I recently had the chance this week to sit down with Congressman Trey Hollingsworth (R-IN) of Indiana’s 9th Congressional District. In his first term in Congress, having taken office in 2017 at age 33, at now age 34 he is one of Congress’ youngest members.
Prior to coming to Congress he was a successful businessman, founding a company that bought and revived former manufacturing locations as well as an aluminum remanufacturing company. In Congress he sits on the Committee on Financial Services.
He holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and a Masters of Public Policy from Georgetown University. Indiana’s 9th Congressional District is primarily in south-central Indiana and includes the city of Bloomington.
Trekking up to his 6th floor Washington, D.C. Congressional office and met by a staff of Hoosiers from America’s heartland, we chatted about how his prior business career informs his current work in Congress and the kind of change he hopes to bring to D.C. with his youthful and eclectic background.
Q: Thank you so much, Congressman Hollingsworth, for meeting with me today for Forbes. To start off, what is it like being the youngest member of Congress?
A: I try to convey to young people across the District and the country that really that no matter where the problem started or how long ago it did that we have to work to find solutions. We have to take the mantle and carry it forward so that we and all Americans get a better future.
What I’m excited about is bringing innovative, new and different ideas and solutions to the table so that we can begin to work on building the next American century and really ensuring that every American has the opportunity to live the American dream—that America, overall, continues to enjoy the safety and security but also the economic opportunity it has for the last 240 years.
Q: It’s certainly an exciting time in the country. And so, what inspired you to pursue public service and brought you to here in D.C.?
A: I feel like a lot of politicians have this inspiration story but mine was a frustration story: a deep frustration that America should be doing better than it was three to four years ago when the economy was growing at an anemic pace and when people were feeling unsafe from a world in which more and more threats were arising.
That deep feeling that we can do better as a country, that we should be doing better, and frankly that Americans from sea to shining sea deserved better than what we were getting is what pushed me to run for Congress—that feeling that we should protect and enable more Americans to create a better future for themselves.
We do that by building policies that create better economic outcomes. We need real and genuine business experience—I started my first business after college when I was 21 years old and built that into a multi-state enterprise. It culminated into a manufacturing business and that experience taught me that we need to have policies emanating from Washington that enable employees and employers to make better futures.
This country leads the world in innovation and it leads the world in new thinking. I want to make sure we apply that new thinking to Washington.
Q: About your business background–how does it inform your current work in Congress? How do you still use those perspectives and skills today as a Congressperson?
A: Great question. So I think two really important aspects—one, certainly in business there is an urgency to solve problems. Every day that you are not solving a problem is a day that you’re not keeping that customer, you’re not retaining that customer, you’re not getting that customer, and so we have to solve more problems here in D.C. We can’t just sit idly by, we can’t just bicker all the time, we can’t just pass political messaging bills…we have to solve problems for Americans and get government out of the way so Americans can push forward in their lives and make progress on their better futures.
That sense of urgency in genuinely working towards better solutions is the first thing. I think the second thing that informs me is…that there are people who haven’t been in business and have only been in public policy, or politicians who don’t understand how challenging it is to create opportunities.
For example, they just see the regulatory burden as something necessary instead of recognizing it in many cases as too burdensome on businesses. I think the Chamber estimates the regulatory burden in this country is over $1.8 trillion a year – and that’s $1.8 trillion in lost opportunity to be able to innovate, develop new products that make people’s lives better, for businesses to be able to serve customers in new and different ways, for the economy to be able to grow, for people to be able to start small businesses in their garages that become the “Apples” 20 years from now.
I mean that’s what America is really about—that anyone can start anywhere and go anywhere they want to go. I think having policy that is deeply rooted in genuine business experience can help us get to that better economy, more dynamic economy, and ultimately better opportunities for all Americans.
Q: Makes sense. And so in Congress what have been the policies that you’ve focused on?
A: Two big areas I’m focused on–number one, generating economic growth. How do we unleash the entrepreneurial spirit that has been in the bones of Americans for the last 240 years? How do we enable and empower that? How do we help people start those businesses? How do we help grow those businesses? How do we help existing businesses keep their competitive edge against global competitors?
I want to make sure our economy grows faster and more robustly and more fully for all Americans so we get to a brighter future for each American. We do that by unleashing capital, and I sit on Financial Services so I get the opportunity to help right-size the regulatory burden so that more people can get loans, more people can go public, more opportunities are created for new financial products.
And so the second piece of that economic growth category is generally ensuring that we are promoting our small and medium enterprises, that we are right-sizing the regulatory burden from all other aspects so that they are able to grow so they can focus on their customers, so they can focus on their employees and not have to focus on changing government policy and additional forms and paperwork for the bureaucracy.
