Office (and) Politics

July 14, 2016 | GET MORE : Life

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Eric Pratt is a banker with 80,001 bosses, balancing work at U.S. Bank and with service in the Minnesota Senate.

Eric Pratt moved back to his native Prior Lake, a Twin Cities suburb, in the mid-1990s to raise his family.

When it came time to send his kids off to kindergarten, the school district was in troubling financial shape with a $1 million operating shortfall. Having graduated from that very district nearly two decades earlier, Pratt saw an opportunity and felt a responsibility to try to help. So after he and his wife Tina talked about options, he decided to run for the school board, and won the seat in 2000.

"It seemed like a good fit, as I'd always enjoyed roles in which I was solving problems," said Pratt, who at the time had experience in banking and business roles after earning a bachelor’s degree in economics and an MBA. "And it was a chance to give back to the community that had given so much to me."

Joining the school board meant committing 15-20 hours per week on top of his full-time job. Within a few years, Pratt and his board colleagues had balanced the district’s budget and put it in a position to invest in long-term initiatives. After 12 years on the board, a state legislator he knew asked if he’d be interested in running for a seat in the Minnesota Senate.

Senators in Minnesota are "citizen legislators" meaning that the legislature only meets a few months a year. But the schedule during those months can be grueling. Given the significant time commitment, in addition to his family he discussed the proposal with his employer, U.S. Bank, where he worked (and still works) in credit risk management. 

"My manager and I talked through it and decided it'd mean going down to part-time – 20-30 hours per week – when the Senate was in session," Pratt said.

He went on to win the election in 2012 and today serves 80,000 constituents, which again includes the very community in which he grew up. Four years later, his flexible work schedule has fallen into place and he's always applying experience from banking to the Senate and vice versa.

"At the end of the day, how you interact with people is core to both work and politics," said Pratt.

Pratt isn't alone in such a role at U.S. Bank, as a number of our employees serve in local positions such as school boards and city councils. I asked our government relations team what advice they have for full-time employees – at the bank or beyond – interested in running for local office:

  • Know what you’re getting yourself into! Sit down for coffee with any friends or family members who have run for or served in office to pick their brain about what it’s like to be an elected official, what they liked and didn’t like and learn about the time commitment.
  • Determine how legislative service fits in with your work-life balance. Start with a conversation with your whole family (kids too) and include everyone in the decision-making process. Also, have a conversation early on with your employer about options. Start with your manager, then if applicable bring your company's government relations, corporate communications and human resources teams into the fold.
  • Ask yourself "Why?" Eric, as an example, ran for school board because he saw an opportunity to help a community he cared about deeply. If you're passionate about what you do and want to take the time to understand your constituents' many viewpoints and find solutions, you’ll be able to make a difference.

After thinking through those questions, take one more word of caution from Pratt… People leave political talk out of the office, right?

"Nope," he laughed. "I'm a magnet for political discussion – everybody's got an opinion."

Pat Swanson is a member of U.S. Bank's corporate communications team.