Startup Diaries from the US: Launching a Business on Capitol Hill

Maria Giesta tells the story of how she emigrated from Portugal to the US and, after university, started working in government, eventually becoming Chief of Staff to Congressman Barney Frank, before launching her own lobbying business. 

After graduating from UMASS-Dartmouth in 1985, I began a career in government.  I first started working for former Senator and now Secretary of State, John Kerry of Massachusetts.  Let me just say that for a young immigrant woman from Massachusetts moving to Washington, DC in 1985 was both a shock and a thrill.

I was born on the island of Sao Miguel, Azores, Portugal, but grew up in New Bedford, Massachusetts which has a large Portuguese community.  My father was a butcher and my mother worked in a clothing factory.  They both instilled in me the importance of education, and it didn’t matter that I was a girl. 

As a matter of fact, I believe that it was because I was a girl that my parents pushed me into making sure that I went to college. 

I grew up in a community that believed that marriage and babies is what you do when you graduate from high school. You can go to college, but you have to get married. 

Luckily for me my parents pushed me into accepting the job with Senator Kerry, and therefore moving to Washington, DC, and for that I will always be grateful to them.  They allowed me to grow up and become the woman that I am today.

After working for Senator Kerry for 2 ½ years I went to work for Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts.  I started working for him as his Scheduler and Office Manager, and over the next 23 years worked up through the office ranks to eventually becoming his Chief of Staff.

First, let me reiterate a very important fact that is sometimes lost in the world of business.  Government is NOT a business, and it should never be treated as one.  I believe that is one of the reasons we are having such gridlock on Capitol Hill.  We now have a bunch of business bureaucrats who want to treat government as a business which it is not.  Government was formed by the people, and for the people.  There is no trickle down theory in government – that theory has never worked in business, and it will never work in government.  The rich are not going to give to the poor, and it is the job of government to make sure that everyone is on an even playing field. Yes, business is about making money, but it should also be about making sure their employees feel that they are important and needed.  That is what has been lost in today’s business model. 

Working on Capitol Hill, and especially working for the constituents of the 4th Congressional District was a tremendous  honor.  There is no other place like Capitol Hill. 

It’s a fast paced work environment, you meet important people who have the fate of millions of people in their hands, you give advice and counsel to your boss in the hopes that it will be taken. 

You meet Presidents, Prime Ministers, Kings, Queens, children with disabilities, the elderly who want to be treated like human beings, women who want fair wages, men who want a job to take care of their families and children who want a better education.  I thought I would be working on Capitol Hill for another 10-20 years, but unfortunately my boss, Congressman Frank announced in 2010 that he would not be running for another term.  

I decided, after much thought, that I would also retire from the federal government.  I was then approached by the owner of a lobbying/consulting firm in Washington, DC about working for him after my retirement.  I agreed with the understanding that I could not lobby for at least one year per the rules of the House of Representatives.  During this work transition, my friend and former colleague – he was Rep. Frank’s Senior Policy Advisor – Joseph Racalto approached me about starting our own lobbying/consulting firm in which we would focus on financial services issues. 

After debating the pros and cons of starting a new firm in Washington, DC, I decided to take the leap into the lobbying/consulting business. 

With over 40 years of legislative and management experience, Joe and I are beginning the task of using the knowledge and connections we built in Congress and applying them toward the goals of our new firm.  As most people know, a great part of lobbying is knowing who to contact when a client has a legislative issue. 

As former Chiefs of Staff, Joe and I have a unique relationship with our colleagues, both on and off the Hill.  In addition to access, we have a mutual respect and understanding, something that is rare these days in D.C.  However, being part of that elite club allows us to navigate our client’s needs through the corridors of Capitol Hill.

As a woman in a business that is still predominately male there are certain expectations. 

Unfortunately, with all the advances women have made there is still the question “can she cut it? Can she play hard ball? Can she play with the big boys?”

Well, my answer is yes!  Women have the ability to juggle many tasks at one time – something I learned working for Congressman Frank.  We’re good listeners, we’re patient, and more importantly we work very hard.  I believe our firm will be successful, but like any new business, we need a chance to prove ourselves and I believe we will.

After graduating from UMASS-Dartmouth in 1985, Maria Giesta began a career in government, initially working for former Senator and now Secretary of State, John Kerry of Massachusetts. Two years later she took on a role as Scheduler and Office Manager for Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts.  Over the next 23 years Maria worked up through the office ranks to eventually become Congressman Frank’s Chief of Staff. Since retiring from the federal government, Maria has co-founded Giesta Racalto Solutions, LLC, a lobbying/consulting firm focusing on financial services issues

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