For some Democratic politicians, the Koch brothers are synonymous with the corrosive influence of money in politics. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has waged an all-out war on the Wichita, Kan.-based industrial titans, lambasting Charles and David Koch on the Senate floor and accusing them of “terrible dishonesty” as they bankroll anti-Obamacare ads.
Yet, for all the criticism directed toward the Koch brothers, little attention is paid to the source of their riches: a $115 billion empire with 100,000 employees and a presence in 60 countries. To tell the story of Koch Industries, the company has hired Steve Lombardo, a well-known PR executive with experience representing pharmaceuticals and other industries under fire.
“This is the first time I’ve gone in-house,” said Lombardo, who was most recently chairman of the U.S. public affairs and crisis practice at Burson-Marsteller. “My mission is to reintroduce one of the largest corporations in the world, a company that produces everything from paper towels to electrical connectors to Stainmaster carpets. We are going to try to tell the story in a holistic way that’s representative of the Koch vision of America, one that’s about liberty and freedom and creating value to improve people’s lives.
“Of course, it’s true that our principal shareholders, Charles and David Koch, are involved in political activities,” Lombardo added. “They are one among many contributors to Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners. Political issues do have an impact on the image and reputation of the company — everyone here is cognizant of that. Because of politics, the story of Koch Industries gets a little warped and misunderstood. As communicators, we need to do a better job.”
In his new position, Lombardo will oversee Koch Creative Services, an in-house advertising and marketing group with 30 employees in Wichita. Since taking over in February, Lombardo has been shuttling between Washington and Wichita, with periodic trips to Atlanta. “For those of us who spend a lot of time on the East Coast, we forget sometimes that there are a number of states in the middle section of the country that do a good deal of the production and manufacturing in this country,” he said.
Lombardo’s title is chief communications and marketing officer, a new role at Koch Industries. He reports to president and Chief Operating Officer Dave Robertson.
Koch Industries, which began in 1940 as Wood River Oil and Refining, is a constellation of companies such as Georgia-Pacific, Molex, and Flint Hills Resources, which is a refining, chemicals, and biofuels company. The privately held conglomerate is involved in everything from fertilizers and minerals to ranching and commodity trading, with a significant role in energy. One Koch subsidiary has 4,000 miles of pipelines that carry oil, liquefied natural gas, ethanol, and other petroleum products.
Lombardo, 53, was raised in Manchester, N.H., and attended Saint Anselm College. After receiving a master’s degree in public policy from St. Louis University, he worked as a pollster on the statewide campaigns of then-Gov. John Ashcroft and former Sen. Kit Bond, both Missouri Republicans. More recently, Lombardo served as a research consultant on Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign.
In the early 1990s, Lombardo was hired by the pharmaceutical industry to repair its image after its reputation took a hit over exorbitant drug prices. Lombardo proposed a rebranding, giving rise to one of the best-known acronyms on K Street: PhRMA, short for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.
Earlier in his career, Lombardo headed his own consultancy and was global CEO of StrategyOne. He has represented a diverse array of clients, from corporations and industry groups to trade associations and political candidates.