A note from Rusty Merchant
In August, I will celebrate 20 years as a member of the McAlvey Merchant team. In early 2003, Jeff McAlvey called me out of the blue to ask me to have lunch with him at the Lansing City Club, which no longer exists and shows my advancing age. I agreed to the lunch not knowing what the conversation would entail. He wanted to know if I might consider working with him at the firm he had launched 6 years earlier. I tried to play it cool and say that I was interested, but inside I was doing cartwheels and having trouble hiding my excitement. Jeff was a pillar in Lansing and given his history and experience I knew immediately that this was the opportunity of a lifetime. Both to help build something, but most importantly to be mentored by a brilliant man with a stellar reputation. While the details had to be worked out, I was all in and excited about the opportunity. I remember thinking to myself at 31, this could be the last job that I ever have. To some that sounds like a prison sentence, to me, it was what I had only dreamed might be possible.
In 1995, I joined the office of State Senator Doug Carl as an intern. I was not a political science major and had only taken one political science class in my college career. Besides being the campaign manager for Walter Mondale for President at my school in 1984 (which by the way, he only got 3 votes from the students), I had not been interested politically other than dinner table conversations with my dad who was a longtime ironworker with Local 25 in Detroit. Yet when I walked into that Senator’s office for the first time, the excitement and intensity of Lansing was ignited inside of me and was not going to be quenched. I knew within a very short period that being a multi-client lobbyist was my ultimate goal. I had found to quote Steve Martin in The Jerk, “my special purpose.” After spending time in the House on staff and as a lobbyist for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, my desire to be in a firm was cemented. Jeff had just laid out that opportunity at lunch and I leaped at the chance.
Fast forward twenty years and I have never looked back or wondered what might have been had I not said yes to joining Jeff. He has been the mentor that I could only imagine possible and my closest confidant. In twenty years together, we have never had a raised voice or a negative confrontation. We have worked through challenges and always emerged on the same page. Even when it came time to negotiate his retirement and my purchase of the firm, we both knew that we had each other’s best interests in mind as we secured the deal. That is a rare thing indeed and is not lost on me how special our relationship is and will continue to be. He has set the foundation and the bar for how a firm is run and how clients are served.
With amazing team members and equally amazing clients, we have built something that we can all be proud of long into the future. As time marches on though, so does change. The last few weeks have been emotional for all of us at the firm. Jeff has been our steady hand and our conscience for the entire life of the firm and all of us who remain have the same goal, don’t mess with a good thing. There will be no name change, no location change, nor any effort to alter our culture. Our tribute to Jeff is to continue to serve our clients, build lasting relationships, and do good work. I can only hope that we look back in another twenty years and have the same ability to say that what was built has endured and that people and relationships are still at the center of what we do.