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'It's OK to take risks'

White House staffer Jonathan McBride ’92 speaks with students.
White House staffer Jonathan McBride ’92 speaks with students.

Action was the theme of the evening when White House staffer Jonathan McBride ’92 took the stage at Evans Hall on April 1.

He told an audience of mostly students that the most important first step to a successful career is to start moving.

The talk, part of the College’s Centennial Series, “Great Beginnings: Conversations with Alumni,” focused on McBride’s journey from an economics major at Connecticut College to President Obama’s deputy director of personnel.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and co-founder of Jungle Media Group, McBride said his route to the White House was circuitous. He worked on Wall Street for three years before co-founding Jungle Media Group — an award-winning media company — in 2000.

When Universum, an international employer-branding firm, purchased the company in 2006, McBride stayed on as chief strategy officer. He joined the White House staff in 2009. “You don’t have to stick to one career path in life,” he told the audience. “It’s okay to take risks.”

It was at Connecticut College that McBride learned to take risks. He tried everything, from playing soccer (he was captain of the varsity team for two years) to serving on SGA to working as an admission fellow. “Risk taking became a habit, and once I was in the workplace, where the stakes went up, I was comfortable taking chances,” he says.

McBride, who served as a trustee of the College from 2000-2009, seems to have found the perfect fit in the White House. Throughout his varied career, he was always drawn to the human side of business. “Now, I’m spending all of my time working on the human side for the greatest boss in the world.”

Meeting with the president can be “frightening at times,” says McBride, who calls Obama one of the smartest people he’s encountered. “When I meet with him, I only have five to 10 minutes to make an impression and give him the information he needs to make a decision.”

McBride describes our commander in chief as extremely decisive but says the president also shows his human side — as a caring father and a leader who values the opinions of everyone on his staff. “Obama is amazing at getting everyone to talk.”

McBride urged students in the audience to consider working in government service. “[At the White House], the smartest people are dealing with the most difficult challenges. It’s exhilarating.” He also urged students to engage alumni when looking for a job or career advice.

When a young woman in the audience took his advice to heart and asked McBride if she could talk to him about her career, he gave her, and everyone in the audience, his email address. “Use it with discretion,” he said.



April 7, 2011