When the typical college student applies for an internship, they don’t expect to be recommended to another company that has an open position. When Jen Riley applies for an internship in college, she creates a stellar career for herself at an emerging firm.
When the typical college graduate packs up their car to move home, they experience ‘culture shock’ when trying to assimilate back into non-college life. Jen Riley makes a pit stop at the office to get work done before heading home.
Jen found the Bravo Group by “happenstance” in March 2000, and it’s safe to say grew up (literally) with the firm since then. During her time at Bravo, Jen graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, moved to Philadelphia, got married, bought a house and is now expecting baby due on Christmas Eve.
Jen was Bravo’s first intern. I sat down with the mom-to-be to gain insight on how it all started.
Within five minutes of talking to Riley, it became obvious that she is a planner, and comes from a family of planners as well. Riley applied to intern at a lobbying firm in Harrisburg after she took a semester off from Pittsburgh to get knee surgery. (She told me her mom made her internship during her time at home.)
When the Harrisburg firm didn’t have an open position, they recommended that she apply for an internship at Bravo – a new firm at the time- and she has been here ever since.
Riley said her intern experience was different from the experience interns have now. Though she was responsible for typical office tasks like answering phones, she also had to help solve problems that arose with the start of any new company.
It was a new business,” she said. “We were dealing with issues like ‘does the place look presentable’ or ‘do we have enough furniture.’”
(She was also responsible for telling Chris Bravacos when he had a phone call. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but it proved difficult for Riley at the time because his office was on the second floor and she had to wear a leg brace for an extended period of time after her surgery. )
When Riley started here, she didn’t have an email, and the company – which consisted of three people at the time- relied heavily on fax machines to send and receive information.
Riley said the limited number of employees in the beginning served as an advantage when it came to her involvement at Bravo, adding that she was able to help with a variety of projects because there weren’t a lot of people working in the office.
She said the Bravo Group has experienced “growing pains” during different stages in the firm’s evolution through the years, but has maintained the same company culture it started with.
“The flat structure allows you to get involved in things you would like to do,” she said. “The culture is the biggest constant for me.”
Looking back, Riley said her favorite types of projects were high-intensity campaigns where multiple practices come together, move quickly and think strategically.
“It comes back to the campaign mindset that we have,” she said. “That’s the enthusiasm we bring to these projects.”
From Bush to Babies
Riley took a short break from Bravo to work as the Pennsylvania state coordinator for the 2000 Bush/ Cheney presidential campaign where she had the opportunity to meet with power political officials like Rudy
Giuliani and George Bush Sr.
She returned to Bravo after the campaign was over.
Riley said most of her free time outside of work now is consumed with preparing for the arrival of her baby.
“I used to spend my free time gallivanting around Harrisburg, now I’m spending it home putting together a nursery,” she said.
Despite being a planner at the workplace, Riley isn’t planning to find out the sex of her baby until it’s born. She said she thinks it’s a boy, but will remain nervous and excited while waiting to find out.
Advice for the Future
Riley said her dad used to tell her to not be afraid of success because the “scary” opportunities are the ones people should go after. She still believes in this idea today.
“Go above and beyond and take advantage of every opportunity no matter how scary it is,” she said. “There aren’t many times in life that you go through major transitions. If you find what you’re looking for you should stick with it.”
Overall, Riley is grateful to have found a place like Bravo.
“I never forget how lucky and fortunate I’ve been,” she said. “I just stumbled upon it, and it has been such a blessing.”