Five Questions with Kristin King

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Kevin Sullivan
Senior Advisor
George W. Bush Presidential Center

Kristin King tells us why her work at the Bush Institute is so personally meaningful and reveals important lessons learned from her time in the Administration.

Kristin King, an original Bush Center employee, was recently promoted to the role of Chief Operating Officer of the George W. Bush Institute.  “KK” has had an enormous impact over her 10 years at the Bush Center, continuing a career that began as an administrative assistant at the RNC in 2003.  After serving as an advance volunteer for Mrs. Bush, King joined the Environmental Protection Agency in 2005 as a trip coordinator.  Her talents were noticed with her appointment as Deputy Director of Advance in the Office of the First Lady. In this month’s edition of “Five Questions With…” King tells us why her work at the Bush Institute is so personally meaningful, reveals important lessons learned from her time in the Administration, and shares a favorite story that involves both a presidential history lesson and peanut butter and jelly.

Q:  Can you tell us about your new role as Chief Operating Officer of the Bush Institute?

I lead the operational side of the house for the Bush Institute. This includes budgeting, finance, contracting, talent management but most of all, “other duties as assigned.” I view my role as being one that keeps the trains moving, making it easier for our policy teams to focus on advancing the work of the Bush Institute out in the world. Having served in several roles in the last 10 years here, I think I bring a unique vantage point to my work. 

Q:  Why is the work of the Bush Institute personally meaningful to you?

The Bush Institute works every day to solve today’s most pressing challenges. We focus on ensuring opportunity for everyone, strengthening our democracy, and advancing free societies around the world. Our core values reflect President and Mrs. Bush’s core values and really build upon the work done during the Administration.

But what is so personally meaningful to me is the people that I get to interact with while doing that work. Whether it is one of our leadership program scholars, one of our Nation’s veterans or a scholarship recipient from North Korea, I have learned so much and been inspired by each of them.  At a time when the world can feel more divided than ever, you can’t help but feel optimistic when you walk the halls of the Bush Center each day.

Q:  What skills and qualities are shared by the top advance pros, and how does your background in advance work help you perform your duties well today?

I truly believe that advance makes you better at anything and would advise anyone to seek out opportunities in advance work if you can. Top advance people are calm, prepared for anything and can make sound decisions quickly. I truly believe that having served in various advance roles for Mrs. Bush is what has prepared me for any number of situations I have faced in my career and life. If you’re going to succeed in advance, you need to roll up your sleeves, believe no job is too small, build relationships, treat people well, and not be afraid to say, “I don’t know, but I will find out.”

Q:  What leadership lesson from your time in the Administration continues to serve you today?

            How do you choose just one?

  1. Respect people’s time – be on time!
  2. Treat others how you would want to be treated.
  3. Do not take yourself too seriously.

This list could go on and on. But I would say that one lesson I observed early on in my career was that “the cream rises to the top.”  Whether it was at the Convention, The Campaign, at EPA, The White House, or here at the Bush Center today, it is inevitable: If you do good work, are a good colleague and do not make a big show, your efforts you will always be recognized and often rewarded. Sure, we can all be tempted from time to time to take credit. It’s natural to want others to know how good your idea was. But it’s more important to keep your head down, contribute as much as you can, recognize you are a part of something bigger than yourself, and the rest will follow.

Q:  Can you leave us with a favorite story or memory from your time at the Bush Center?

Oh gosh, there are so many incredible memories and stories over the last 10 years. I had the privilege of leading the George W. Bush Presidential Center’s Events Team during the Dedication in 2013. As you can imagine an event that welcomed 10,000 guests and included every President and First Lady, heads of state, dignitaries from around the world, and our very own Bush-Cheney Alumni provided no end of wild stories and lessons learned.  That event meant a lot to me both personally and professionally.

But I think maybe my most favorite memory was on the trip that President and Mrs. Bush took to  Zambia in 2012. The purpose of the trip was to volunteer and renovate a clinic that would be used to screen and treat women for Cervical Cancer as part of our GoFurther program. Our days were long, and we all happily worked hard rebuilding and repainting the clinic. We were joined in our efforts by some young men who had previously been homeless, and now were living in a Christian Home. The priest that ran the home had approached our advance team and asked if the young men could volunteer with us. We welcomed the help. Day after day the group arrived and happily worked alongside us.

Each day we would break for lunch and sit under a tree and eat sandwiches. One day as I walked up, I observed President Bush telling a story and the young men were clearly listening intently. As it turns out, they did not really know who President and Mrs. Bush were.  The priest explained they had been the President and First Lady of the United States. I can only assume one of the young men asked President Bush about having been President, and as I walked up President Bush was explaining how his father had served as President and then a man named Bill Clinton was elected as President. He then explained how after Bill Clinton, he had been elected to serve as President. This moment really struck me. There we all were, huddled under the shade of a tree, covered in paint and tired from hard work, sharing a meal and conversation. These young men were receiving a lesson in U.S. Presidential History from a former President, while he ate a PB&J sandwich.

I will never forget that trip and so many others that I have had the privilege of working on. There have been so many once-in-a-lifetime-opportunities and I can say with absolute certainty that it is always the little moments, the unexpected interactions that are the most memorable, and my most favorite.