June 28, 2021

The Cornerstone Difference

Camila Knowles with the rest of the Cornerstone Georgia Team. Left to right: Sally Kilpatrick, Louie Perry, Camila Knowles, Jerry Usry and Jeff Hamlin

When I came to Cornerstone in October 2017, I was venturing into my first private sector job. I feel lucky for the public sector opportunities I have had, including serving as chief of staff to former U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs under former Governor Nathan Deal (R-GA).

During my time in government service, one valuable lesson I learned was the power of information – current and accurate information to be more precise – as it helped prioritize tasks, hone advice for my boss, create leverage in negotiations with others, and inform messaging. One thing that stood out to me from my first day at Cornerstone was that this firm had it, has it, and is still able to get it. I think it is in large part because the people who work at Cornerstone are honest brokers; they are former senior professionals from the halls of Congress and state capitols around the country who are known and trusted entities.

It’s not just their ability to get information for themselves.  What makes Cornerstone so unique is what my colleagues do with that information and the manner in which they handle it.

If you have any awareness of Cornerstone, you have likely heard someone talk about our “team approach.” It’s not a catchy marketing slogan, it’s a core principle tightly woven into the fabric of Cornerstone’s DNA. We work in teams intentionally created, taking into account experience, partisanship, knowledge, and relationships, among other things, to benefit each of our clients. I have seen firsthand how this information is appropriately shared among teams and the firm to benefit clients and colleagues. Of course, this information is a two-way street and oftentimes, information from one client will be shared (with permission) with other clients, or with offices and members that might benefit from understanding how the decisions they are making are playing out or could play out.

I love getting to serve on client teams, both in our Washington, DC office and in Georgia. I have even gotten to collaborate on client work with colleagues from other state offices, affording me the opportunity to build relationships within the firm and see how exceptional our people are. Cornerstone is a bipartisan firm, but it accomplishes that not by trying to be non-partisan, but by recruiting and hiring senior partisans who embrace being part of a team. This leads me to another lesson from Cornerstone: partisanship does not have to be equated with unfairness or an unwillingness to budge. To the contrary, I have found in my colleagues who come from different political backgrounds than me a sincere effort to act with fairness, wisdom, the inclination to listen, and a desire to find a common path forward. I have deep respect for my Democratic colleagues and value their perspective and insight. I rely on it in my professional life and use it to challenge my instincts and assessments personally. Cornerstone has long valued a diversity of thought, background and experience, and it has made our team that much stronger and more dynamic.

Forging professional relationships with my colleagues has enriched my experience at Cornerstone more than I can adequately put into words and led to real friendships with many. I continue to be blown away by the caliber of my colleagues here – a PhD scientist, a seventh-generation farmer, a recognized public health expert, a communications guru. The list goes on and on. When you work among professionals who become your friends, it not only makes work more fun, but it gives confidence in our firm’s ability to weather the inevitable storms.

Being employee-owned is an asset that cannot be overstated. I think back to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic shut down that occurred across the country. I was privileged to get to work with several of my colleagues across offices on the firm’s COVID-19 task force to handle the transition to remote work and then, the phased return to normal. Every single person in our organization had a voice in this process. We used the knowledge of several experts on staff and their relationships with those in the public health and scientific community to assist us. We did not always agree but, with steady, even-handed leadership at the helm, we embraced our core values and listened to one another to find common ground and a path forward.

It feels bittersweet as I look to transition from Cornerstone to a new role. I have truly loved my time with this firm and believe there is something special about Cornerstone. I will take with me lasting friendships and lessons learned– not just tactical lessons like ways corporations can smartly utilize government relations professionals; but foundational lessons, like finding someone who doesn’t look like me or think like me and forming a personal relationship with them. Most of all, I will take with me the team approach mentality.