Interview Segments on Topic: Transition to Corporate World
Bolton, senior counselor to APCO Worldwide, a leading global public affairs and corporate communications consultancy, began his career as a journalist before serving as a press secretary for a member of Congress. Bolton became director of speechwriting for the Reagan/Bush re-election campaign, and was eventually confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be assistant secretary of the Treasury for public affairs and public liaison under President Bush in 1989.
As senior vice president of communications for Aetna, Bolton led a group of senior Aetna executives to think about culture and organizational effectiveness, which resulted in the creation of the Aetna Way, with integrity as its first fundamental value. Roger Bolton is past president of the Arthur W. Page Society and current chair of the Arthur W. Page Center Advisory Board.
Interviewer: You left Washington to go to work for IBM. And I believe as the director of corporate affairs for IBM. Tell us about what caused that to happen. I don’t think it occurred as a change in the administration but it might have.
Bolton: No that’s correct. I was halfway through the first Bush term. I was the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury that Senate confirmed job that we had spoken about earlier. And from my perspective it was the job of a lifetime. When the IBM offer came along, it was one of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make to leave Washington at that time. As it turned out, my timing was good. The President was not re-elected. And thousands of my friends were thrown out of office within two years of my departure. But I was already firmly ensconced in IBM fortunately for me.
Interviewer: Was the transition from the government in effect to the corporate world easier or difficult to make?
Bolton: Well it was easier than I expected it would have been. I found that the same skills, the same sensibilities, the same ability to understand the needs of constituencies, and to assimilate issues and try to find common ground and communicate effectively it was basically the same thing. On the other hand, some very fundamental differences. The most profound of which is that in the private sector, there is not, I don’t think or at least, let me just say, there is not the same appreciation for the need for communications of public relations as there is in the government sector.
Interviewer: That’s an interesting observation because a lot of groups need public favor. Business certainly would be. The politicians recognize that. Do you think the time will come when businesses will finally figure out that the need to communicate with constituencies just as effectively as the government people have?
Bolton: The best business leaders understand it today and always have. And I think that there is a growing appreciation for the need. The almost crisis in confidence in public institutions and private institutions is leading private sector leaders to become more and more aware of the fact that stakeholders of all sorts do have points of view and need to be listened to and need to be responded to. And so I think there is actually a change occurring and business leaders are becoming more and more atoned to the reality that they have to think beyond the traditional constituencies of direct customers and shareholders.
Interviewer: Did you have a specific interest in business or in trade before that happened or was that just something that evolved while you were there?
Bolton: Well what evolved Jack was when I was back on the Hill, the Congressman that I worked for was ranking on the Energy Committee during the energy crisis, the first energy crisis if you will. In the Carter years and was also ranking on the joint economic committee. So I found myself really drawn to economic issues and my first job in the administration was the treasury and then I moved to U.S. PR. And then to the White House where I was special assistant to the President with responsibility for economic policy issues. Public liaison on economic policy issues. And then back to treasury again. So my whole government career was really focused on economic policy issues.