EPIC Spotlight: Luke Holland

Luke Holland dreamed of a fast-paced career on Wall Street. Instead, he landed a fast-paced career on Capitol Hill.

The Great Recession hit as Holland neared graduation with a finance degree from the Sam M. Walton College of Business. He decided it wasn’t a good time to find work on Wall Street.

Fortunately, he had another dream, too.

“I was always interested in politics,” says Holland, who’s from Bartlesville, Oklahoma. “I decided I might as well knock on a few doors in Washington and see if anything would come of it.”

Holland got an answer from U.S. Sen. James M. Inhofe, who represents his home state. Inhofe gave him his first opportunity.

Working in the mailroom.

“I said, ‘Hey, let’s give a shot and see what happens,’” Holland recalls. “Up here, you really have to start at the bottom and put in your time and be willing to do any job.”

Holland’s mailroom job included reading all of the mail that came through Inhofe’s office, much of it letters from constituents, which he assigned to different staff members. He was also Inhofe’s “body man,” political slang for personal assistant. As body man, Holland drove the senator to events and kept him on schedule.

Inhofe, impressed with Holland’s dedication and knowledge, gave him more responsibilities. In less than eight years, Holland went from opening mail to serving as Inhofe’s chief of staff – in an office where he can view the Capitol’s dome from his window. Holland credits his ability to understand and work on policy issues to his Walton education.

“Up here, a lot of students who want to be involved in public policy study political science, which is not bad,” he says. “But, in the business school, you learn about how the economy works.”

That knowledge came from marketing Associate Professor Molly Rapert’s honors colloquium and finance Associate Professor Craig Rennie’s portfolio management classes, Holland says. And economics professors Robert Stapp and Charles Britton made economics fun, he says.

Holland says when he arrived in Washington, he was surprised to learn that many people didn’t understand tax policy and how it affects the private sector. When he served as Inhofe’s legislative assistant, he found he could comfortably address economic issues that came across his desk. Holland managed a portfolio for Inhofe that included aviation, energy and environmental policy. It’s like a small business, he says.

“It’s all hands on deck all of the time,” he says. “As you work with people, there are a lot of opportunities to sink or swim here.”

Congress is in session four out of every five weeks on average, keeping Holland on his toes. Holland says his boss spends Senate recesses in Oklahoma while the office’s staff, including Holland, prepares for the next session. A typical day often involves dozens of meetings intermixed with votes on the Senate floor. Holland’s job is to lead the senator’s staff to advance his agenda on bills in which he has a vested interest. It can get a little crazy, he says. “I have been seen sprinting down the hallway before,” he says.

Holland coordinates with industry representatives, staff from various offices across the political spectrum, congressional leadership offices, the White House and executive branch agencies to make sure Inhofe’s priorities are advanced. That, he says, can be time-consuming.

“Having that foundation in business, and just understanding that what we do here in Washington has a real impact on not just the people that we represent but also the companies that employ the people that we represent,” he says. “Having that foundation of knowledge and education has been invaluable to me. I speak the language of business because that’s what I learned at the University of Arkansas.”