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Spotlight on…Dmitri Siegel

Spotlight on…Dmitri Siegel

Director, Alliance Development, State Government Affairs, Northeast Region,
Bristol Myers Squibb

February 2024

Dmitri is an unusual name for an American, with an unusual spelling. Inquiring minds want to know…

I understand completely. My father, who was a professor of literature and religion as well as an author, is a big fan of Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. He named me after one of those brothers. The spelling, according to my father, is how the name was originally spelled. But in case anyone wonders, we’re not Russian. I was born in this country but spent much of my childhood in Oxford, England, where my father was earning his Ph.D. He eventually joined the faculty at the University of Hawaii, where I got my degree.

But you were in Los Angeles after college?

I was. My paternal grandfather had been the medical director at Century Fox studios, and with family there, I lived in Los Angeles for a while, working as a desk clerk at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, which proved to be great preparation, in an interesting way, for my later career in public affairs. As a desk clerk, I dealt with people from all over the world and from all walks of life. This wasn’t simply a matter of handing people their room key. Everyone wants something. That can be something as simple as recommendations for restaurants or more complicated matters involving transportation or — in the case of celebrities — their own personal security. So, you learn to interact with all kinds of people, to meet their needs. Of course, I saw a lot of celebrities — Bill Gates, Tupac, Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro. Snoop was a lot taller than I’d have guessed, like 6’4”.

You also worked at the Senate Press Gallery?

Through a friend who knew Sen. George Mitchell, I landed that job, and it, too, was great preparation for my career. This will date me, but this was before the internet, when there were phone booths in the press gallery. Reporters for the daily papers would call in their stories to their newspapers. I functioned as a liaison between the Senate and the press. Once released, I would distribute printed committee testimony so that all members of the press received it at the same time.

So what did you learn?

What I learned working in the Senate is that there was almost no genuine interest in the substance of an issue. I grew up in the home of a professor of literature and religion, and I was used to other academics coming by the house and engaging in these long and thoughtful discussions of ideas, with a lot of back and forth. But by contrast, there really was no genuine debate among the senators. Everyone had an agenda, and they didn’t listen to one another. Sometimes they would give their speeches to a Senate floor that was virtually empty. This was sort of disappointing to me, but it also got me thinking about how to engage with people in a substantive way.

And what did you conclude?

I began to believe, and still do, that the key is probably to be authentic — that people will respond to that. That, to this day, guides my thinking in my advocacy work. And it seems clear to me that the Council operates on an assumption like this, too, which is encouraging. I’m a graduate of the Public Affairs Institute — class of 2020, I believe — and Institute is one of those rare places where the presentations by the instructors are substantive and where there are genuine discussions among your classmates. I recommend Institute very highly. It’s an incredible experience.

Talk about a current challenge you face in the public affairs profession that might help your peers.

Here’s something I’ve noticed about how the work has changed over the years — especially since COVID. Not so long ago, there was a sense of urgency about “focus.” You’d have to focus on a specific goal because it was something the company or the industry needed. They’d say, “You can’t boil the ocean.” But that has changed. Today, you have to be engaged in society-wide issues, which are broad — not narrow in that old sense of being focused on one thing. I am not questioning the importance of engagement on these issues, but it presents new challenges. I understand why this is the case; it just requires a different approach. The key here, too, I believe, is probably in being authentic and true to the organization’s values.

Finally, talk about what you do for exercise — besides chasing a 10-month-old around your Brooklyn home. The New York Times has already told its readers about you and this sport, so tell ours.

I’m a competitive stair climber, and here’s the story. In 2011, I moved into this great Frank Gehry building in the Financial District in New York. It’s 76 stories high, and at the time it was said to be tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere. The Times did a story on the building, and the reporter asked me, as one of the residents, what I loved about the building. Some people said they loved the pool or the view, and these are great. But I said I loved the stairs. I’d run up and down the stairs for exercise. When some other stair-climbing enthusiasts read the story, they contacted me, and I started participating with them. I have climbed the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center. While I am by no means a champion like some of my friends, I have actually raised more than $10,000 competing in events that benefit organizations such as the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I guess you could say it’s a win-win, right?

Reach Dmitri at [email protected].

I began to believe, and still do, that the key is probably to be authentic — that people will respond to that. That, to this day, guides my thinking in my advocacy work.

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