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Women Bisnow
   
July 18, 2008
 
 
 

The New Podesta


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

 

By Karin Tanabe for Bisnow on Business

When you find your first job in Washington at the Congressional Budget Office sexy, you know the city is right for you. Heather Podesta worked there while an undergrad at Berkeley, and now,
after a career split between Washington law firms and positions on the Hill (working for Bill Bradley, among others), she’s become one of the new faces of Washington lobbying. Apparently, politics is Podesta territory, regardless of gender.

 

Heather with famed lobbyist and husband Tony Podesta, who heads the bi-partisan Podesta Group, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Prominent contemporary art collectors, the Podestas have given over 200 pieces to the NMWA, 50 of which are on display through September 21st in an exhibit called “Modern Love.”

Starting her law career with Dyer, Ellis & Joseph, Podesta returned to the Hill, working for the late Bob Matsui (D-CA) until 2004 when, with a push by activist Nancy Zirkin, she first caught the fundraising bug. “Nancy called me and said in her raspy voice, ‘Heather, I want you to raise $10,000 for John Kerry.’ I said I couldn’t do that and she said, ‘Give me a freaking break.’ In the end I raised just short of $500,000, which was very empowering. I had married into a very political family, it would have been easy for people to say: 'She’s just Tony’s wife.' Through the fundraising, I was able to gain my own seat at the table.”

 

Move over Danica Patrick. Heather and Pam Braden, CEO of Gryphon Technologies, get ready to rally.

After returning to law firm life with Blank Rome, Podesta decided to move into the lobbying world in December 2006 and less than a month later opened her Democratic lobbying firm, Heather Podesta + Partners. “I wanted to name it Velvet Steel but people said it sounded like a porn shop. One general counsel said, ‘I can’t send an invoice to Velvet Steel.’ With blue chip clients like Boeing, US Steel, Home Depot and HealthSouth, the team-driven company is very selective about the clients they take on. “I have a no jerk rule. When I smell one, I say there’s only one person in town who can take care of your needs, and that person is Tony Podesta.”

 

The Podestas at the NMWA with a piece by Mathilde ter Heijne. “He does everything to support me, not that we don’t compete for clients. But there’s only so much Tony Podesta to go around. I like to say I’m the younger, leaner version.”

With one look around Heather’s Penn Quarter office, walls covered in avant-garde art and a staff without titles, you know this isn’t your grandfather’s lobbying shop. “We know our reputation will be made or broken in the first three years we’re open. We need to outperform competitors every step of the way.”

 
 
 
 
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