Back in October, we spoke with Partner Frank Rizzo about Five Corners Strategies’ recent expansion into California and his own move to Sacramento. This time we’re catching up to Ben Kelahan, the firms Washington D.C. based Partner.
Q: Five Corners Strategies has been around for 5 years. What about the firm makes you the most proud?
Ben: “It’s really the caliber of clients we have now. And I’m not just talking about their size, financial position or popularity. We work for really bright, advanced professionals with impeccable reputations in their business. They’re the ones keeping us at the top of our game. If they’re entrusting us with the challenges they can’t solve, that’s something I’m really proud of and driven to stay out front of.”
“Another barometer is our staff. It’s not easy finding employees that can devise, manage and execute the types of grassroots programs we run. We can put them in any environment – the boardroom or the hearing room – and they deliver on the toughest engagements out there. Our staff is highly unique and individualized, and it’s because you have to be when you’re that much of a specialist in what you do. They’re all very passionate, and it’s contagious to the clients we work with and the community people they engage.”
Q: You’ve worked in state government relations, grassroots organizing and local politics all over the country for many years. What led you to this?
Ben: “I’ve always had a passion for change politics – that is local communities in flux, trying to manage changes brought on by dramatic swings in population, policy, industry and development. I also love Urban Policy, Comparative Politics and being an active participant in the “behind-the-scenes” aspects of legislation and developing grassroots movements. I also like being on the front lines of passionate issues and how they really appeal to locals in their communities and daily lives. For someone like me, every day I get to play mixologist in the laboratory of my choosing and come out with different solutions.
Early on, I cut my teeth working in the tobacco industry, where I quickly learned how to manage legislative affairs and local regulation as a prime opposition target and participated in many passionate public hearings. I was probably the most liberal tobacco industry representative out there, but I also learned the industry perspective, the value of agricultural communities around the country and the huge contribution those communities make.
Q: How did you guys meet?
Ben: “I met Tom and Frank about 10 years ago, when we worked at the same consulting firm. First of all, we all knew how to have fun. That’s really important in a business partnership but often overlooked. Running a business is tough enough, there needs to be some comic relief. We always got along well, but more importantly, complimented each other’s skill sets extremely well. The clients that have worked with us the most know that we bring three different thought processes to solving problems, and the combination doesn’t leave them wondering whether we’ve considered all the options or creative pathways to winning. I think we always knew that we wanted to start our own firm together, so it’s been really gratifying to be successfully part of that vision the past 5 years.”
Q: What’s your favorite kind of project to work on?
Ben: “There’s a certain rush to getting thrown into the trenches last-minute and turning an extremely difficult situation, with a lot of conflict amongst local constituencies, in the favor of a client. I think anyone working in this kind of business thrives in situations like that. Certainly we do at Five Corners. That said, I have an even greater appreciation for our clients to whom take a longer view of their portfolios. The people who anticipate trouble before it hits and plan accordingly. That approach usually results in a higher success rate for the client and actually saves them money in the long run as well. We have several clients for whom we manage their entire development portfolio from a political risk analysis and outreach point of view and it’s increased the value of their assets.”
Q: Doing what you do can be very stressful. What do you do to unwind?
Ben: “I get outdoors wherever and whenever I can – hike a mountain, run a trail, find an adventure. I like getting lost. I beg my my family to come with me. Sometimes I’m persuasive enough, sometimes I’m not. I have an amazing wife and three great kids that humble me and teach me a new lesson every day. I’ve played soccer my whole life too, but I got red carded 2 minutes into the game last time, so I’m not sure I’ll be invited back anytime soon…”
Q: Yeah, probably not, hahaha. Thanks a lot for your time, Ben. Anything else you want people to know about you or Five Corners Strategies?
Ben: “I think we’ve covered a lot already, but if there is one take-away I would want people to have, it is this: “I think our passion and pride in our work for clients and genuine desire for winning differentiates us to start, then our success carries us forward into long-term client relationships. I’m also proud of our company character, it’s real, transparent, and infectious and it starts with the partners. And that’s important to our clients when they come to us with the most difficult public affairs case.