John Monsif believes that lobbying has gotten a bad rap. His own experiences have shown him that, by and large, the opposite is true, and consequently, he believes it’s imperative to share the positive aspects of government relations.
As a frequent guest speaker in Professor Rob Patterson’s Strategic Value Creation course, he’s talked to McIntire students about his own time working with elected officials. And while his current position as Director of U.S. Federal Government Relations at sustainable building and cold chain provider Carrier can prove illustrative of how companies drive strategic value for its shareholders and stakeholders, Monsif says the discussions in Patterson’s class also offer an important avenue for sharing a different angle of the concepts central to the course.
Speaking with students about the manner in which corporations advocate for issues relevant to their interests, he also provides a window into the unique process by which he has worked with constituencies on Capitol Hill and lobbies for legislation on behalf of his employer.
Yet Monsif says speaking to students embodies much more than that.
“What’s most impactful is being a resource to the students and bringing a perspective about a career path that they might not consider otherwise. I think most folks who enroll in the Comm School don’t think about government relations,” he says.
It’s a reciprocal wish to pass along what others have given to him throughout his life.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have mentors who have given me opportunities,” Monsif says. “If I can be helpful to even one student, and open their eyes to a whole new industry or issue that they haven’t been aware of before, I find that to be really rewarding and hope that they find that to be beneficial, too.”
A Destination Found by New Maps
Monsif reveals that like many who apply to McIntire, as an undergraduate student, he had every intention of going into business. As a third-year entering McIntire, he anticipated going into accounting, but says that all changed when he started his Commerce School classes. Instead, he opted to focus on finance.
Though that course of study didn’t lead to Wall Street or to a traditional finance career, it was part of a longer arc that brought him back to the nation’s capital to rekindle a burning, lifelong interest.
“I was always passionate about politics from a young age,” Monsif says. “Growing up, I was in student government and followed politics.”
Prior to coming to McIntire as a third-year undergrad, he dedicated himself to soaking up government-related experience, taking time off from his studies in 1996 and 1997 to work at the White House and on the Presidential Inaugural Committee. He says that year was nothing short of eye-opening, and further strengthened his interest in politics and policy. Though he didn’t want to cut his Washington immersion short, UVA beckoned.
“Funnily enough, I got into McIntire while working at the White House, and I thought, ‘Maybe I could defer from going to the Comm School for a year.’ But the Admissions Office told me that I had to start at that time or reapply. I decided that I wasn’t going to miss that opportunity,” he recalls.
After graduating, Monsif didn’t get back to Washington right away. Taking on a sales position in Boston with global food company David Michael & Co., he cultivated an altogether different area of working experience. Eventually, as he hit a milestone, he came to terms that he wasn’t following his true passion, and decided to honestly reflect on what it was he hoped to achieve for himself long term.
“At age 30, I asked myself where I wanted to be in 5-10 years,” he says. “And now, what’s so rewarding is that I am where I wanted to be: working for a major corporation in government relations.”
But getting to that place required him to initiate a professional transition, starting with reassessing the skill set that he developed over seven years in sales.
“I thought about where I could best apply that, and my initial thought was that lobbying made a lot of sense. What I quickly learned when I looked to make a career change was that it was best to spend time on the Hill in order to become a stronger lobbyist and to learn what I call the four P’s: the people, the process, the policy, and the politics.”
Monsif decided to relocate to D.C., choosing to learn about those four P’s as a Chief of Staff and Legislative Assistant for various members of the House of Representatives; those roles led to four years lobbying on behalf of children’s issues with Save the Children Action Network and First Focus on Children. In 2017, he shifted from lobbying to become Director of U.S. Government Relations for McDonald’s, and stayed nearly four years with the fast food pioneer before taking on the position of Director with Carrier in June of 2021.
How did he manage to successfully pivot through each goal to reach his objectives?
He credits the importance of using frameworks to assess difficulties, a little something he learned in Comm School.
Working Well with Frameworks
McIntire and former Marketing Professor Raymond Haas were impactful on Monsif’s future.
“He always said that sales is an amazing place to start your career. And sure enough, I started my career in sales,” notes Monsif. “But he also talked about approaching problems in your work through the prisms of frameworks. And that stuck with me.”
