Chris Ullman, author, world champion whistler, small business entrepreneur and founder of Ullman Communications LLC, lives a life of curated activities that are unique and important to him.
Chris Ullman has spent his 34-year professional career taking complex issues and breaking them down, so they are easy to understand and communicate. He served as communications director for the House Committee on the Budget and the White House Budget Office, and was the first director of global communications for The Carlyle Group, a global investment firm. In 2019, he established Ullman Communications LLC, a strategic advisory firm. Chris explains how he is currently giving back, serving others and focusing on those activities that have greatest meaning and importance to him.
In college, I had the opportunity to intern on Capitol Hill and I fell in love with Washington, DC. After college, I moved here hoping to use my political science degree in some capacity on Capitol Hill, but couldn't find a job. Eventually, I was hired by a small communications firm. At the time, there weren't many people with communications degrees. I discovered that my individual skills were a natural fit with the emerging communications field.
Communications is about marketing a person, an organization, a product or a concept. I am a good writer and researcher; I appreciate all types of people and professions; I'm naturally inquisitive and want to learn; I ask good questions and I think I understand human nature well. Those skills help me figure out what is special about the person, an organization, product or concept and what we need to highlight.
I tend to be brutally, but thoughtfully honest with my clients. I am not a sycophant; I will give my clients honest and thoughtful feedback. I think they appreciate that when I make a recommendation or give them feedback on a speech or an article, I am trying to help them achieve their goals. To be a good communications professional, I believe you must have a service mentality. For me, it is about helping others. I enjoy taking complex issues and breaking them down, so they are easy to understand.
In the late ‘90s, I had the privilege of working for Arthur Levitt during his tenure as the longest-serving Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. He recommended I take my public sector experience and join the corporate world. I joined The Carlyle Group in 2001 and established their communications program. At the time, most investment firms had a predatory and dark reputation. Like any business, brand matters. In investment capital, having a strong brand helps raise capital, hire great people and form partnerships. I helped The Carlyle Group reshape their brand. I helped them explain who they were and weren’t. I helped build their communications program from scratch and felt, after nearly 18 years, I had achieved all I could. I am forever grateful for the opportunities and experience I had with Carlyle. I developed a great partnership with [co-founder] David Rubenstein and he is still a friend and client.
Ten years before I left Carlyle, I had a conversation with Lou Gerstner [former Carlyle chairman and former IBM chairman and CEO] in which he described his approach to his various personal activities as living a ‘portfolio life’. When I asked him about it, he told me that he pursued baskets of curated activities that were unique and interesting to him. Things he wanted and loved to do. I knew I wanted that life and set a personal goal to achieve it in 15 years.
Starting my own communications firm is part of my portfolio life. I want to do work, pursue my passions and continue to serve others and give back to my community. I want to be innovative and hyper-creative in all I do. In my consulting business, I work with clients whom I respect and really want to work with, while trying to strike a balance of not taking on too much work, or too little.
I still share my whistling [Chris is a four-time national and international champion whistler] and try to inspire others to find and share their passions through my book, “Find your Whistle”. I continue to write. I am currently drafting a script about the life of Beethoven that I would love to produce, as well as a book about lessons learned from my rich and powerful bosses throughout my career.
For serving others, I’m on three non-profit boards and have made philanthropy a key part of how we put our faith into practice, giving to those in need. I also started Smart Jars and am working on a card game to help young millennials and Gen Z adults navigate the new dating world in a wholesome way.
Living a 'Portfolio Life' is about finding curated activities that are unique and important to you.
Chris recently launched “Smart Jars” a business to help parents teach kids of all ages how to manage their money. It is an online business that shares what Chris has learned helping his own kids to manage their finances through a simple yet effective process of allocating funds to specific goals.
“I want to help parents educate their kids on how to give smart, save smart and spend smart, so they can look forward to a secure financial future. That fits into my passion for helping to equip and educate other people to achieve their own.”