Typically, more than fate has to be at play to enable a person to become part of an elite team of lobbyists for a successful multi-national corporation. For Kimberly Woodard, the journey to the top has been a mix of fate, talent and dynamic timing.
Woodard, the self-proclaimed “Accidental Lobbyist,” is a director of federal government relations for Walmart, and has traveled a path to the world of lobbying that was anything but linear. Unlike most people who seek coveted spots lobbying for the nation’s top corporations, Woodard was not a poli-sci major, she did not work on Capitol Hill, and in fact, she was not even particularly engaged in the political realm until after she graduated from college.
To the contrary, Woodard’s early career started at the Department of the Interior, after having graduated from Virginia State University. She later learned about advocacy working with a trade association for the food industry. Thereafter, Woodard transitioned into government relations for McLane Company Inc., the largest distributor of food products and services in Texas, where she was mainly responsible for managing tobacco policy.
What Woodard didn’t know when she started her work with the McLane Company was that it was owned by Walmart. In fact, at the time, she didn’t even know what Walmart was. After seven years at McLane, however, Woodard was recruited to join Walmart’s D.C. operation … and the rest, as they say, is history.
In her current role, Woodard is primarily responsible for doing outreach to Democrats.
Woodard is not oblivious to the uniqueness of her career path. Upon receiving the award for Lobbyist of the Year in 2010, Woodard told the audience, “At the end of the day, we’re all accidental lobbyists…. Kids growing up say I wanna be a teacher, I wanna be a lawyer, I wanna be a doctor, a fireman, a policeman, a nurse.’ You don’t have kids saying, ‘I want to be a lobbyist.'”
Accidental lobbyist though she may be, Woodard credits her success to the support she’s received from people around her who were willing to help shape her career. Of particular note, Woodard is eternally grateful to many members of the Congressional Black Caucus and their staff who supported her in her early days at Walmart.
Today, Woodard encourages students interested in lobbying to gain experience on the Hill, both in the House and Senate, and sees White House experience as a plus.
Beyond advocacy, Woodard is able to do a lot of good with Walmart’s Foundation. She sees as her legacy the formation and sustainability of the Walmart internship with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. The internship is a semester-long program that allows students to work in congressional offices and federal agencies. In addition to receiving school credit, students participating in the internship program also receive housing and stipend.
“It’s rewarding to see young people who are doing so well, who are so smart, who are enthusiastic about this opportunity they’ve been given,” says Woodard. “It’s exciting to see.”
One of Woodard’s favorite success stories is of the press secretary for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. A former Congressional Black Caucus Foundation intern, Tarrah Cooper worked on the Obama 2008 campaign, after which she joined the administration. She left her post at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to join Rahm Emanuel’s election effort. She is now a member of his team in the mayor’s office.
Cooper is someone Woodard took an interest in, got to know and formed a friendship with, and it all started with the Walmart/Congressional Black Caucus Foundation internship program.
Though Woodard may not have chosen lobbying at the outset of her career, it’s a field that has chosen her. Her success is no accident, and is a testament to the impact she’s able to have on the people and organizations around her.