He points out that at the start of many of his professional roles, he was taking on a new position as a trailblazer, not a successor, finding his way without a previously tread path to follow.
“Whether coming to D.C., on the Hill or lobbying, I really had to build things from scratch in positions in which there was no previous work in the space or no institutional knowledge in an area. And what I found is that I’ve been using similar frameworks from job to job, which makes my transition to each that much easier, because I’m thinking through the different challenges.”
For example, Monsif built a sustainability legislative portfolio from the ground up at McDonald’s, and explains that he’s now doing very much the same type of creating at Carrier, approaching the issues and examining the opportunities in much the same ways.
As a result, he’s been able to accomplish a great deal more in short amounts of time due to previous experiences with those applied frameworks. It’s also given him the ability to lead.
“Leadership, along with coalition building and managing people, is one of the toughest skills to learn—and I’m still very much learning it,” he reveals. “You’ve got to be able to build trust with the folks you work with and the people who report to you directly. Developing that trust takes a lot of time and effort to understand their priorities and what they are looking to achieve. It requires you to be a resource to them and to be a trusted partner to help them reach their goals, so that everybody excels. Government relations is actually unique in the sense that I can’t do my job without the internal support of the organizations in which I work.”
In all he does, Monsif creates an incentive for others within the company to work with the government relations team by persistently showing the value of the relationship. “And so I really pride myself on trying to be a resource to help my colleagues achieve their goals,” he says.
Those frameworks and relationships have been serving Monsif well as he continues to learn about Carrier and the many people he works with on a daily basis. He says it’s one of his top priorities.
“Carrier is a large organization, with about $17.5 billion in sales, three different business units, and brands underneath those business units, so it’s really diverse. I have many different audiences I need to really work hard to get to know,” he says, noting that “there’s so much more that I need to do in order to build those relationships and build that trust to ultimately show how we can be helpful to their work and to the overall business.”
Another area he is concentrating on is sustainability. In helping Carrier to meet its 2030 environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) goals, Monsif has the expertise he accrued when he earned his Certificate in Sustainable Business from McIntire in 2020.
He was drawn to pursue the certificate because, at that time—when he joined McDonald’s, it was the one area missing from his portfolio; his work in government relations stood to improve as he widened his own perspective by learning about the viewpoint of the company’s sustainability team and the methods they employ to meet their responsibilities.
“The coursework was a great resource to allow me to understand how they’re approaching sustainability and then see it from a government relations policy perspective. The better the knowledge I have, the more I can potentially be helpful to them. It goes back to leadership: Understanding is the way to create more impact,” he says.
Because Monsif worked so closely with the sustainability team at McDonalds and is now finding himself doing the same at Carrier, the certificate’s curriculum remains highly relevant in his work in sustainability.
“Carrier’s focused on buildings, which is a huge source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; 40% of annual global GHG emissions come from buildings, so sustainability a top priority for Carrier. We want to be part of the solution,” Monsif says, referencing the direct and immediate usefulness of what he learned in the program.
For a busy executive, it makes perfect sense that the most challenging aspect of the sustainability coursework was finding the time—a choice he needed to prioritize in a particularly difficult year for everyone.
“The classes are very thorough, with each section followed by a quiz. And with a full-time job during COVID, a one-year-old, a three-year-old, and a supportive wife, I needed to break out for three or four hours and take a class,” he says. “I’m not going to say that my Sunday nights weren’t late at times, but I got it done because it was important for me and my career.”
When asked about his favorite memory from his undergrad days, he thinks back to late nights at McIntire, too.
“What I remember the most is the time I spent in the Comm School pulling all-nighters with other students. The amount of work at the Comm School could be pretty overwhelming at times, and so I have to admit I was one of those people who spent a lot of time in the basement [at Monroe Hall] late at night.”
But Monsif has no regrets about that crunch time, noting that spending time with classmates who were going through the same trials of being a McIntire student proved to be true bonding experiences: “It built camaraderie, and it made otherwise challenging times much more enjoyable. I still have some very, very good friends I’ve met from those nights.”