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Women Bisnow
December 4, 2007

Making Waves
for Consumers

This issue of Washington Women is presented by
The Reznick Group:
"Building Business Value"

By Karin Tanabe

Deborah Majoras is one of the few people who lights up at the word “antitrust.” Another smile inducer is “fighting fraud.” But it’s “consumer protection” that inspires an ear-to-ear grin.  Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission since 2004, it’s fair to say that Deborah Majoras hobbled onto the job. “I had broken my foot,” Majoras tells us. Her cast, marking her entrée into a new era and signed by John McCain, now serves as a table topper in her 7th and Pennsylvania Avenue office.

“I always speak with my hands and I always sit in this chair,” Majoras tells us while speaking with her hands of course. Of the framed photo behind her, Deborah says: "People tease me about this picture saying my husband looks like the chairman of the board.”

Majoras grew up in Meadville, PA, a small industrial town of 11,000, and admits she was a wary Washingtonian. “When I was younger, I was worried I would get sucked into Washington's strong culture of ‘me.’  I have had politicians on both sides of the aisles furious with me but I have not bended. People will be furious no matter what. You have to set your course and stick to it.”

After graduating from UVA law, Majoras clerked for US District Court Judge Stanley Harris, who remains a close friend. “He is definitely a conservative, a Reagan Republican. He was another step in my evolution of legal thinking. He taught me about what the government is capable of doing and what it is not.”

With "Attorney-Advisor" Daniel Kaufman.

The FTC brought a big merger case when Majoras was working for Harris. "I loved the case, it really piqued my interest in antitrust," says Deborah. "I remember looking at a table full of black binders and thinking, 'I have to read all of this?' But the case was amazing, and such foreshadowing.”

Majoras worked in antitrust for Jones Day in the mid-west before coming to the Department of Justice to serve as deputy assistant attorney general. “There was phenomenal talent there. Ashcroft really set the atmosphere and we really did what we thought was right,” she says.  At the DoJ, she worked on the settlement of the Microsoft case. “I remember reading in the newspaper how it was a big political sellout and I learned in a hurry that you can’t set your mood or your compass on what you read in newspapers. We were highly criticized. But both the district court and the appellate court were very positive, so I feel good about it.”

At the Kirkpatrick Awards.

Deborah came to the FTC, where half the agency’s resources go to consumer protection, on the heels of anti-trust legends Bob Pitofsky and Tim Muris. “I knew very little about consumer protection but I took to it like a fish to water,” she says. “Fraud is always our bread and butter. The number one fraud nationwide is weight-loss fraud. People fall for these gimmicks because losing weight is so tough.”

One of Deborah’s favorite projects is the issue of food advertising on childhood obesity. “12 food companies representing 2/3 of all advertising to kids committed to major changes in their advertising agendas.” Some have said no advertising targeted to children under a certain age. Disney made commitments about not licensing characters, and Cookie Monster is not talking about cookies as a food. “I’m proud of this,” says Majoras. “It shows responsibility from profit-making companies. Heavy government would violate the First Amendment and we wouldn’t do very well. A number of companies stepped up to help parents.”

Deborah is well aware that women sometimes get slighted in a “city that has the potential to eat people alive.” “I have walked into many rooms of older, more experienced people and seen that look in their eyes of “Who is she, why should we listen to her?” she says. “I would like them to have a different look in their eyes and a different opinion of me when they walk out of the room.”

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