I was delighted to have some time to talk with Patrick Halley, who recently became the President and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA), a trade association representing the companies that build, develop, own, and operate the nation’s wireless infrastructure. Patrick got started in the field of communications by working on emergency communications and 911 issues and while he’s done a wide range of things related to communications and beyond, he has not looked back.
Q. Can you summarize your career progression from its beginning to now?
A. I went to law school at night at Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law a bit late in my career, and only after pretending to be a lawyer for a while. Following law school, I had a nearly five-year stop at the FCC implementing many of the broadband-related recommendations of the National Broadband plan. I then spent several years in private practice before moving on to be General Counsel at USTelecom and then on to WIA where I am now. So, my time in communications has been a mix of public, private and association work.
Q. What attracted you to the field of communications?
A. Honestly, I think it started with my dad’s car phone in a 1984 Cadillac El Dorado (one of the first car phones I believe). It looked like a regular house phone, cord and all. That was pretty cool to a kid. Then I stumbled on to an internship my senior year of college working for a consulting firm called National Strategies that had wireless and telematics companies as clients. The firm also ran a now defunct non-profit public safety coalition called ComCARE (Communications for Coordinated Assistance and Response to Emergencies). A mouthful for sure, but it was a really interesting group that brought together communications providers and public safety organizations in an effort to improve data sharing for emergency response. By then I was hooked on communications policy and to the point that I abandoned the career in international economic development I had been planning.
Q. Have things unfolded in your career the way you planned?
A. Yes and no. I have never had a plan per se. Once I realized that I loved communications I knew I wanted to be in this space one way or another, but I didn’t have a specific job I was angling for at any given time. My first leadership position was at NENA – The 911 Association. Running the government affairs effort at NENA gave me exposure to the entire telecom ecosystem, from wireline to wireless to VoIP providers, all with a focus on 911 issues. So that was a great jumping off point. I wanted to work at the FCC, and I found a way there and really enjoyed it. I knew I wanted to work in industry, and I have been able to do that at two different associations, USTelecom and now WIA, and I’ve also had the experience of representing companies and trade associations in private practice. Really there are so many different good jobs out there. My plan has just been to continue pushing myself and growing and working with people I like. So far so good.
Q. What’s the most interesting or challenging thing that you’ve done in your current position?
A. Being given the keys to drive a trade association is a pretty great opportunity. I would say the most interesting and challenging thing to do first is to really appreciate the foundation of the organization you are walking into and to respect and learn from that organization’s history and culture. But you also need to bring to that organization the skills and experiences that you have learned along the way and the new ideas and energy that you have and can bring to the table. Challenging for sure, but also a lot of fun.
Q. Is or was there something interesting or someone who surprised or impressed you during your career and why?
A. Too many people to name, so I won’t single anyone out. I have been wildly blessed to learn from so many great people and leaders, all of whom are all very different in terms of their skillsets and style, but who are all fundamentally decent and have been willing to help me succeed. Successful people work hard and create their own opportunities, but everyone needs a helping hand. I have been lucky to be surrounded by truly remarkable people in business and government my whole career. What impresses me is that in the fast paced, hard charging, competitive environment we work in, paying it forward seems to be the rule, not the exception.
Q. What do you enjoy reading?
A. All kinds of stuff. I love books on American history (particularly the founding of the country and the Civil War) and history in general. I’m currently reading a biography on Ben Franklin as I’ve always wanted to know more about him. He’s a fascinating and important character. I am also reading a book called A Death on W Street on the murder of former DNC staffer Seth Rich and the dangerous world of political conspiracies. Fun fact, the goalie on my soccer team (and Pro Publica reporter), Andy Kroll, wrote it. It’s a good read (and all you who are reading this should buy his book)! I can’t let this go without saying that I also love music biographies and autobiographies, from Bob Marley to Dylan and the Stones, to Flea and Dave Grohl, to music about the early punk rock and hardcore scenes.
Q. Can you share your perspective on the pitfalls to avoid or other career advice for those who are just getting started in the communications field?
A. First, when a door opens up, take a look at what is on the other side. Put another way, it is always worth having the conversation when someone approaches you about an opportunity. You may not think you are ready for a new challenge or that it is a good time to leave your current job (it rarely is a good time), but don’t foreclose opportunities too early and without really thinking it through. Second, not every telecom policy or legal issue attracts Wall Street Journal headlines, but any issue can be interesting if you dig in. All the issues we deal with tend to have a history and a story and a cast of characters that are pretty interesting. Embrace it. You may end up making a great career based on what appears to be wonky and nuanced issues that most people have never heard of. Third, it’s a small bar and it is hard to repair a bad reputation.
Q. What is something interesting about you that people are not generally aware of that you’re willing to share?
A. From 2002 to 2004 I quit my job and played music professionally, joining a friend who had been signed to a major label record deal (we had played together in high school). I played rhythm guitar for Tony C and the Truth. I moved to New York City, I recorded a record and toured the country, headlining shows and supporting artists like Sugar Ray, Living Colour, and Blues Traveler, among others. Looking back, I would say that the best shows I recall were probably in DC at the 9:30 Club and the Black Cat, as there were a lot of friends and family in the audience. The most unique performance venue was at the Playboy Mansion. I play some now with other communications folks who love music; we do gigs as Harmful Interference. Also, I still play competitive soccer at a pretty high level, though that is getting harder to do.
Finally, along with a fellow Catholic University law school alum, Danielle Thumann, I am back at Catholic teaching a course on technology and telecom, which is a bit of a full circle moment, as we have stepped into the shoes of two of the industry luminaries who taught us when we were students, Bryan Tramont and Rosemary Harold.
Q. How has your life changed as a result of COVID-19?
A. Yes, my work life changed in pretty much the same as many other communications professionals who converted parts of their homes into offices and hunkered down for the duration. I did have a couple moments while at home realizing that the work that I did at the FCC on broadband was meaningful in a very concrete way. First, my wife, a doctor, was able to do telehealth visits with her patients from one room of the house while my son was attending school from the comforts of our dining room. I was grateful to have had the time and space to see how he participated in his classes and demonstrated leadership qualities, things I would have missed otherwise.
Q. How long have you been an FCBA member, and what to you is the value of FCBA membership?
A. I joined the FCBA around 2005. I love the FCBA. I am on the Executive Committee now and was previously on the FCBA Foundation board. The value of membership comes in many different forms – lifelong friendships, learning from some of the best minds in the business, having fun with great people, career advancement opportunities, giving back to the community through support of charities and local students in need, growing and adding diversity to the telecom lawyer pipeline, just to name a few things.