I first met Michael Lake in 2008 when he visited us in Los Angeles. The way he was introduced to me was “Meet Mike, the nicest, smartest and craziest person you will ever meet! He graduated with 5 or 7 majors from Northeastern University, worked for the former Prime Minister of Ireland John Bruton, Presidents Clinton and Bush, all before the age of 23! The guy never sleeps!”
Since then, Michael has done much more and is still involved with the most influential people in the world. But you would never tell from his sweet and fun loving demeanor. He truly is a very special person with a heart of gold. But I must admit that I have a difficult time reconciling a nice person with politics. Those two words don’t seem to mesh these days, but thankfully they do in his case! He brings joy and laughter wherever he goes.
Michael inspires me and hopefully will inspire you too as you read this interview. He personifies and embodies the attributes we should all aspire to – tenacity, perseverance, intelligence, humor, generosity….
For the purpose of this interview, we will focus on Mike Lake’s political involvement and stories. He has his hands in too many amazing projects.
Give us a quick summary of what you are involved in these days?
Where to start? In a nutshell, I am involved in the following projects at the moment!
– Leading Cities: our organization seeks to unite university faculty and students, policy innovators, city officials and business leaders in the common cause of solving urban challenges.
– Project on entrepreneurship which goal is to develop a tool for everyone living in cities to be able to answer all kinds of questions. It will provide insights as to the strengths and weaknesses of the local entrepreneurship ecosystem and how important each of these things are.
– Outsourcing businesses – all about small business transfer and connecting small businesses with entrepreneurs who want to start, and give them time for transitioning.
Then in politics:
I am the Deputy Treasurer of the Massachusetts’ Democratic party. I also joined the Finance committee for Hillary Clinton running for president, as well as assisting Joe Kennedy on finance.
That’s it for now 🙂
Politics seem to hold an intricate part in your life. When did the passion for politics begin?
In high school I was involved in politics before I even liked politics! I had a job as a Page in the state senate just as something to do after school. Then as a Senior in high school we had a student government day. I ran and was elected “Mayor” of the town. It allowed me to take 3 days off from school, which is why I did it in the first place 🙂
I had to shadow the Mayor for those 3 days. While I was there the Mayor had a meeting that was inappropriate for me to be in, so he left me in his office and said “ ok Mayor now you are in charge of the office!” jokingly of course but his secretary would put through some constituents’ calls.
One of them was an elderly lady who had a terrible tooth ache. Her dentist couldn’t see her until the following week. So in pure desperation, she called the Mayor hoping he could maybe do something. I got her a dentist appointment that same afternoon, called her back to share the good news. Her reaction is really what solidified my interest in public service. She reacted as if I had told her she had won the lottery. And when I hung up I realized that this is what public service is all about.
Prior to that I wanted to become a priest except for the fact that I am a Catholic and really wanted to have a family! I always wanted to be someone in the community that anybody could go to at any point in time for any reason. And at that moment with that lady, I realized that public service is my calling. So that was THE moment. I was inspired and to this day never lost that passion!
What a nice story! So from then on, how did it all evolve?
At the time I was also touring colleges, and one of them was North Eastern. They discussed COOP opportunities and mentioned that they had COOP students who went to the White House! From that moment, I decided I was going to Northeastern and doing my COOP at the White House! But first I had to cut my teeth elsewhere! So one of my first COOPs was with the former Prime minister of Ireland John Bruton, as a Policy research analyst in Dublin. Not quite the White House but pretty close to it 🙂
Wow! How did that come about?
Well the COOP before that I went to Australia. I showed up for a 6 month project for which I had to help organize a 5 year old Startup’s processes and procedures. Three weeks into it their finance guy resigned unexpectedly. The owner called me into his office and asked me to take over the finances. I told him he was crazy but I did it!
At the time I had to send weekly updates back to Northeastern and that week was a good one!! The administrator loved the email and forwarded it to her colleagues and all of the sudden I received a random email from a total stranger saying that he had read the email, congratulated me on the promotion, and while he was at it, offered me to go to Ireland to work in the parliament and take classes at the same time! Needless to say I was interested! I got selected and chosen to work for the former Prime Minister of Ireland!
And while there I applied to the White House – with good ammunition I should add! I then had a letter of recommendation from the former Prime Minister of Ireland and Michael Dukakis, former Governor of Massachusetts. I think it made for a strong package 🙂 which got me into the White House.
Again, I’m speechless! How old were you then?
About 21 years old!
Did you do anything else at the White House?
That’s a funny one! So one day as we were having lunch with my team mates I told them about Australia and the promotion. Right after lunch that day, someone told the assistant to the President my story and he called me into his office. He said “I understand you have a background in finance and your team doesn’t want to lose you but we could use your skills in the White House travel office. Would you consider doing two internships simultaneously?”
Of course, YES!!!!
Worked double shift and on my free time I played around with creating a database that would resolve one of the challenges they were having. It actually worked and on my last day I showed it to everyone and they asked me to stay an extra week to train everybody.
