A Visit with Chris Swonger
Senior Vice President, Global Government Affairs
You’ve had the customary Capitol Hill experience?
I have. I worked for Sens. Phil Gramm and Don Nickels and for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Then, before joining the Smiths Group in 2009, I worked for two global consumer goods companies.
What do you find most rewarding working for the Smiths Group?
I like the challenge of working for a global company based in the UK that is involved in so many industries — defense, aerospace, oil and gas, energy and homeland securities. That’s just for starters. I like the diversity. It’s exciting to learn about all these industries and the special challenges they face. I like the fact that we have almost 9,000 employees in this country —23,000 worldwide — with operations in more than 50 countries and plants in 40 states here in the U.S.
You started the company’s government relations division?
Yes. Although this company can be traced back over 160 years, starting as a jewelry shop in London, it really had no fully dedicated government relations function. This was surprising, since it now operates in so many highly regulated markets. Once it was decided to start a government relations division, it made sense to base it in the U.S., because this is such a significant market for us.
How do you start a government relations division from scratch?
We really did start with what you might think of as a blank sheet of paper. I had to identify the key issues and figure out where we could benefit from alliances. One of the first things we did, for example, was join the National Association of Manufacturers, which made sense because we have such a large manufacturing footprint in the U.S. Then we had to figure out how to prioritize our hiring. We still don’t have a large staff, relatively speaking — 12 full-time government affairs professionals, globally. We have executives in Brussels, Southeast Asia, China and Latin America.
What’s the atmosphere these days in Washington?
Despite what the media would have you believe about this “difficult” time of transition, it doesn’t seem much different to me than any other transition. We go through this every time an old administration goes out and a new one comes in. Whenever that happens, there is a cultural change in Washington. We saw this eight years ago. After the campaign we just went through, I suppose having an “outsider” like Donald Trump come in makes it interesting. There are the usual anxieties about people’s jobs and what policies to expect. There’s anxiety but there’s also excitement with a transition, especially when so much is unknown about what direction this administration will take. For me, wired a certain way, this is exciting. The uncertainty is intellectually stimulating, learning what changes might be in store for tax reform, for trade, for the Affordable Care Act. There’s the usual talk about “draining the swamp,” of course. President Obama said he was going to do that, too. I guess a lot depends on how you define “swamp.”
Is there a book you’d recommend that helped you understand politics and policy?
Right now I’m reading Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry that Forged a Nation by John Ferling. But the best book I’ve read, in terms of my own understanding, is Tip O’Neill’s All Politics is Local: And Other Rules of the Game. The idea that all politics is local has stuck with me through the years. I just got back from China, and it’s true there as well as here. It’s true in Latin America, and it’s worth remembering even when you work, as I do, for a global company.
What do you do to get your mind off work?
I’ve been happily married for 15 years, and mainly, I enjoy being a daddy to my two children, who are eight and 10. I’m also a long-time Dallas Cowboys fan. They have been playing so well I have my fingers crossed they will get back to their Super Bowl form this year.
Reach Chris at 202.777.8448 or Chris.firstname.lastname@example.org.