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From Carolina to Capitol Hill, Mary Moore Hamrick navigates public policy

Mary Moore Hamrick (MBA/JD ’87) grew up in “Main Street” North Carolina, but her career has taken her from Wall Street to Capitol Hill.

She never anticipated a career in politics, but she has spent almost 30 years working for and with the U.S. Congress. Her career spans a unique background in business, politics and law.

Hamrick is the national managing principal of public policy for Grant Thornton LLP in Washington, D.C., where she is the firm’s primary liaison with members of Congress, regulators and other policy makers. She is a member of Grant Thornton’s U.S. enterprise leadership team and chair of its political action committee.

“This is an exciting time to be in D.C. – it’s a new world, whatever your politics, with unique challenges, learning to navigate an ever-changing political landscape to get results,” says Hamrick. “We educate members of Congress in order to foster a pro-growth environment, providing bipartisan solutions to complicated problems, educating them on the practical business impact their proposed legislation could have on businesses.”

Hamrick relishes opportunities to “both interview and ask questions of Congressional members and our entrepreneurial clients – and then cross pollinate their ideas and viewpoints to create a better economic environment.”

Coming from a family of educators prepared her to discuss and explain complicated subjects. “You have to present both sides of the issue in 10 minutes or less. If you don’t achieve that during your average 15-minute meeting on the Hill, you are not invited back,” she says.

Part of her job is also being a good listener. “Listen with your eyes as well as your ears: 90 percent of communication is visual,” she says.

A native of Shelby, North Carolina, she began her career as an account executive with a sports marketing firm in Cleveland after graduating cum laude from Duke University. She later worked in event licensing at International Management Group and was one of only two women in the role. She traveled to various golf (she didn’t play then) and equestrian (she didn’t ride) events every other weekend of the year.

Before she enrolled in the full-time MBA Program at UNC Kenan-Flagler, Hamrick ran into a former classmate who had attended law school and was inspired to follow suit. She was one of just five students in the four-year joint MBA/JD program with the UNC School of Law.

“Earning a JD/MBA at UNC was both an intellectual and physical achievement,” she says. “It required dedication, commitment, focus and both mental energy and physical stamina to go the distance over four years.”

The experience taught her to focus on what was most important. Through UNC Kenan-Flagler’s value-based education, she developed an appreciation for the importance of life-long learning and collaboration.

“UNC offered me the best learning experience in a highly desirable setting that would challenge me and set me on a trajectory to succeed,” says Hamrick.

UNC Kenan-Flagler alum John O’Hara (MBA ’79) – who was then at Goldman Sachs and is now managing director and senior advisor for Rockefeller & Co. Inc. – gave her the opportunity to compete and be hired for a summer internship at Goldman Sachs. “He taught me the value of seeking help and helping others behind you to succeed,” says Hamrick.

“When I was at Goldman Sachs, I realized UNC Kenan-Flagler had prepared me to compete and engage in that competitive Wall Street environment as well as or better than Harvard, Stanford and Wharton graduates,” she says. “It taught me that culture, collaboration and values were as important as the subject matter and technical learning.”

After she graduated from UNC Kenan-Flagler, Hamrick worked as an investments representative with Morgan Stanley for three years. When the stock market crash of 1987 hit, she learned a valuable lesson. “There will be events, people and things beyond your control that happen and how you react will have a great impact on your career,” she says. “How quickly you analyze the situation and determine your best response is critical. Sometimes that means you must change jobs or sometimes careers.”

Hamrick made that kind of change and went to work as counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee, dealing with insurance and product safety issues.

Leading in Washington, D.C. is not quite like any other industry, she says. In the public policy world, individuals learn by doing, and developing trust and reputation are critical to success.

She next headed to New York Life Insurance Co. as vice president. She headed its lobbying office in Washington, and then served as director of the office of external relations for the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), where she was just the 47th employee for PCAOB – it was a “complete startup.” and she “learned public relations on the job.”

Her last role before joining Grant Thornton was as senior director of external relations and strategic planning at the Center for Audit Quality, where she managed strategic priorities, stakeholder outreach and communication plans to advance auditing.

She feels fortunate that opportunities and experiences have prepared her for each step in the course of her career.

In addition to her job at Grant Thornton, Hamrick wears an additional hat – chair of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Alumni Council, which supports alumni engagement across more than 35,000 business graduates working in 50 states and 80 countries.

“We alumni share a culture of professionalism, of pride in UNC Kenan-Flagler, a willingness to help others, a desire to give back and appreciation for lifelong learning,” she says. “Our graduates are well taught, but the culture of the School attracts a professional who is well-rounded, curious, collaborative but also very competitive. Importantly, they know how to win not only as an individual, but also as part of a team.”

Hamrick serves on the Alumni Council because she wanted to give back to the School.

“I’ve learned a lot from those who went before me, and now I’m at a point in my career where I can pass it on and give back,” she said. “Receiving the UNC Kenan-Flagler diploma gave me an inner self-confidence that I carry with me to this very day.”