The world of lobbying can be tough — cutthroat, even. This holds true on Goat Hill just as it does on Capitol Hill.
Yet, in Alabama’s highly scrutinized and uber-competitive world of governmental affairs, Mary Margaret Carroll has not just managed to shine while staying above the fray; she has broken into a field that has historically – and recently – essentially been monopolized by men, using her intellect, character, demeanor and work ethic to become a star at one of the state’s premier lobbying shops: Fine Geddie & Associates.
The 2005-2006 Student Government Association president at the University of Alabama, Carroll has been a leader in whatever room she walked into for a long time. That is apparent from the moment you meet her, as former state senator Joe Fine – the co-founder of Fine Geddie – told Yellowhammer News.
Fine reminisced on the moment he and the firm’s other cofounder, Bob Geddie, met Carroll.
“We met Mary Margaret over lunch in December 2012 and before our hour-long meeting was over, we asked her to hold any other job offers she received,” he shared. “We did not have an opening at the firm at the time, but Bob and I both liked her immediately. She was polished and reserved but very inquisitive.”
And they sure are glad that she did hold other job offers, beginning her career at Fine Geddie shortly after that meeting in 2013, when she became the first and only female professional in Alabama’s oldest governmental affairs shop.
Fine said, “The first week Mary Margaret was with us we began work on a tort reform measure that proved to be one of the most controversial bills I have ever encountered in my career. Mary Margaret was immediately valuable to our strategy development, our coordination with the Governor’s office, and the lobbying effort. She handled herself well at every turn there and has continued to do so since no matter how big or small the task.”
“Notably, she played a critical role very early in her career on important measures that had failed despite decades of prior proposals,” he continued. “Her second-year lobbying, she handled the effort to institute the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit program. During her third year she negotiated with over 10 stakeholder groups to develop the prison sentencing reform proposal and managed the successful advocacy effort to generate support for it. This was an extraordinary feat – and she did it her own way. Mary Margaret works hard, thinks outside of the box, and adds tremendous value to our clients’ pursuits.”
Geddie echoed these thoughts, emphasizing that Carroll is “an integral part” of the Fine Geddie juggernaut.
“She joined us without previous government relations experience but has a great future,” Geddie remarked. “She has developed a keen insight to the state government decision-making process, rightfully earning the respect of policy makers and her peers. Hardly a day goes by where we do not receive a compliment on her professionalism, class and work product from a lawmaker or a client.”
“At Fine Geddie, we have tried to maintain a balance among our team with backgrounds in law, public policy and execution. Mary Margaret can do it all and she gets better each year,” he concluded.
From promoting the interests of Fortune 500 companies to some of the Yellowhammer State’s preeminent businesses and trade associations, Carroll has become an unquestioned guru on complex public policy issues, gaining the reputation of a direct, honest broker.
“From handling acute issues to leading sweeping reform efforts, Mary Margaret consistently develops thoughtful and effective strategies to address her clients’ interests. She has proven herself capable of handling anything in our firm’s portfolio with optimal results. We are very proud of her,” Fine stated.
Her integrity has been recognized time and time again, exemplified by her becoming one of the first lobbyists in the history of the state to be named to the Alabama State Bar’s Leadership Forum.
Carroll explained to Yellowhammer News, “I try very hard to lead by example.”
“It is imperative to treat others with respect, and equally important to be honest,” she said. “Credibility is everything in government relations work. You cannot advocate effectively or inform the process if you are not trustworthy or do not have a thorough understanding of your position. It requires a great deal of listening to gain a full understanding of the politics surrounding any issue.”
“I love my job,” Carroll emphasized. “It constantly presents me with opportunities to grow intellectually and professionally. Each project presents its own challenges and I am constantly seeing the world through a new lens.”
Her list of accomplishments in just a five-year period is incredible. A mere snapshot of the projects on which Carroll has made a critical contribution would make most 40-year state house veterans jealous.
For example, Carroll was integral in the successful effort for passage of legislation to authorize transportation network companies (Uber, Lyft, etc.) to expand services statewide. She helped lead negotiations with the various stakeholder groups to overcome opposition and develop the best policy proposal, also coordinating the lobbying and public relations strategy for the effort.
“I love projects where our goal is to pave the way for innovation and the digital economy,” Carroll advised. “In many instances current law reflects public policy concerns that are completely irrelevant to today’s world and may in fact be hindering commerce.”
Whether it was playing a key role in the successful economic development policy effort to incentivize increased use of the state’s port facilities and related capital investment or coordinating the effort to pass criminal sentencing reform designed to reduce prisons overpopulation, she has made a tremendous impact in the lives of thousands and thousands of Alabamians from her role behind the scenes.
“As a lifelong Alabamian, I always appreciate an opportunity to work on economic development projects that yield tangible results. Most memorable for me have been the effort to establish the historic rehabilitation tax credit program and various projects connected to the Port of Mobile, including the recent effort to fund the expansion,” Carroll said.
This type of service-oriented leadership captures Carroll’s motivation, which can be seen in her free time, too. She is involved with the YMCA Youth in Government program and serves on distinguished advisory boards at the University of Alabama.
Carroll frequently speaks to student groups about her experiences and the various ways one can serve the public and the greater good, noting that her time in student government at UA helped her develop as a leader and get to where she is today.
“It made me realize how much I enjoy problem solving through policy and working with others. But most of all, it taught me the importance of productive discourse and the need to be objective when working with others to resolve an issue,” Carroll stated.
She also has a long history of mentoring young women who are interested in politics and public service.
In fact, she shared that mentoring has been the most rewarding part of her career journey. Carroll had mentors who helped her get to where she is today, and mentoring young people is her way of paying it forward.
“I have been so fortunate to learn from visionary people whose stories have inspired me in many ways,” she said. “I believe we all have certain skills and talents we are meant to pursue in life and I am grateful for those who helped me identify and seize mine.”
Carroll continued, “I enjoy sharing my story and working with young people with the hope that I can help them the way so many have supported me over the years.”
For all the young girls out there aspiring to be a leader, Carroll shared some sage advice.
“There is no substitute for listening to others to gain understanding and hard work,” she said. “Focus on maximizing the opportunities you have been given, not minimizing opportunities for others. Never resort to cutting others to get ahead.”
Carroll stressed, “It is possible to be kind, compassionate and a fierce competitor all at once. Find a way.”
She also outlined how leaders need to be honest with themselves.
“Know what you do not know,” Carroll advised. “My grandfather, an attorney, would often say, ‘There is nothing greener than a new lawyer.’ I am not sure what prompted that tidbit of wisdom, but my guess is that it was premised on the notion that the classroom and the real world are two very different places and present very different tests.”
She concluded, “Those words rang in my head the first time I met the Fine Geddie team. During my initial meeting, I told them I knew nothing about government relations work and asked for advice on the best way to enter the industry. I wanted to learn. My guess is, more often than not, people want to work with, for, and hire people who are constantly seeking to improve themselves and their organizations. This starts with knowing what you do not know and being open to seeing or trying things in a new way.”
It is easy to see why Yellowhammer Multimedia twice previously listed her as a rising star in state politics and has referred to her as “a force for years to come.”
Now, Yellowhammer News is proud to name Mary Margaret Carroll a 2019 Woman of Impact.
The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.