February 3, 2015

The unlikely start-up


Marc Johnson

Email Author

Looking back, it seems obvious that the odds were long. Perhaps even prohibitive.

A small group of friends, with more political than business experience, launching a regional start-up.

From scratch.

In four markets.

Warren Buffett wouldn't wager much on that one working out. Yet, somehow it has, and this year Gallatin Public Affairs, humbly and with acknowledgement of the vast sums of luck involved, celebrates an important anniversary - our 25th anniversary.

Life, they say, is what happens while you are busy making other plans. My plan was to be a sportswriter. I wrote my last game story for my college newspaper. With a degree in journalism and a minor in history, I never planned on spending a lifetime in and at the edges of politics, and certainly never in the middle of running a small business. It was pure dumb luck that I joined that small original group of Gallatin founders in 1994 and now, all these years later, I proudly claim the title of "senior" person in the firm, the guy detailed to say something about our two-and-a-half decades.

The author (second from left) with Gallatin Founders Gary Smith, Chris Carlson & Joe Piedmont

Two things stand out above all and both involve people: the people we have been lucky to have as clients and the people who have been our only real "product offering" since the beginning.

I remember a television commercial that aired some years ago where all the senior managers of a small company are gathered in the conference room. They are nervous, dispirited, as if perhaps the bottom has fallen out of their market or they have lost a really big account, or maybe several. Tension hovers. In walks the boss: determined, stern, but no sign of panic. He starts quietly handing out airline tickets to his team and says, I think I have the gist correct, "we are all getting on airplanes tomorrow and going to talk to all our customers."

Funny, I don't remember the product being marketed by that commercial, but the lesson, for me the non-business-educated business owner, was pretty clear. You don't have zip without a client and if you forget that lesson you'll never celebrate an anniversary, let alone a 25th.

We're Celebrating 25 Years

Take a look back at some of our company's proudest moments, as well as the top stories in the Northwest during the past 25 years.

Click here to visit our timeline

We've been blessed with hundreds of great clients over the course of our history, clients who have welcomed us into their opportunities and shared with us their challenges. We are proud to have played a role in bringing major league soccer to Portland and wind energy to eastern Washington. Gallatin's team helped launch a successful state health exchange in Idaho and created jobs to support families in Longview. Without those clients and the trust and candor we have shared with them we wouldn't have survived.

We also would not have survived in an era of mergers and acquisitions as a small, independent firm, and would never have made it to a second and third generation of owners without cultivating, and trying our best to value, the only product we offer - smart, credible people with integrity. We've had many such people over the years - more now than ever - and that's been more good luck for us. It sounds a little corny, but the Gallatin crew has become a family and for that we are thankful as well.

We like to think that we have grown right along with our region over the years and kept pace with the astounding changes. But as the Pacific Northwest economy continues to evolve - technology, energy, exports, processing of every type, health, education and more - I'm mindful that old lessons still make new sense. People and communities do matter. There is never a bad time to do the right thing. Success has a thousand fathers. You can't learn much when talking. Keep your word. Nurture and revel in great relationships.

All of us at Gallatin have been truly fortunate for 25 years. Back at the beginning, no one could have envisioned how our small business would develop. Looking back, the idea of a regional, public affairs start-up was clearly a function of hope more than expectation. We fumbled a few times along the way, recovered, kept our footing and, thankfully, enjoyed more than our fair share of success. More good luck and, I suspect, we have beat the odds.

Lots of people, especially our clients (OK, our spouses, too), deserve heartfelt thanks for our two-and-a-half decades in business. What a great ride it has been. We like doing this. Thank you. Your friendship and support allow us to keep at it.

Join Gallatin Public Affairs in our celebration. Click here to take a look back at some of our company's proudest moments, as well as the top stories in the Northwest over the past 25 years.


Marc Johnson

Of Counsel, Boise

Marc authors a blog - Many Things Considered - where he regularly shares insights and analysis on the news of the day, often making the connection between current events and newsmakers, and events in history. He is a sought-after public speaker, lecturer, emcee and forum moderator.

Email Marc

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