A week later, after having just moved back to Boston, I got a call from the White House saying that there was a position available and President Clinton would like to appoint me if I was interested.
Mike, WOW! WOW! WOW! I mean these stories only happen in movies!
🙂 Yes pretty amazing!
I had to withdraw from the university but they agreed to take me back when I was done. So I moved right back to Washington and served until the end of the Clinton administration.
What did you do for President Clinton?
I was Special Assistant for White House Operations – meaning responsible for the day to day operations. Making sure everything was running smoothly. The thing that most people remember is the fact that I had the only White House credit card, a direct access to a $54 million budget!
I didn’t deal with the residence, the Vice President’s office, or the personal entertaining / living of the first family, just the work of the White House.
Any fun stories?
You never knew who you were going meet at the White House! One day I was rushing from one thing to the next and running from the East wing to the West wing. The door that separates the two wings is a giant wooden door. I opened it up and started rushing through it only to see an older woman stumbling, almost at the verge of falling over because I was in such a rush. So I reached out, grabbed her and steadied her on her feet. She looked up to thanked me … I realized then it was Elizabeth Taylor! Completely embarrassed I apologized to everyone and continued on.
I got half way through the mansion and there was another group of people coming. So now I was cued in to the fact that there might be other important people coming. I looked and I saw Hank Aaron, legendary baseball player, known I believe for holding the record for most home runs. He’s just a legend, an American Icon like Joe DiMaggio. Got a chance to talk to him a little bit. I kicked myself for not having a camera! Unfortunately we didn’t have Smart Phones then!
I continued on and grabbed the door that separated the mansion from the West wing, which is a glass door. I reached for the door handle and could see an arm coming from the other side. I learned my lesson and stepped back to let them come through. A kind gentleman opened the door and held it open, so I said “Oh thank you so much!” and kept walking through. But he wasn’t holding the door for me! So I ended up literally ‘Chest to Stomach’ with Muhammad Ali!
Wow, all that in a matter of 5 minutes!
In 5 minutes, 3 American Icons!!!
Other stories you can remember? I can’t get enough!
I had this reputation for working late! So one night at 7:30 pm I got a call asking me if I could go to the oval office. I rushed over and there was a big TV camera, spot light, etc..
They asked me to be President Clinton’s body double and sit at the Resolute desk while they adjusted the lights so when he came in there would be no shadows or problems.
Sitting at the Resolute desk in the Oval office is one of the big NO NOs. You just never sit at the desk. Naturally when they asked me to sit at the desk I thought they were joking with me. But to my delight they were not!
The guy who was operating the camera asked if I could read the teleprompter. I started reading and basically these were the words “Good evening my fellow Americans, it’s been a pleasure serving you the last 8 years as your President …” It was the President’s farewell address to the nation!!! Kinda crazy and coolest moment for me.
I heard that you also transitioned into the Bush administration
I was one of half dozen or so out of 1,000 plus people in the White House that was re- appointed by President Bush. I was one of a handful of people to have gone through a complete presidential transition – transitioning out one and in another. I learned so much!
The most amazing thing was the transition. Even today, it’s so incredible to think that the most powerful person in the world freely hands over all the power, the control that goes with it, in one moment. It’s hard to believe. I’ve seen it with my own eyes and it’s still hard to believe! I mean imagine if the current CEO of Google decided to step down, we would immediately see a change in the Stock exchange. And that’s one person leaving! Imagine thousands of people leaving that have been doing jobs to support the work of the country.
Why were you one of the only few to have been granted this opportunity?
I do not know! I wish I did. I had no connection to the Bush folks at all and was completely shocked when I got the letter from President elect Bush asking if I would consider staying on. I agreed to do so for a very short period of time but it was an amazing experience.
Did you also work with President Obama?
I mostly helped with events. When he first announced his candidacy for President, I helped organize his announcement tour. I also advised on the inauguration and organized his first trip to Alaska (I actually joined him in Anchorage!)
What are you going to do with Hilary Clinton?
I won’t have time to dedicate my full attention but will most likely help fund raising in the North East. But I also offered to work on special occasions as I did for President Obama, like helping him with the first Democratic debate and the inauguration.
What a life you have had so far, at such a young age! To tie this up, is Zurich included in your future plans with Leading Cities?
Leading cities is a network of cities. We allow one city per nation and Zurich is the city we are considering for Switzerland to become an official member. It requires the commitment of the municipal government and at least one academic institution. And now we have Local Advisory Boards in each city, which is an opportunity to also engage the private sector, non-profit sector, citizens. We just have to see if we can somehow align all those partners in Zurich.
As soon as we are able to do so, obviously in partnership with folks in Zurich, we can officially induct the city into the network.
Why Zurich and not Geneva for example?
When looking at its demographic, economy, and innovations, Zurich seems like a great fit for us and our network. I think we could learn from Zurich and Zurich from other members.
Excuse the poor quality of some of the pictures as most of them are copies of originals or were taken at a time when cameras weren’t as sophisticated as they are today.
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