organization. My time, all the leadership skills, all the opportunities that I took advantage of in FBLA-PBL prepared me for that transition from school to work. From a public speaking standpoint, being able to network, being able to think strategically, all the things I learned as a student leader really positioned me well to become successful in the workforce. I tell student groups all the time that my time in FBLA-PBL truly prepared me for my path to success as a professional.
Thank you for your time!