Some people who don’t know Bret Boyles might have been surprised when the 32-year-old economic development professional landed the challenging job as chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss).
Those who know Boyles are keenly aware that he has been positioning himself for such an opportunity since he was a young boy growing up in Hattiesburg.
“I became interested in politics when I got involved in student government activities at Hattiesburg High,” said Boyles, with a chuckle. “I was elected governor of Boys State, and had the opportunity to work with and relate to many different types of people. I learned very quickly that to be involved in politics, you must like people or it’s not for you.”
The elder of two children born to Mark Boyles, a Southern Miss Alumni Association executive, and his wife, Wanda, a public schoolteacher, Boyles represented the third generation to graduate from Southern Miss. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in community planning and urban development before completing the university’s New South Economic Development School.
While attending Southern Miss, Boyles interned for Lott, and after graduation in 1996, he landed a job in the senator’s office — shuffling mail.
“The mailroom is the best place for anyone to start a job in Washington because you read every piece of mail that comes through there and you know every issue that people are concerned about,” insisted Boyles. “The mailroom is the barometer of what’s happening in Mississippi.”
Boyles soon proved himself valuable for other positions in Lott’s office, advancing quickly from mailroom chores to legislative duties to the senator’s deputy chief of staff before becoming Lott’s chief fundraiser and executive director of his leadership political action committee, the New Republican Majority Fund.
vLast September, Boyles founded the Principles Strategies Group consulting firm, counting the senator and his PAC and the University of Mississippi Foundation as clients.
“I know firsthand now what small business owners go through in terms of paperwork and bureaucracy,” he said. “Sometimes it’s very overwhelming.”
One afternoon, Lott called Boyles and told him he had a new assignment in mind. Bill Gottshall, Lott’s chief of staff for seven years, was being named the first executive director of the Trent Lott Leadership Institute at the University of Mississippi. Would Boyles take over the chief of staff position?
“I jumped at the opportunity,” said Boyles. “Little did I know the first day on the job would be the day after Hurricane Katrina.”
Lott’s directive to Boyles: focus on job creation in Mississippi, from mom-and-pops to global corporations, and what the federal government can do to facilitate that goal.
“I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve been in with corporate executives and the first question Sen. Lott would ask was, how many jobs do you have in Mississippi or how many do you plan to put there? It doesn’t take long to realize that’s what he’s all about: bringing jobs to Mississippi,” said Boyles.
In response to Hurricane Katrina, Lott’s staff worked round-the-clock until two weeks ago, when office hours were slightly reduced. “One great thing that came out of Katrina, the business community has really responded incredibly,” said Boyles. “Had it not been for the corporate sector, I don’t think we’d be as far along in the recovery efforts.”
Despite the hectic start, Gottshall made Boyles’ transition easy.
“Billy is such a gentleman,” said Boyles. “He was well-respected by other chiefs of staff on the hill — Democrats and Republicans alike — and by saying that I worked with him, I’ve been welcomed on both sides of the aisle. His attitude was to work hard, keep smiling and enjoy it the whole way.”
Gottshall was equally complimentary of Boyles. “To his credit, Bret is the man for the job now,” he said. “He’s young, energetic and proactive and he’ll get things done. He’s just right for Trent Lott.”
Several years ago, Boyles married his college sweetheart, Kristy Parker of Lucedale, who assisted the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), until giving birth to the couple’s first child, Parker Evans, three months ago.
“Juggling 12-plus hour work days, plus having time for my own family, is a challenge,” admitted Boyles. “But I have a very understanding wife who knows the demands of the job.”
When he’s in Hattiesburg, Boyles, who once completed the Hub City Hustle Triathlon, finds time to hit the links with his two favorite golfers: his father and his grandfather, Bill Boyles.
But for now, Boyles is totally focused on the task at hand: facilitating hurricane recovery efforts.
“There’s nothing more enjoyable than calling someone back on the phone and saying ‘I want you to know the senator’s getting you a trailer,’ or providing some other help for hurricane victims,” said Boyles. “It’s so simple. I love making those calls.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.