I think it’s really about ensuring that they can do more of what they love to do and more of they want to do rather than what government tells them to do.
The second big piece is that we’ve had a Washington for a long-time that hasn’t served Americans very well, that’s been focused on its own priorities inside the beltway, and that certainly hasn’t solved problems.
I used to own this large aluminum remanufacturing business in Fort Wayne-among many things what that really taught me was that the process matters and the process is how you get the right outcomes or the wrong outcomes. You can have a great process and still a few bad widgets, while you could have a terrible process and still occasionally get a few good widgets.
But a great process over time will lead to a great number of great outcomes. I want to make sure that we have better process in Washington—a process where representatives truly focus on serving the needs of their constituents and are truly focused on solving problems. I push things like term limits, limiting the number of terms that a congressperson can run for office, because I want to make sure that they know that they'll have to get a new job again sometime because then they'll support creating a regulatory and tax environment that promotes job creation-because they know they’ll have to eventually get a new one.
I also have the strongest lobbying ban bill in Congress because I believe that we need to align our interests and make sure that members of Congress are not using their position to get a better career afterwards but instead are focused on doing what the American people want.
So those are the two big things—economic growth and changing the culture in Washington. We didn't come here for the small problems.
Q: A lot of young people nowadays are hoping to make an impact in their communities and on national policy. What kind of advice would you have for them as one of the youngest members of Congress?
A: There was an article a few months ago that I felt really encapsulated advice that I would want to give young people that want to get involved…it was really about helping them understand the desire to achieve scale in everything they do.
I think that it’s obvious that every business owner’s desire is to get results. We should think the same way about our personal lives, philanthropy and nonprofit work, etc. I love it when people want to get involved and they want to go volunteer for a few hours but I really want people to be able to think bigger and to try to help more people—in helping more people, by focusing on the crux of the problem.
It's great to volunteer. But wouldn’t it be more amazing if you were able to work to develop lower cost building materials so that all homes became cheaper and you could build homes at lower cost all the way around the globe? People are out there making this happen all over the place. For example, people are turning shipping containers into modular homes for those in the Third World.
I think there's just this deep misunderstanding that just doing something will help alleviate these problems, whereas focusing on what the right issues are and trying to ‘scale up’ in solving those problems is really important.
I'll give you an example: Alzheimer's is a very challenging disease and costly chronic disease, not only for the federal government but for families who are dealing with it. And I love the fact that so many young people are motivated to go provide care for those that are dealing with Alzheimer's and we should never malign that. At the same time I want to see more people go into STEM so they can research cures for Alzheimer's and research things that will push back the onset of Alzheimer's so fewer people have to deal with the disease overall because that's how you make the difference, not just for one person but for millions of people and literally trillions of dollars in the federal budget.
I think this is a really important aspect that young people occasionally miss. I want to see us go right to the crux of these problems and to genuinely work on things that will move the needle. What did Archimedes say? “Give me a lever long enough and I can move the Earth?” I think that's very true if you work on the leverage and find the right point you can truly move the lives of billions.
Q: What is an interesting fact about yourself or something people might find surprising?
A: My wife and I got married in 2014 and instead of taking a honeymoon I cycled from coast-to-coast—from the Santa Monica Pier to the pier in Charleston, South Carolina. It took me about 44 days.
It was just such a profound experience to see parts of this country that are off the interstate. If you drive from coast-to-coast, or certainly if you fly from coast-to-coast, you don't get a feel for just how very different people are, how varied and different the climates and environments are. It's really amazing to me to look back on some of those areas and think about some of the people that I've met, some of the businesses and landmarks that I've visited.
I just encourage people all the way across the country to go visit places that they normally wouldn't, that aren't the tourist destinations or aren't frequently flown to, or aren’t frequently traveled to by interstate. This country has so many great people who are doing so many interesting things. It truly gives you a deep appreciation for how different we all are but how we together build that community that is a country.
Q: And lastly, in our modern internet age there's a lot of websites and media platforms out there now. What's your favorite website, social media platform or app?
A: So prior to running for Congress I never had a Facebook page or Instagram account—before running I've never had a Twitter, but I have been really amazed at what great opportunities these platforms have provided to really connect with people and hear what they are worried about, what they're hoping for, what they think we should be working on, and what they think we should stop working on it.
It's been great to see how many people want to engage, how many people want to talk about these issues and how many people want to discuss these issues. And I love that kind of public comment and that we can all engage in discussing the direction of government in our future.
This interview was originally published on Forbes.com.