An ambassador, a Senate staffer and a congressman walk into a public strategy firm ...
Mercury Public Affairs, founded in 1999, has added an impressive stable of public figures in the past several months, including J. Adam Ereli, the former ambassador to Bahrain; Michael Soliman, the former state director for Sen. Robert Menendez, D–N.J.; and former Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.
According to president and founding partner Kirill Goncharenko, the hiring of Ereli as the firm’s vice chairman, and other recent personnel additions by Mercury are in line with an expansion push by the firm.
“The company is on a very aggressive growth trajectory and these are all investments in new capabilities,” Goncharenko said.
The addition of Ereli, a seasoned foreign service officer, represents a foray into international issues for the firm, which has traditionally focused domestically.
Still, Goncharenko said Ereli’s hiring didn’t strictly stem from a desire to expand internationally. Rather, Ereli was a talent too good not to pursue.
“It was less looking to find an international person and more the fact that a wildly talented and highly regarded person appeared to be interested in the marketplace,” Goncharenko said.
Before serving as ambassador to Bahrain from 2007 to 2011, Ereli worked for the State Department for more than two decades in several countries across the Middle East, continually climbing the ladder.
“I don’t think you accidently get to be that successful at that level over that period of time, and everyone we talked to about him had nothing but highest regards for him,” Goncharenko said of Ereli.
Ereli is just coming off a two-year stint as the principal deputy assistant secretary of State for educational and cultural affairs, a department he called one of the “little-known jewels of the U.S. government.”
He explained that with an annual budget of about $600 million, the ECA was a huge player in education and cultural advocacy internationally.
Nonetheless, Ereli said he’s excited to begin his journey into the private market.
“Mercury is an interesting company,” he said. “They put a lot of smart people around the table and come up with creative ideas and solutions. That, to me, was the attraction of this firm.”
For his new employer, Ereli said he hopes to bring the unique quality of having made and developed relations with top officials throughout the world for decades.
“The service business is about relationships,” Ereli said. “That’s even more the case overseas, and particularly the Middle East, where it’s all about relationships.”
While Ereli said he was proud of his time in public service, he was primed to move on from the State Department and wanted to avoid the clock striking midnight, something he told CQ Roll Call before the government ground to a halt thanks to the shutdown.
“You know, in federal service, everybody turns into a pumpkin after a certain time,” he said. “If you have a 30-year career, that’s a lot.” And while Ereli will be traveling often, he said he looks forward to being based in Washington, D.C.
“I think the District’s a great place to be,” he said. In no major capital city could a person with a median income own a home with a lawn as close to the seat of government as one can do in the District, he said. London, he noted, would be exponentially more costly.
“Washington’s the kind of place where (a) the world comes, and (b) you can go to the whole world,” he said. “And it’s a good place to live.”
Soliman joined the firm last month as a managing director and is based primarily in New Jersey.
Soliman has worked in a variety of positions with Democratic officials in New Jersey since earning his master’s degree in public affairs and politics from the Bloustein School at Rutgers University in 2006.
Mike DuHaime, a partner at Mercury, lauded Soliman’s political acumen.
Soliman is both an expert on the federal government and an experienced political operative respected by both Democrats and Republicans, DuHaime said.
While DuHaime worked as a Republican operative in New Jersey, he said, Soliman was working as a top Democratic operative in the Garden State, and the two often crossed paths. “I think the thing that’s most special about Mike is he can talk very well about the foreign affairs and talk equally as well about a local town council race,” DuHaime said.
While Ereli and Soliman are still getting their bearings at Mercury, Rehberg, who joined the firm earlier this year, is no longer the new kid in the office. Rehberg was Montana’s at-large representative from 2001 to 2013 and had served in the Montana Legislature before narrowly losing a U.S. Senate race to Democrat Jon Tester in 2012.
Rehberg said work at Mercury suits him just fine, explaining that he does so much more than simply represent clients. He gets to help people fully realize issues and better explain his clients’ stories.
“They’re very easy to work with,” he said of his new employer. “They’re full-service ... the full package.”
Rehberg added that his work at Mercury is reminiscent of his time in Congress, where he would often work on wide-ranging issues every day. Now at Mercury, Rehberg said each day is a surprise and one moment he could be working with a client regarding fracking and the next be focused on infant care.
All in all, Goncharenko said, these recent hires are part of the next step forward for Mercury.
“Success in our business is all about talent and culture,” he said. “We’re trying to build a global, best-in-class consultancy.”
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