Lydia Borland receives award for being the best female government affairs/government relations professional in her field.
Borland: Turks Are Natural Lobbyists
SALI, 6 EKIM 2015 03:40 AM
This post originally was included on Turkishny.com.
Lydia Borland, President of LB International Solutions, LLC, gave an interview to Turkishny.com about her carrier, lobbying sector in US and Turkish American communities engagement in lobbying and political processes.
Turkishny.com: Lobbying is not a notion that Turkish people are very familiar with. In fact, many have a negative impression of lobbying. Can you please tell us what lobbying is?
Lydia Borland: The classic dictionary definition of lobbying is “To try to influence actions of government officials, especially legislators.” Many Turks and Turkish Americans use “lobbying” and “public relations” interchangeably, which is incorrect. Lobbying is reaching out to elected and appointed officials, while public relations is dealing with the press. Sometimes public relations firms also engage in event planning.
When I only have a few seconds to explain what lobbying is, I just say, “sales without inventory.” It is the inventory of ideas. That’s the best analogy I think. There are professional lobbyists, and there are individuals who want to promote an issue and volunteer their time. These individuals are lobbying as well, although it may not be their full time job, but they are still engaging in trying to convince or educate a decision maker.
There are negative connotations to lobbying in the US as well, which surprises me. Petitioning the government is protected in the first amendment of the Constitution which states, “Congress shall make no law…abridging…the right of the people…to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Most of all, lobbying is about establishing and maintaining relationships. It requires people skills, which I believe Turks and Turkish Americans instinctively have. I have always said that lobbying is the art of “tavlamak” that Turks are so capable of. I am not sure why many shy away from the profession.
Turkishny.com: When we look at your career, we see that you have worked in a variety of activities, your expertise in lobbying activities seems to come to the forefront. While others pursue careers such as doctor or lawyer, how did you pick lobbying as a career path?
Lydia Borland: I wish I could say that I had planned to pursue this career path from the beginning—that I picked my degree and internships accordingly—but that would be disingenuous. In fact, when I speak to students regarding careers, I always tell them to pursue their passions, and not get discouraged if initially they are not sure what to do with their lives. I really didn’t begin my career in earnest until I was 28 or 29. Before that, I had jobs, but not a career.
When I graduated in 1983 from George Washington University with a degree in International Affairs, all I knew was that I wanted to do something international and people-oriented, but had no idea what that should be. So I tried working in importing/exporting, started a small retail business, and even ran a school bus program. Every New Years, I made a wish that in the months ahead, I would find my calling, rather than just do a job. If you believe in “kismet” or fate, then that is how I think I found my calling.
On the way to the United States on a flight from Turkey, I was supposed to sit with a friend of mine who I came across at the airport. As we were walking towards the flight, although he had a boarding pass, he was bumped off the flight because the flight was overbooked. Instead, I sat next to a lady who worked in Washington, DC. Sitting next to each other for over ten hours, we became friends and kept in touch.
When I decided to move back to Washington in 1989, I contacted her to see if she was aware of any opportunities. She told me that a lobbying firm was being established to work on Turkey, and her husband thought I would be perfect. She asked if I wanted to be a lobbyist, and I said, “what’s that?” I recall her saying that I would go to Capitol Hill and speak with Members of Congress and staff.
Yet when I sent my resume and made a follow up call, they told me I was not qualified. No “Hill experience, no Master’s degree” was their justification. My only reaction was, “who are these idiots who are turning me down?” and I engineered an 8 am stop-by at the firm’s office, which resulted in my being hired, even though someone else had already been offered that Research Assistant position. She had a Masters degree and some Hill experience, but had never been to Turkey. Guess who was more effective? Five years later, when the firm lost the contract, I was the only one retained with the new firm. So much for criteria.
As I look back at my early months of work, I was much more brash, since I didn’t have any inhibitions based on experience. I would actually grab the arm of a member of Congress as he/she was walking by to tell him/her something or ask something. I would never do that now. I think they were so startled that w
hen I did that that they would politely stop and listen to me.
Over the years, I gained experience and relationships that assist me in fulfilling my responsibilities. This business is very much about relationships, and Turks are very good at establishing, maintaining, and growing relationships. That’s why I believe Turks are natural lobbyists.
I consider myself lucky to have been able to stumble into this profession because it is an amalgamation of my interests and natural skills. I have a natural interest in the region and love the sales aspect of the career.
Turkishny.com: It is believed that Turkey is not able to effectively explain itself. What is needed for Turkey to better make its case?
Lydia Borland: There is a general narrative that Turkey needs to better make its case, but when I attend press conferences on initiatives critical of Turkish policies, members of Congress say, “The Turkish lobby is very strong.”
People are shocked when I point out that the Congressional Turkey Caucus, with its 147 Members, is growing, and is larger than both the Armenian Caucus and the Hellenic Caucus. And yet the Turkish-US relationship is very multifaceted. When I first started in 1989, the issues were primarily those of security issues. Turkey was one of the largest aid recipients, and the defender of the longest border with the Soviet Union. Today, the arguments are not only strategic, but also economic.
Turkish Americans are creating and growing businesses, American companies are selling to Turkey, and Turkish companies are investing in the United States and creating jobs and supporting communities.
Members of Congress pay the most attention to their constituents, because that is who will go to the polls and vote on election day so that the members can keep their jobs. It is very important, therefore, that Turkish Americans participate in the process. That means visiting their elected officials and participating in supporting those candidates who understand the importance of the US-Turkey relationship and recognize the achievements of Turkish Americans in the country.
