By ANGIE NG
Hitting the US presidential campaign trail must send the adrenaline flowing in huge doses for candidates and campaign workers.
To be in the thick of things of the three most recent presidential campaigns, including President Barack Obama’s two successful campaigns, speaks volumes indeed about Roger Fisk’s experience.
A masters graduate in public policy and professional politics, Fisk uses his wealth of “political talent” as a speaker for The London Speaker Bureau to bring the “lessons of the whole Obama experience” to audiences around the world.
What motivates him is the intention to take the lessons he has learned in presidential campaigns in engaging 10s of millions and using them to help millions of people around the world who are “invested and involved in big ideas”.
So how did it all start for Fisk before he was drafted into the “inner circle of the presidential elite team”?
According to the 46-year-old, he did not have a clear sense of what he wanted to do when he was younger. Upon completing high school at 18, he worked for three years in a work crew around Beacon Hill and Back Bay in Boston, “doing a lot of interior and exterior painting as well as other tasks” for a general contractor.
“I loved the hands-on nature of the work,” he shares with myStarjob.com.
In particular, he loved watching the conceptualisation of projects which would be broken down into daily tasks, “then over the weeks they would all add up into something amazing, like a renovated church or a brand new addition to a historic home”.
He only enrolled in university after turning 21 to study history and government at Suffolk University and continued with his graduate studies at the same university. At the end of his graduate school, Fisk submitted his thesis to Senator John Kerry’s office.
He had been exposed to the political environment for years; interning for the senator in 1989, working for his first Senate re-election in 1990 and briefly being on staff in 1993.
Naturally, Fisk was happy when he received a call from the senator’s office. It turned out that its office manager had left without much warning, and it needed someone to start in that position the following Monday.
“I knew I would not really like being the office manager, but I also knew it got my foot in the door, and from there I could move up and take on better and different work. So I took it and started four days later,” Fisk reminisces.
THE STATION MASTER
He basically kept the “trains running” in the Senate office; managing office supplies, systems and operations. His most daunting task was being the IT administrator, which he did for nine months before being promoted.
Recalling the enduring moments he encountered, Fisk says: “Few things are as sobering as the server for the entire office crashing which happened about six weeks into the job. I only had gone through some very basic IT training so it took me about an hour over the phone with the US Senate computer help desk staff to get the server up and running!
“People were coming up to me every few minutes asking when the system was going to be fixed and I did not have a good answer. It seemed minor in retrospect but when it was happening I was nervous,” Fisk recalls.
He says although the job was not outstanding, it was pivotal to his career advancement “as it got him on the Kerry staff and so I could learn more, do more, and become more useful”.
“It did get me a seat at the table, and that’s all I wanted. I would have washed dishes to get on staff at that point because I knew it was just a question of time until Senator Kerry would run for President of the United States,” he says.
With his promotion as an aide to Senator Kerry, Fisk recalls that he did a lot of “advance work” for the Senator. He also wrote speeches and issued memorandums to help guide policy and communication efforts on the various issues that the Senator was dealing with in Congress.
“These ranged from labour strikes to health care to early education for young children to veterans and military affairs,” he recalls.
Fisk says the highlights of his first job included his first presidential event work when former US President Bill Clinton visited New England.
“Working those visits took up all my interest in events and politics. To get people involved in big ideas pushed that curiosity and interest into light speed,” he says. “I had to embrace things that did not naturally appeal to me: first and foremost the systems administration process; trouble shooting computer problems, fixing printers and copiers, and hiring outside vendors when needed.”
WINDS OF CHANGE
A few months into the job he took the entire operation from a DOS environment into Windows. And that brought about other changes.
“Everyone had to be trained. Some of the older staff did not want to change, but I pushed through because I knew the more I learned about these responsibilities I did not necessarily like, the sooner I could prove myself, get promoted, and leave them behind.”
Fisk says he is grateful for the unexpected and much broader journey that he has travelled in his career that was made possible by his first job.
“I never would have guessed that interning for Senator Kerry and then becoming the office manager would somehow lead to me working for his presidential campaign and the two Obama campaigns,” he recollects gratefully.
In the course of his work, Fisk says he often looked around at the surroundings, “whether I was in a corn field in Iowa, a Baptist church in St. Louis or a massive sports arena in Ohio, I kind of giggled to myself that I had ended up there.”
Now that he travels the world for The London Speaker Bureau to share lessons from the presidential campaigns, Fisk bemuses that he still experiences those same moments in different parts of the world, such as Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Sydney.
Having had such an illustrious career since earning his first pay cheque as a choir boy at age five, Fisk has some interesting advice for his younger compatriots.
Top on his list is: “You should try as hard as you can at what is in front of you at that moment in time. Grand designs can take shape in a number of ways but don’t wait until you have the perfect job with the perfect team to try your hardest.”
“Just pushing through tasks you don’t like will benefit you in ways you may not have expected. Prove to people that you are willing to see something through even if it is not the subject that interests you a lot,” he advices.
Next is a reminder on the need to be attentive and to be “very aware of listening to people”. Fisk says if people take the easy route and think that by absorbing information they are communicating “then the already frayed social bonds that hold families and communities together will suffer even more”.
“In many ways we have more information competing for our time and attention. This makes it all the more important to be conscious of listening to each other and really trying to understand what each of us is saying,” he concludes.