Oct 17, 2019
Women in Public Affairs to Know: Elizabeth Kersey
This interview is part of a series on “Women in Public Affairs to Know,” by the McGuireWoods Consulting Women in Public Affairs initiative. To learn more about the initiative or recommend a woman for a future interview, please visit our website.
Elizabeth Kersey is the Vice President of Communications and Public Policy for the PRA Group. Established in 1996, PRA Group is a global leader in acquiring and collecting nonperforming loans through local subsidiaries. PRA Group returns capital to banks and other creditors to help expand financial services for consumers in the Americas and Europe. Prior to this role, Elizabeth worked as the Assistant to the President for Local, State, and Federal Government Relations at Old Dominion University.
She was also the Director of State and Federal Government Relations for the City of Hampton. Elizabeth previously served as the Director of Communications and Government Relations for the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
The interview below was conducted by Laura Fornash, senior vice president on McGuireWoods Consulting’s Virginia State Government Relations team.
Question: When I look at your career, you’ve taken risks and have worked for a variety of people, including a city manager, a university president and now a CEO. Do you have any insights on what traits you think a great leader possesses?
Elizabeth Kersey: Yes, I’ve worked with some great leaders who were willing to give me an opportunity to try to prove myself. That’s a risk sometimes. At PRA, I am so grateful to our CEO for giving me the opportunity to help execute on his vision with our communications and government relations functions for the company that he helped found. We have a great story here in the history of our company in our customer-centric focus, our founders’ vision, and how what we do contributes to the health of the overall financial structure, and I am so grateful that he has been willing to give me that chance to tell it. I think that is a hallmark of a great leader – choosing people that, intuitively, you feel like can come in, work hard and take very seriously the charge that they’re given. I hope I’ve done that across my professional career, knowing at times that my boss has taken a great risk on me and I do not want to squander the opportunity that they’ve given me.
Q: What does success mean to you?
Elizabeth: That has evolved for me over my professional career. When I was new in my career, my priorities were different. I wanted to be seen as competent, as someone who was successful, could get things done, and worked hard, and I wanted to have good working relationships with people. All of those attributes remain important to me; however, what has also emerged for me as equally important is to help the next generation coming up behind me and to be a good leader to my team. I try to lead by example, give them opportunities to shine, and show them I care about their careers, while also teaching them the ropes and mentoring them where I can, though they often teach me, and I love that as well.
Elizabeth with her family.
Q: How do you motivate yourself when you have to tackle a difficult situation?
Elizabeth: As I’ve matured professionally, I’ve learned to focus on the big picture more. I do believe that most things are fixable and solvable. We're all going to make mistakes and when I have to deal with things that are tough I try to always do it with an eye towards how to do better next time, how to keep that particular situation from happening again. The times I’ve grown the most in my career are the times that I’ve faced a disappointment and evaluated how to learn from it and improve. I do not like to fail and I am my own worst critic, so it is hard sometimes to pick myself up and keep moving in that moment, but I have to in order to be a good colleague to my peers and leader for my team.
For my team, if they have to bring something not-so-great to my attention, they’re already distressed about it. I feel like at that point, my role is to agree on a solution, learn from it, and move on.
Q: You’ve had a lot of great accomplishments in this role, but if you had to pick one, what is your greatest professional accomplishment?
Elizabeth: Whenever a legislator or a staffer that I work with says to my boss, “she’s really good at her job,” it means so much to me. What it says to me is that not only do I know the mechanics of the job, but that I have, hopefully, fostered a long-term relationship with that person and that matters to me more than anything else. It says that they view me as someone who is credible, and in our business I think that means honest, ethical, thoughtful and deliberative in my work. Or at least I hope that’s what it means!