In the Beginning

by Nick Cavarocchi, Dom Ruscio and Lyle Dennis

As CRD Associates celebrates its 35th year in business, we thought it would be interesting to our readers to take a look back at how it all began.

crd_old.jpg

In 1980, before there was Taylor Swift there was Pink Floyd. Before the masses embraced Downton Abbey there was Upstairs, Downstairs. And the Republican party had just gained control of the Senate.

The year also marked the start of what some dubbed a "boutique" lobbying shop that would evolve into a full-service public policy and government relations firm, called CRD Associates.

What began as a two-person, boiler-room operation, has since grown to a team of seasoned experts well-versed in policy development across a broad range of topics.

The idea of putting together a lobbying shop 35 years ago was the brainchild of Nick Cavarocchi who had parlayed jobs in the Public Health Service, the House Appropriations Committee and the healthcare sector into lobbying contracts with the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the Friends of Eye Research and the American Association for Dental Research.

Nick launched the firm with his colleague, Joyce Briscoe. The two had first worked together at the Group Health Association, where they formed a bond that would span over three decades, until Joyce's death in early 2012.

It was a pretty heady time in Washington, DC. Although political winds were shifting with Ronald Reagan's election, the House and Senate appropriations committees still ruled the roost in Congress, and spending bills were often the only game in town when it came to influencing public policy.

In late 1980, Nick reached out to Dom Ruscio who, a few months earlier had left the Carter administration, and asked him to join the firm. "It'll be fun," he said.

It wasn't the first time their paths had crossed. Both had worked at what is now the Department of Health and Human Services. Later, both would engage in heated battles when Nick was on the House appropriations committee staff and Dom was with the Senate appropriations committee.

After Dom accepted Nick's offer, a sparse office rented from the Association of Home Economics became world headquarters for CR Associates--though the location prompted one colleague to question whether this was actually a front for some other business venture!

Coming from House appropriations, Nick carried an inherent frugality gene that would serve the firm and its clients well. "Clients pay for service," he'd say, "not leather couches." So Xerox paper was purchased at a discount from the House stationery room (yes, it was legal at the time), rather than Staples; everyone shared one IBM Selectric typewriter and a Texas Instruments calculator; and the supply room doubled as a reception area. Need a copy of legislation that was just introduced? (Remember, this was when the Internet was still a gleam in Al Gore's eyes.) Hop on the subway and get it from the House or Senate document room. Need to read yesterday's Congressional Record? Get back on the subway and walk to GPO.

As time passed, new clients came knocking. Soon a handful of kitchen table advocates from across the country banded together around a little-know disorder, then thought to be a natural consequence of aging. They suspected it wasn't, and asked CRD Associates to educate Congress about Alzheimer's disease. It was struggle at first, but before long, we became DC central for captains of industry, royalty (we suspect it was the first time Rita Hayworth's daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, was in a supply room) and celebrity spokespersons like David Hyde Pierce, Maureen Reagan and Terrell Owens--all of whom contributed to a newfound awareness of a disease that affects more than 5 million Americans. [There'll be more about rubbing elbows with celebrities in a subsequent post.]

As our reputation grew, so did the demand for our services, forcing Nick to admit, "We need more help." That's when, in 1994, we found Lyle Dennis--the "kid" as he was known at the time.

Lyle had cut his teeth in the hard-scrabble world of New Jersey politics, including stints as chief of staff to Rep. Barney Dwyer, a member of the House appropriations committee, and New Jersey Governor Jim Florio's liaison to Congress.

Around the time Lyle joined the firm, the world of science was taking a new turn. Researchers had been studying the double helical structure of DNA since the 1950s. But it wasn't until the early 1990s that the real promise of genomics became clear. Recognizing that, Lyle organized a coalition of corporate and scientific bodies to convince Congress that an investment in genome research was in everyone's best interest.

While we've come a long way since those early days,CRD Associates has held firm to a philosophy that values personalized service, expertise, integrity and a fresh perspective on problem-solving.

Lisa Ellington

Big Thinkery, LLC, 1011 Kenilworth Court Northwest, Concord, NC, 28027