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Casselberry built career on making connections

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After nearly a decade in the public sector learning about government and political campaigns, Craig Casselberry felt he was ready to start his own public affairs firm.

That, and he was chasing a woman.

His future wife, Nancy, was headed to Houston for a job, and Casselberry -- who was working on then-Agriculture Commissioner Rick Perry's staff at the time -- wanted to find a way to follow her.

And so, Quorum Public Affairs Inc. was born.

The couple -- and his company -- would eventually return to Austin in 2000, and Casselberry says he's enjoyed the challenges that come with running your own company.

"You have to continue to innovate and learn about your industry," Casselberry says. "You have to be ready for the greatest of highs and the lowest of lows."

Quorum, founded in 1994, has offices in Dallas and Houston and features a client list that includes half of the Fortune 50 companies.

Casselberry is at ease helping large companies navigate their way through the halls of the Texas Capitol and deal with other issues that may arise in state government.

He got his start in politics nearly by accident, he says. As a senior government and economic major at the University of Texas, Casselberry was struggling to figure out what to do next.

He took the LSAT, but wasn't particularly interested in going into law.

That's when he connected with William Clements Jr., who was running for his second term as governor of Texas.

He would later join the staff after Clements won.

"Joining the administration was a very heady experience," Casselberry says. "I definitely got a sense of the important work that was going on."

After two years, Casselberry joined Dallas-based Cozart Communications and helped lead a grassroots campaign to support the National Superconducting Super Collider Coalition. The ill-fated project would eventually have a budget of $12 billion before it was cancelled in 1993.

Following that stint, he was back on the campaign trail with Rick Perry, who was challenging incumbent Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower. Perry defeated Hightower by a mere 47,000 votes, but became one of only two Republicans elected to statewide office in that election.

Casselberry joined Perry's staff and worked there for a couple of years before forming Quorum Public Affairs.

His first major project was leading the Texans For Lawsuit Reform's push for tort reform in the mid-1990s.

Fresh off the heels of a win by then-Gov. George Bush, the TLR led a successful campaign to get a series of tort reform bills passed by the state Legislature.

Since then, Casselberry has led more than 100 issue campaigns for government and corporations.

Q: What is Quorum's latest focus?

A: Earlier this year, Quorum expanded its services to offer consulting services for emerging companies throughout the state of Texas.

In short, Quorum aims to connect these early-stage companies with potential investors in both the public and private sectors.

"There is an emerging investment in infrastructure happening here in Texas. We should be finding ways to connect the best and the brightest with those ideas," Casselberry says.

For instance, Quorum worked with Seno Medica Instruments in San Antonio to help it secure a $2 million investment. The company is currently developing cancer-detection technology.

Casselberry says it is essential that the state keeping looking for ways to invest in great ideas. He says he's hopeful the recently passed Propsition 15 will eventually lead to investments in companies like Seno.

"It's really exciting to talk with the CEO and learn about technology that can be saving lives," Casselberry says. "That's what we should be supporting."

Q: What are some lessons you've learned as an entrepreneur?

A: "Get up early and be nice to people," Casselberry says. "There's great reward that can from from that."

Q: Who are some mentors in your life?

A: "My dad taught me to get up early, give a firm handshake, make eye contact and treat everyone with respect. My late uncle taught me the value of relationships, and my time at the University of Texas with my fraternity
brothers reinforced that.

Gov. Perry taught me to trust my instincts. My business mentors have included some names -- many from the Gov. Clements administration -- you might recognize: Gary Griffith [former Dallas City Councilmember]; George Bayoud [former Texas Secretary of State]; James Huffines [chairman of the UT Board of Regents]. Tom Kowalski taught me that integrity is paramount. Don Faust taught me to continue investing in your business.

Q: You've worked in both government and the private sector. Do you think it's possible to restore people's faith in corporate America?

A: "Yes. Corporate America has a great story to tell on many levels -- as the engine that drives our economy; employing millions of Americans; fueling a tax base that funds government and its programs at all levels; making
millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions to help the less-privileged: and providing the time and means for employees to perform thousands of hours of volunteer work in our communities.

"They just need to tell the story more often and be more aggressive and effective in their public communications. How business communicates with the public can determine whether a company sinks or swims. Companies should invest proactively to develop positive relationships with the public -- before a crisis arises -- to boost their credibility.

"We're coming out of a dark age for corporate America. But more and more CEOs are seeing the value of communicating with the public."

In Detail

Education: Bachelor's degree from the University of Texas at Austin Family: Wife, Nancy, and son, Carter
Work History: Policy aide to Texas Gov. William Clements Jr.; senior vice president for Cozart Communications Co. in Dallas; staff member, then-Agriculture Commissioner Rick Perry; founder, Quorum Public Affairs
Inc. Community Involvement: Student Venture, Caritas of Austin, Children's Medical Center, Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Austin, Sigma Phi Epsolon Education Foundation and First Tee of Austin

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