Policy and Legal

Remarks of NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons: 42nd Annual Bryce Harlow Foundation Awards Dinner

April 19, 2023 - Washington, DC

Thank you, Jim, for that introduction and for your counsel, leadership and most of all, your friendship.

To the NAM’s vice chair, Kathy Wengel, of Johnson & Johnson … thank you for being here, too.

Of course, when you receive an honor like this, it’s really about the incredible achievements of others. You are merely a proxy for them. I am fortunate to be surrounded by an amazing team at the NAM, many of whom are here this evening.

You also can go so much farther in life with the love and support of family. In addition to my husband and kids and my mother, who lives nearby, it’s wonderful to have my mother- and father-in-law in from California.

Thank you to all my association colleagues, as well as NAM members, who have sponsored and supported this event and this foundation. The Bryce Harlow Foundation is critical to developing the next generation of ethical public advocates dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans. And thanks to Barbara Faculjak’s outstanding leadership, that’s exactly what it is doing.

And congratulations to my friend Congresswoman Debbie Dingell. What an incredible example for that next generation. I could really shorten these remarks by just saying “Be like Debbie Dingell” and calling it a day.

Debbie is a leader whose care and decency transcend all the politics of the day. She’s truly concerned about each and every individual she serves and those she meets along the way. My family is blessed to call her a friend. Her example is what we should expect—and demand—from our elected leaders.

Thank you, Debbie.

Now, I want to speak directly to the Bryce Harlow fellows this evening. I know you didn’t ask for any advice from me. But, hey, I’ve got the microphone. So here we go…

Over the course of your careers, you will face important decisions. You’ll ask yourself questions like, “Where should I work?” “What will I do next?” “How much can I make?” Where, what, how much… Those are very natural and important questions.

I want to encourage you to ask another: Why. Ask why. Why are you doing the job? Why are you pursuing your career path? You know, “Why” can be the most uncomfortable of questions. Because we might not like the honest answer. And it’s natural not to give that question as much thought as the others.

Think about the last time you were at a social event, or a work event, or even this event… It’s like clockwork. You hear: “So where do you work?” “What do you do?” And maybe… “How much do they pay?” But rarely, rarely will you be asked, “So, why do you do that job? Which means, you have to ask yourself.

The question matters … because if you can answer honestly and feel yourself standing up a little straighter with a sense of purpose, then you’re in the right profession. You’re in the right position. You’re on the right path. If your “why” is right…then the “what,” “where” and “how much” will take care of themselves.

I still remember the first time someone asked me “why” I chose my career path. It was right after I dropped out of college … at Ohio State, with no job, and packed up my Ford Pinto to head to DC to join the Reagan Revolution. My parents asked me why the heck are you doing that? … Except as my mother will validate, my dad didn’t say “heck,” and he didn’t say it so much as yell it.

But, I knew my “why” at the time—to find a role in government and make our country a better place. So I was able to find my way.

Maybe your “why” is a cause that improves quality of life for others. Advancing pharmaceutical research. Promoting sustainability. Creating job opportunities or retirement security for others.

Maybe your “why” is advocating a particular policy goal. Competitive tax policy. Immigration reform. Energy development. Civil rights. Equality.

Maybe it is more personal. Making a better life and world for your kids. Continuing a family tradition in an industry. Using your gifts for writing or speaking or designing.

Or maybe your “why” is stepping up to the challenge that is facing all of us in the advocacy profession right now: fighting for the truth and for the soul of democracy here at home and abroad.

Manufacturers in the U.S., and all of us at the NAM, work every day to advance the values of free enterprise, competitiveness, individual liberty and equal opportunity. We call those values our four pillars. You could say it’s our moral compass. It’s why we do what we do.

But those very values and democratic principles, which are central to our way of life, are now under siege from regimes that reject free markets and refuse to respect an individual’s right to choose their own destiny. We see it most clearly in Russia’s war on Ukraine.Some question whether democracies can be resilient and thrive in the modern world. And the fact is, democracy can be messy. It is why some are actually tempted by authoritarianism.

You, however, applied to be Bryce Harlow fellows because you believe in our system of government and our way of life. You know that our democratic, free enterprise system may not be perfect, but it has done more to improve the standard of living than any system in the history of mankind. You know it has lifted people up from oppression and poverty.

So part of our job as advocacy leaders, is to bolster our institutions in this time of uncertainty, to make the system rooted in universal freedoms and human rights function even better and to demonstrate that true democracy is always superior—both practically and morally.

And because democracy is the system that makes our work possible, we have a special obligation to defend it.

So when you think of your own “why,” … I hope that this is also part of the answer.

Finally, I have one more piece of unsolicited advice: Even the best of the best experience “imposter syndrome”—that unsettling feeling that your success isn’t deserved or hasn’t been legitimately achieved. Ignore it.

Look, there’s always going to be someone with a longer resume, or a more prestigious pedigree, or better connections, or more confidence, or better hair.

But accolades, degrees and LinkedIn connections alone are not measures of one’s capability.

Sometimes you are chosen for a position of responsibility by someone who may see something in you that you don’t even see in yourself. Have confidence that you are meant to be there. You might even make a royal mistake along the way, but know that mistakes, even big ones—as long as we don’t keep making them—are how we learn and grow.

At heart, I’m a cattle-raising farm boy from Ohio…the high school poindexter who carried a briefcase to class. I ran for the state legislature at age 20, lost and dropped out of college.

So there was always something or someone who told me to change course or that I wasn’t right for a job—including those voices that told me to pack it up when I was outed as a gay man at a time when that wasn’t exactly an asset for career advancement.

If I’d listened, I wouldn’t be here.

Yet now I’m the CEO of the largest manufacturing association in the country. I’ve met with presidents, congressional leaders, governors and heads of state around the world, counseled top CEOs, and been part of incredible moments of history.

And I’ve been blessed with my amazing husband, Rick, and our three kids, Catherine, Ellie and Jacob, to share this journey with me.

So, bring your authentic self to the table. Soak in all the knowledge and wisdom you can from others. But ultimately, have confidence in your own inner voice, your own judgment and your own vision.

When President Reagan, my political hero, presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Bryce Harlow in 1981, he said, quote, “Bryce Harlow is a sterling example of the positive side of politics—a life spent reconciling divergent interests, serving high moral principles, and channeling the forces of public policy toward the public good.” End quote.

My hope for you—Bryce Harlow fellows—is that you will strive to live up to that example in your careers.

When people ask you those questions—Where do you work? What do you do? How much do you make?—I hope you can proudly answer the question they didn’t ask, and tell them why you’ve forged a career that is uniquely your own and in service to the public good.

If you can do that, I guarantee the rest will take care of itself.

Thank you again for this incredible honor.


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