Interview Segments on Topic: Selecting a PR Career
Bill Margaritis is the executive VP of corporpate affairs at Hilton Worldwide. Previously, he was corporate vice president for global communications and investor relations for FedEx Corporation.
INTERVIEWER: The first question we wanted to ask is about your career path. You graduated from Michigan State University and moved from there to the position you’re in now. Can you tell us about how you got here?
MARGARITIS: Well, I’m an immigrant. Born in Greece and came to the U.S. at the age of eight-and-a-half. And I was always inspired from a very young age about philosophers and Aristotle’s view of the world and being a global citizen and really taking on adventures; travelling and that kind of thing. After I graduated from Michigan State, I worked in the Michigan senate as a legislative assistant. I was the deputy director of the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign which was a fascinating experience. And then I moved to Washington and worked for the secretary of commerce and learned a lot about working with governors and state legislatures and mayors. That was kind of my role. I was in charge of governmental affairs at a time when there was a lot of interaction with the states and localities. It really was a phenomenal experience to be able to travel at such a young age, all over the country and stay in great hotels and eat fine food and meet all these amazing, smart people. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. And then after that I went to work for Armand Hammer at Occidental Petroleum and got deep into legislative regulations and policies at the state level with environmental (issues). It was a big environmental movement back at that time, in the late ‘80s. That was exciting; a lot of action going on. We had to work with a lot of veterans in the industry across oil companies and plastics companies and consumer goods companies and build coalitions on how to deal with very intrusive and draconian environmental policies. Then after that I went to work with Bechtel, as a VP overseas, based in London and Athens, running their marketing and communications and had a chance to travel and see the world. Places like India and Russia and the Middle East and so forth. And then I got recruited by FedEx and have been here 16 years.
INTERVIEWER: Two follow-up questions. The first one is, can you talk a little bit about your political campaign experience and how that has informed or helped your work in the corporate sector?
MARGARITIS: I think political experience is very profound and valuable in the corporate communications world. And here’s why: first of all you have an outcome that takes place. You have a defined time frame by which to operate. You have multiple stake holders with issues and agendas at play. You have a competitor. And you have to apply a lot of research rigor to understand the makeup of the population you’re dealing with, whether it be at a local, state level, or a national level. So it forces you to move quickly, to have a strategy, to have a very clear execution plan, to be able to manage multiple aspects of a campaign—like a project management program would. And to use analytics to target messages, target positioning statements. Understand the use of polling and research—much like you would in business between two corporations whether it’s Pepsi/Coke or FedEx/UPS. And also the importance—and perhaps this may be the most important—is the power of volunteers, of really collaborating and inspiring and leading volunteers. People who aren’t getting paid but they believe in the cause. That’s so important when you become a manager, an executive in the business world because it trains you in how to really motivate people when they frankly don’t even have to be there. So I think in short that’s why political experience is very important. Plus, by the way, I think every executive from the CEO on down needs to understand how public policy and how legislation and how coalitions get developed. Because every company is exposed to some regulatory or political issue, whether it be in the U.S. or abroad. So if you understand politics at the grass roots level and how decisions get made and how coalitions develop, you can then understand how the elected official or appointed official is going to think through their position. And then what’s it going to take for you to connect with that person or persuade that person? So you have to find something politically palatable. It’s an art and a science.