We were absolutely thrilled to bring Shannon Whiteaker aboard at Traversant Group as Senior Consultant last year - and know our clients have been too. To help you get to know her a little bit better, here’s a quick Q&A with her.
What brought you to Traversant Group?
Jennifer Woods and I had crossed paths several years ago, but never worked together in an official capacity until last year. Prior to that, one of our mutual friends connected us because Jenn was helping a potential client with the Department of Health Services (DHS) on a licensing agreement and I had a lot of experience in that area. So we started working together on the contract, and our relationship grew from there. Then, we began discussing a position for me with Traversant Group… and now, here we are!
What are your responsibilities as senior consultant, and what are you enjoying most in your new role?
The day-to-day of my work at Traversant Group is ever evolving, but I’ve continued to work on DHS projects alongside Jenn, which is right up my alley. I love opening doors for clients that they haven’t gone through before. Since I’ve worked as a legislative liaison, I know what goes on in directors’ offices and the inner workings of the government, and I enjoy sharing that information with clients. I’ve also been part of introducing clients to the legislature and worked with Jenn on projects we’ve had going with Google, Lumen and other great companies.
How did you land on this career path?
Growing up, my dad was very political and wanted me to understand politics. So when I needed to decide what to do with my life, political science and history were easy choices. If someone else was going to be making decisions for me in government, I wanted to be part of the process - or at least understand it.
While in college, I got my pilot’s license. I took a class with then Arizona House Representative David Shapiro, which included an end-of-year school project that required writing a bill. Then we decided whose bill from the class should go through the process the next legislative session, and my bill was chosen. Going down to the Capitol to lobby for my own bill was a major highlight for me. I just realized getting paid to do this kind of thing would be like a dream come true.
In any event, my bill won and I received a few internship opportunities. In 2008, when the recession hit, I became a legal assistant and moved to Chicago. During that time, I enrolled in the master’s program at Northwestern. I’d work for the law firm during the day, then go to night school. On the days I wasn’t at school, I interned for then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel. When I came back to Arizona, I was hired as a research analyst by Bill Gates at the City of Phoenix, then went back to work for then-Corporation Commissioner Gary Pierce as a policy assistant. After this, I volunteered on Doug Little’s campaign, and later became his policy assistant. Eventually, Goodman Schwartz hired me to work for them. It’s been a really exciting trajectory for me, and I’ve learned so much through every opportunity.
What do you like most about the political process and government?
Everything! Watching legislative session is like watching football for a football fanatic. I love it.
What value do you bring to Traversant Group clients specifically?
I think Traversant Group’s clients most enjoy the legislative liaison channel I bring with me. Being able to give some background on the director suite, including how directors interact with the governor’s office and communication styles, can help clients quite a bit. They can benefit from knowing how all of it actually works, and the politics behind it. Many of the people in the current administration that clients are setting meetings with are folks I know, with whom I’ve sat discussing policy. So all of that experience is really useful.
Is there anything about lobbying that you think would surprise people?
Whenever I share a presentation with people, I start by telling them, “You might not know this, but you’re allowed at the legislature at any time.” Of course, with everything that’s been going on with COVID-19 right now, that’s not the case. But in normal life, people don’t seem to realize they can be part of the process. They’re supposed to be!
They can walk into a committee hearing and listen to it. Taxpayers pay for the committee members to be there; they’re constituents. I just like to remind them that people are making decisions for you, so you have every right to be there. I also make sure to encourage people to reach out to their representatives and senators. It’s super important and they love to hear from their constituents.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your career?
In 2008, it was so difficult because I was finally at the point in my career that I had aimed toward for so long - but no one was hiring. I was an intern at age 25 and volunteering on campaigns, and I thought I’d be much further along by then. But I know now this period of struggle served a purpose because I appreciate my job (and all my previous jobs) deeply, and I know what clients want.
What do you like to do for fun, with your family?
My husband and I love to spend time with our boys, who are two and four years old. It’s amazing to watch them learn and grow together, and become friends. So we’re working to foster their relationship and teach them as many lessons as we can. I come from really great parents, and my husband is very hands-on. We like to go camping, be outdoors and help them learn to fend for themselves. Before our kids, my husband and I loved to spend time together poolside. That’s one of the best things in Arizona.
Have you read any good books or listened to any good podcasts recently?
I love “Common Sense” by Thomas Payne, and revisit it every couple of years. I think it’s an important book to read, especially in the field I’m in since it helps with understanding representation and how society is supposed to work. Another favorite of mine is the “Master and Margarita.” It is a Russian novel written during Stalin's regime. I think it’s an important book to read, as it pushes the reader to appreciate a system where the government derives its powers from those it governs. As far as podcasts go, I love true crime. I think I’ve listened to every true crime podcast out there.
Anything else you’d like TG clients to know?
I like to sing, and have never found a microphone or stage I can’t weasel my way onto! I enjoy it so much. I love karaoke and used to sing the national anthem at the restaurant where I worked for Monday night football in college.