In this month's, "Five Questions With..." Reginald J. “Reg” Brown joins us to share his thoughts on reputation management and the latest trends in investigations, along with his favorite lessons learned from working in the Bush Administration.
Reginald J. “Reg” Brown joined Kirkland & Ellis in November 2020 as a partner in the Washington, D.C. office, leading a team focused on “counseling leaders and organizations in matters that require navigating a combination of high-stakes litigation, complex regulatory environments, ongoing public policy debates, reputational concerns and media scrutiny.” Previously, Brown was a partner at WilmerHale, where he chaired the firm’s Financial Institutions Group. During his time in the White House Counsel’s Office (2003-05), he was legal liaison to the Departments of Treasury and HUD, as well as many independent financial services agencies. Brown also served as a counselor for the White House Office of Political Affairs, Presidential Personnel Office and the National Economic Council. In 2020, he has elected to serve on the Bush Foundation Board of Directors. Brown joins us to share his thoughts on reputation management and the latest trends in investigations, along with his favorite lessons learned from working in the Bush Administration.
Q: Your practice at Kirkland & Ellis is focused on crisis and governmental investigations work. As someone who operates at the intersection of government, law, media and public policy, what trends are you seeing?
There are a few very pronounced trends. First, everything happens faster and in more forums than in the past. A problem is flagged on Twitter and quickly turns into an SEC or Congressional or DOJ or State AG problem as well. Companies and leaders have to be prepared to respond thoughtfully everywhere all at once and often with imperfect information. It’s a lot more like the West Wing and campaign environment than in the past. Second, the environment is far more polarized than ever before. An answer that is right for one audience may be incredibly off-putting to another. Charting the right path is a far more fraught challenge today.
Q: Aside from continuing to do the right thing, what advice do you have for corporate and governmental leaders in terms of protecting and managing their reputations?
Think ahead and build relationships and brand capital before you need it. People who actually know you are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt when you need it. Invest early in goodwill. Bridges often make the best firewalls.
Q: You serve on the board of the Bush Presidential Center. Why did you want to take that on…and what do you wish your fellow BCAers better understood about the Bush Center?
President George W. Bush was and remains a truly consequential leader. Helping the Bush Center share the history of his tenure and build on his legacy is a privilege that anyone who served with him would be honored to have. I wish more BCAers knew how accessible the Center is, and how easy it is to plug into the network and work of the Center to continue building on the President’s legacy.
Q: Can you name a leadership lesson from your time at the White House that continues to serve you well?
To this day, I remain struck most by the tone the President, First Lady, Vice President and senior staff set. Integrity and respect for the Presidency always came first. From the ethics “chat” Andy Card had with many new hires upon arrival, to the dress code in the Oval. I tell young associates all the time about the tone in the Bush Administration. The emphasis on integrity always resonates. Getting people to dress consistently with the seriousness of work, however, is a much harder task these days!
Q: Do you have a favorite moment or story from your time in the Administration?
Way more stories than you probably have space for. I remember my time in the Counsel’s Office with great fondness and still reconnect regularly with the lawyers as a group. We’d routinely take over the staff table in the White House Mess on Tex-Mex Day, which was great fun but incredibly fattening. I also remember what we did when we faced an impasse on a difficult legal issue in morning staff meetings. We’d turn to our leader, Judge Gonzales, for a resolution. More often than not, the Judge would pause, smile and tell us all to “proceed on that basis.” It was great advice and invariably the impasse would quickly be resolved.