The official role of diplomacy is also important, where the Embassy reaches out to members of Congress and the Administration, but only Turkish Americans can participate in the political process, which adds a different dimension.
Lydia Borland: Of course I was immensely flattered, especially since I am the only person in my field on that list. My second reaction was one of surprise, thinking–do they not know I’m not exactly Turkish American? I am Italian American, but I grew up in Turkey as an expat because of my father’s position as an executive in the American Tobacco Company in Izmir. I studied at the Department of Defense school for the children of those stationed in Izmir, where the curriculum was identical to that of any base in the United States. So I learned Turkish playing with my neighbors on the street after school. I had a great childhood, during which the kids used to correct my Turkish. For example, if I said “haa” they would say, “haa is not appropriate, you have to say ‘efendim.”
Turkishny.com: Are you engaged in any activities to introduce Turkey to high level politicians and business people? If so, what are they?
We have represented different countries and companies as well. For example, we worked with a firm that sold defense equipment. Meeting with Embassies, we marketed their products and services around the world. In addition, we advocated on behalf of construction firms and helped them find partners. We have also represented international business associations, mostly bilateral ones.
A relatively new aspect of the business is working with Native American tribes and introducing them to international companies who want to invest in different sectors in Indian Country.
Although I have been working in this field for 26 years, it seems like just yesterday that I began. As my peers discuss their retirement plans, the thought is so alien to me. I am having so much fun, why would I want to give it all up? When work is interesting, fun and results oriented, the rest takes care of itself.
Lydia Borland is the antithesis of what a lobbyist is supposed to be. She’s a woman, she’s attractive and not to mention good–hearted. She works as a lobbyist contractor representing the Republic of Turkey and commercial clients. Her previous clients include the Republic of Azerbaijan and other international firms. She spent most of her childhood and teenage years in Turkey with her parents because her father was an American expat working for an American company. Lydia returned back to the States to attend college while her parents stayed behind. On a chance encounter, she sat next to a Turkish Embassy employee on a flight back from Istanbul. Lydia’s command of Turkish language and culture was so impressive that the Consulate employee recommended her to be hired by the country’s lobbying contractor in Washington, D.C. The rest is history and we captured some of it in our conversation below.
When we think of a lobbyist, a picture of Jack Abramoff comes to our mind. Male, aggressive, part of the good old boy network of the ultimate cigar smoking insiders. How many female lobbyists do you know and do you smoke cigars?
No, I don’t smoke cigars. That image, of course, is a caricature, and does not represent the industry. I’m not sure how many female lobbyists there are, it probably depends on the sector, but lobbyists are basically advocates. They promote the issue they are working on, and aim to educate the Members of Congress and their staff on that particular issue.
Why do we need lobbyists? Also, why do foreign governments need lobbying in the US? Isn’t communicating their point of view the job of their respective Ambassadors or foreign ministers?
Most diplomats rotate out of Washington every 3-4 years. Our legislative process is quite complicated. By the time they are up to speed, it is time for them to move to their next assignment. It is helpful to have someone who has the long term perspective of what has been done in the past, and how to move ahead in the future. Lobbyists advise their clients and help maximize their message.
Your job is to be a well–networked person. You have to know people and be able to call on them when you need them. In the business world, life is pretty much the same way. How do you build your valuable network?
We don’t just call when we need them, we maintain contact to update members and staff on issues. Networks are built through meetings, events, conferences, and the like.
Reputation is something that is built over many years, and can be destroyed in less than a day. I proved to be an important resource for members of Congress and staff. I am easy to reach, reliable, accurate, and responsive. It is also important to be discreet and be able to keep secrets when others confide in you.
Your personal brand and reputation must be one of the most valuable assets for a lobbyist. How did you build your brand and how do you continue to preserve it after 20 odd years of working as a lobbyist?
Is lobbying the biggest industry in Washington, D.C.? Explain the business of lobbying to us please? What is it like?
Lobbying is definitely an important industry in this city. There are more lobbyists in Washington DC than in any other city in the country. The job involves more than just communicating with decision makers. It includes formulating strategy, building coalitions, educating constituents, grass roots mobilization, analyzing and monitoring congressional actions, and making recommendations on bills and resolutions.
We know that you speak multiple languages. How many, exactly and how did you learn them? How does speaking multiple languages help you in your business?
I speak English, Turkish, Italian, Spanish, French, and Azerbaijani. My father is American, and my school was in English in Turkey. My mother is Italian and my grandmother who lived with us didn’t speak English, so I learned Italian to be able to communicate with her. I took Spanish in high school, taught myself French, and learned Azerbaijani by visiting the country and working with Azerbaijanis. Azerbaijani is very similar to Turkish.
Who is the most famous person you have met in Washington D.C.? What was impressive about them?
I have met Presidents, Vice Presidents, Speakers, and the like. What is most impressive is that unlike the reputation of public officials, most of them sincerely have a desire to serve their country. Most can be compensated at a much higher rate in the private sector, but they choose public service, which comes with a lot of sacrifices. They are in demand every day of the week, on weekends, and in the evenings.
In your years of lobbying in D.C. you have seen many personalities come and go. What are the common characteristics of the ones that exhibit longevity?
Ability to get along with a wide variety of personalities and diplomatic skills. Likeability is also important.
We can imagine that lobbying takes a lot of your time in a day. As a mom how do you balance your life at home and at work?
Although I do have an office, I can also work from home which provides me with invaluable flexibility. In addition to this, I also have an easy going daughter who accompanies me to evening events when necessary. I feel that it’s very important to maintain a sense of humor and a perspective of what is really important in life.