Sacramento Business Journal Executive Profile Jeff Randle: Win or lose, he’s a good soldier

Head of a top Sacramento PR firm also managed political campaigns

Political strategist Jeff Randle had managed four gubernatorial campaigns over two decades. But his extensive experience with Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaigns did not prepare him for running Meg Whitman’s race for governor.

Randle said he tried to convince Whitman — former CEO of eBay — not to run. He researched every conceivable clod of mud the opposition would fling at her, and gave Whitman four pages of reasons why she shouldn’t run.

Whitman ended up hiring Randle as her senior campaign adviser.

During that next year, Randle stepped back from his public relations company — Randle Communications — to focus on the race. Randle and Whitman were on the phone up to five times a day, sometimes until midnight to prepare for the next morning.

“People were saying, ‘If she gets elected governor, you’re dialed. You’re going to be the man in town. Everybody is going to want to hire you,’ which was probably true,” Randle said.

But on Nov. 2, 2010, the two sat together and watched Jerry Brown become California’s 39th governor.

What followed were weeks of quiet reflection for Randle and some heart-to-hearts with his wife, Kellie, and their three children.

“I take a lot in and hold it in. I’m not a big ‘Hey, world, let me tell you about my problems’ ” person, Randle said. “Having to come to terms with losing and what that meant both personally and professionally was tough.”

This was the first gubernatorial election that Randle had ever lost. Regrets filtered in: Why didn’t they introduce Whitman as a mom before unveiling Whitman the CEO? Why didn’t they show her fiscal conservatism as a regular person shopping at Costco?

Randle lamented the loss to Wilson, his former boss and mentor. Wilson, California’s 36th governor, recalled the conversation: “I said, ‘It is a cruel disappointment for everybody who wanted to see her win; we will pay a price. But Jeff, you have no reason to feel that you were in any way deficient. Your performance, I thought, was outstanding.’ ”

While still a student at University of California Los Angeles, Randle began his professional career working for Wilson, then a U.S. senator. He followed Wilson to Sacramento in 1990 and served as one of the governor’s top aides until the end of Wilson’s second term.

After a three-year stint with Stoorza Communications, Randle started his own firm in 2001, using the organizational structure of the Wilson administration as a model.

When asked about the source of their motivation, both Randle and Wilson speak glowingly of their fathers, whom they each describe as highly principled, conservative men with strong personalities.

And when asked what primary value their fathers passed on, Randle and Wilson essentially have the same answer: to always know exactly where you stand, and never cut corners.

“There was no gray area with my dad,” Randle said. “There was right and wrong. He said, ‘I don’t like paying taxes, but I’m going to pay the taxes.’ He instilled that character integrity in me from the time I was a kid.”

Randle’s father, Don, died of leukemia earlier this year.

Although Randle has made his name as a political strategist, his Sacramento public relations company focuses primarily on private-sector clients. Prominent clients include Hewlett-Packard, California Family Fitness, California Hospital Association, University of Phoenix and the California Association of Realtors.

Randle Communications is the area’s second largest PR firm, based on last year’s fee income of $3.24 million.

Political campaigns constitute just a small portion of the company’s work. But they reinforce its reputation for supporting conservative issues. For instance, Randle fought against Proposition 34, the 2012 initiative that would have abolished the death penalty. The proposition failed.

Wayne Johnson, a veteran Republican campaign consultant, has worked both with and against Randle on various political issues over 25 years.

“If I had a choice, I’d be on his side,” Johnson said.

Politics is “a contact sport,” he added. “It would be misleading to say Jeff was a choir boy who floated above the conflict. He was a soldier.”

But he never got personal with his attacks, according to Johnson. “That was never the case with Jeff, even though there were some intense battles,” Johnson said.

One private-sector client — Larry Gury, co-founder of California Family Fitness — recalled a dispute with the city of Roseville that he said nearly devastated his business about a decade ago. Randle Communications assembled a coalition to lobby the city, and the company prevailed.

Randle’s “team is like an extension of his family, he’s got that closeness and loyalty,” Gury said. “It’s not like a company with different divisions in it, they are all in sync. I think that’s in his blood.”

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