Senior Vice President and Counsel, Aflac Federal Relations
- JD, Regent University School of Law, 1994
- BS, Oral Roberts University, 1988
Selected work history
- Senior Vice President and Counsel, Aflac Federal Relations, 2019-Present
- Vice President and Counsel of Federal Affairs, Aflac, 2011-2018
- Counsel & Second Vice President, Aflac, 2006- 2011
- Chief Counsel, House of Representatives Committee on Small Business, 2003-2006
- Founder and President, Digitech System Solutions, 2000-2003
- Judge Advocate General (JAG) Reservist, US Air Force, 1995-2004
- Programmer, early career
Bradley Knox’s career is a case study in the value of relationships. A 10-year Judge Advocate General in the Air Force Reserve, he started a company in Alabama that provided tech solutions to the Air Force, among other clients. Then a law-school colleague recruited him to Capitol Hill. And when it was time to leave the Hill, he found his way to Aflac—a product of relationships that he made running his company. Now, in addition to his work for the Columbus, Georgia-based insurance firm, he’s also trying to build ties with minority government-affairs professionals via the organization he founded: Washington Heads of Office. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did your JAG career guide you into the career you’re in today?
It was interesting; before I was a JAG, I was a computer programmer. That was what my undergrad degree was in, and then I worked for Shell Oil as a programmer and then went to law school and then joined the JAG—[that] 10-year period was six years active duty, four years reserve duty. What I loved about that experience is they throw you into the fire and you are immediately the chief of something. Even if you’re the only person, you’re responsible, and having that responsibility and expectations … was a great learning experience. So I actually try to mimic that with my teammates. I don’t do a lot of hand-holding; I get people that are capable and let them figure out how to swim.
When you were on the Hill, it seems like you were really involved in small-business issues. Was that an impetus for you getting involved in government affairs?
I started an IT company. And an old colleague of mine, an old law-school colleague of mine, at the time happened to be the chief of staff for the Small Business Committee, and he called me to come and work on the Hill. And so I left my small business in Alabama to come and take the opportunity to work on national small-business policy. And that company was an SBA-certified company. So I was both acting as counsel for the committee and running my company and acting as a reservist all at the same time, which was a pretty wild period of time. Within that first year, I ended up having to sell that company to someone else to run. I went to chief counsel by the end of the three-year period. And my portfolio was in things that I had no experience in, [like] manufacturing policy, international market access, things like that.
How did you make the jump to a huge insurance company?
At the company that I had started in Alabama, I actually had on my board of advisers two senior members of Aflac. One happened to be the general counsel of the company at the time, and one was on the board of directors at the time. So when I came up to D.C., they said, “Hey, I want you to know the GR folks at Aflac just so you know somebody, moving up to the city.” And so I got to meet a couple of the folks in the office and we just had personal connections. When I got ready to leave the Hill, they reached out to me and said, “Hey, would you consider coming over? We’re looking to expand our office.”
So what are some of the things that really drive your career forward? What is most important to you as you move on in government affairs?
I started as an individual contributor, as a lobbyist. And then over time, now I’ve run the team. And what drives me personally is always finding ways to add value. That’s just always been my career—leading, creatively serving, and creatively adding value is what drives me. So if I think there’s always a problem to be solved, I think there’s nothing that’s perfect; there’s always a way to improve something. And so that’s what drives me. And finding ice cream. I love ice cream.
The Black Lives Matter protests, the death of George Floyd have caused the country to train its focus on issues of racial justice. I’m wondering if and how these issues have affected your advocacy efforts and approach and your business in general?
It’s been a big deal. Interestingly enough, three years ago, I cofounded an organization called the Washington Heads of Office. It’s a professional association for people of color that lead offices, trade associations, and government offices. We were able to provide insight to how our organizations are addressing racial-equity and social-justice issues with the administration or people within the administration. And so we can see and really have a line of sight that maybe other business-unit leaders don’t have to look at what we as a company can do in this time and space.
We were able to include racial equity and social justice as one of our advocacy pillars, no different than tax or health reform or even climate change. … My team actively engages in these conversations with members and staff on both sides of the aisle to let them know we as a company care about it, because our employees care about it, or our policyholders care about it, our communities care about it. And frankly, investors are asking and care about it, as well.
So that’s been a really impactful part of the work that I’ve been able to do that’s meaningful. I colead a task force within the company on behalf of the president to identify ways that we can impact economic disparities and health disparities. One unique thing that we’re doing that I haven’t heard other companies do yet is we are engaging with our local law enforcement agency. And we started in Columbus, talking with them about what their use-of-force and escalation procedures are.
Do you feel like the government-affairs industry in general has become more diverse or embraces diversity more since you first entered Washington?
You know, I don’t. Just for example, in creating the Washington Heads of Office, there wasn’t really a place that pulled us together. We recognized there’s no pipeline. So when the recruiters are looking for the next head of office, they didn’t know that we all existed, right?
When you look on the Hill, you can look on both sides of the aisle and see there is a lack of diversity in the top four positions. In the 17 years I’ve been in D.C., that hasn’t changed. And that’s disappointing, because it really is a matter of simply being intentional about it. My goal is to challenge that notion that we’re not available, that we’re not there. And part of what the Washington Heads of Office vision and goal is, is to create a pipeline of the next level of leadership, so that when we move on to different roles that there’s not a decrease in the number of diverse heads of office, but in fact we help provide that pipeline for an increase over time.
How has your work been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic?
For an insurance company that sells policies face-to-face, it’s been a difficult year. The vast majority of our business is with small businesses. Over 400,000 small businesses across the country are Aflac clients, and a lot of those have been closed for at least 90 days or more. That’s been tough on the business. The company provided a $15 million reserve fund for our independent contract agents to be able to sustain their business for a while. And so to have a company that does that, and a no-interest loan paid over a period of time, that’s been really amazing to see.
We’re also looking at ways that we can add COVID benefits, telehealth benefits to our policyholders to make sure that they didn’t have any issues in utilizing our services and policies that they purchased from us. …
And for us as lobbyists, of course, a relationship business, everyone was in the same boat, right? So you couldn’t go to the Hill, you weren’t doing fundraisers, all of us having to do this virtually—it was definitely a challenge. But what I was so grateful about is the team that we’ve assembled really, really came and delivered.
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