The Case for Advocacy
As a business leader, there’s always a million things to juggle and civic engagement can quickly fall to the bottom of the priority list. And yet, some leaders, like Pennsylvania Steel’s Vice President & General Manager Lee Kushman, manage to devote significant time to meeting with policymakers and encouraging others to vote.
Kushman began his career as an insurance agent, and later landed an inside sales position at Earle M. Jorgensen Company (EMJ). After 13 years with EMJ, Kushman took an outside sales role at Pennsylvania Steel reporting to the president. When Pennsylvania Steel bought Lucas Metals in 1997, they invited Kushman to take over as general manager at the York, Pa., plant. His division in York is now one of the premiere suppliers of metal products in the area.
Edge asked Kushman about his ventures into the political world in a recent interview.
Edge: What was your perception of advocacy efforts before you began actively participating in politics?
Kushman: I had mixed feelings. My mother was a state committee woman; I saw how her political positions over the years brought her great joy and great sorrow. I feel a sense of duty to this country and specifically my state. This country lacks inspiration and direction and I want to help in some way to bring it back. At first my idea was to assist in some way but not to take a leadership role.
When did you begin engaging in advocacy efforts?
When I told William Marsh, our chapter’s former president, I wanted to help our chapter’s advocacy efforts in some way but not take a leadership role, he insisted I was selling myself short. I made contacts with our elected officials, formed alliances with our local manufacturing associations, attended fundraisers, and took every opportunity to talk to manufacturers about the things that were important to them and how we could help. I relayed this information to my contacts in government, and before long they were listening to the problems and solutions I provided. I gained credibility with many of our officials, allowing me to have some input into the decision making process.
What was your first interaction with a representative like?
My first interaction was with U.S. Congressman Scott Perry. I was invited to a small luncheon with only a dozen business members. Scott, like me, worked in the insurance business as his first real job. I talked to Scott before our meeting and mentioned to him what we had in common. During his address to the group, he talked a little about our discussion and mentioned me by name. The group all looked at me, curious about how I made an impression on Scott. The meeting inspired me, and I started to believe William might have been right that I was selling myself short.
How would you describe your current involvement with industry advocacy?
I’m amazed at my level of involvement: I have enough contacts to reach just below the governor’s office with people who meet with him on a regular basis. These officials know when I call I’m not there to brow beat or represent a special interest. They know I am calling because I am there to introduce them to programs that work, to describe small business concerns and to provide solutions on issues that concern all of us.
Looking back, can you now identify misconceptions you had about engaging lawmakers in discussions about industry issues?
I thought our lawmakers did not care and had their own personal interest in mind. Don’t get me wrong, you have good people and selfish people. The key is to help the good people prevail.
Why is industry advocacy so important to you now?
Many do not realize that our government is changing and becoming more intrusive in our lives. They are controlling more and more of what we do and taking more of what we earn, and we’re getting less in return. The American Dream will become the American nightmare if we don’t get involved.
If you had one piece of advice on this matter for other business leaders, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to get involved. There are small things you can do at first, like attend the MSCI/NAM Fly-In. Your voice has influence and carries weight. You need to do what’s right for the country and the common good, because ultimately it helps all of us, including your grand kids. We need our best and brightest to apply their skills and talents toward better solutions.