Public Policy Associates owner Rob Fowler assumed his role as the firm’s CEO in July 2022. Mr. Fowler has had more than 35 years of public policy experience, most of it heading the Small Business Association of Michigan. Now, he feels at home with PPA. We talked with him about his first year at the helm, and what lies ahead.
How do you feel after Year One at PPA?
I feel very comfortable now. I’ve got a good handle on the direction of the company and feel like I have found my footing. I benefited from knowing three previous CEOs – Jeff Padden, Paul Elam, and Sam Singh. And while I have benefitted from watching them as well as Colleen Graber and Virginia Orabone lead the company, I have also had to figure out how to do it my way.
We have developed a new strategic plan over the last six months or so, and that allowed me to step back and look at PPA from a growth standpoint and a strategy standpoint. I made a point not to change too many things in the first year, but I think we are poised to make some changes that people will welcome and that should put us on a growth trajectory.
How was business?
We added 44 new clients in the last year. That has got to be close to a record-breaking year. We added over $3 million of new revenue and grew the staff by a net of five people. We have six new faces in the last year, starting with Terry Gardner, my business partner and CFO. Terry is part owner of the company.
Have staff returned to the office after the pandemic?
We have made the decision that we are a virtual company. We are not going to be coming back to the office in some hybrid or full-time environment. There are some big implications, both challenges and opportunities. The challenge is that we have this group of really super-talented people and need to foster a culture and a sense of belonging. We have made some good progress there but leading a virtual company will challenge our creativity.
And the advantages?
It literally opens up the talent pool to the whole country, if not the whole world. Today we have team members in Oregon, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. Our talent is our product if you think about it.
PPA has the most uniquely talented, smart, accomplished group of people I have ever been around. I believe people with that level of talent especially appreciate the flexibility our now-virtual company offers them. They can work when they feel they are most productive, they can bend their work around their lives. We also believe our work is important to the world we live in and that’s important. As we say, “better public policy for a better world”.
Are there policy areas you plan to develop or grow?
Part of our strategic plan is to grow into new policy areas or at least broaden our presence in the policy areas we are already in. In our Healthy Communities area for example, there are spaces we can grow into. It is not a far jump from doing food systems work, which we have a lot of expertise in, to doing agriculture-related policy or even climate-related policy. It is not a big leap from some of the small business and micro-business work we are doing to broader economic development policy.
PPA’s education work seems to be expanding?
It is an area in which we have great depth and breadth. We are probably the dominant consultants in the education space in Michigan today.
We have Launch Michigan as a client, the Michigan Community College Association, the Michigan College Access Network, both of the higher education organizations. We do a ton of early childhood education work. And there are additional opportunities.
Governor Whitmer just announced this new Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement and Potential (MiLEAP), which will consolidate early childhood education and higher education into one department. This alignment is really smart and has been a long time coming. We have real expertise in this space. And honestly, this may be the best opportunity Michigan has had in the past couple of decades to do something broad and comprehensive and reform-minded in education.
What other changes are in the works?
We have just announced to our staff that Dan Quinn, director for education policy, will be promoted to chief strategy officer. In this role, Dan will be a big help to me in growing our business and our presence. It is also a recognition of the business building that Dan has already done for our firm. He does know how to “make it rain.”
We also will be introducing a new brand identity that should freshen up our overall look and feel in our public facing work. There will also be some other, less obvious, changes as we fully implement the PPA strategic plan.