Fresh out of law school, Ellie Nieves cut her teeth in the high stakes game of New York City politics. Often the youngest, and many times the only woman sitting at the table, she earned a reputation as a much sought-after strategist. Today, Nieves is second vice president & counsel, government relations for The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America where she represents the company before legislators, executive branch officials, and administrative agencies at both the federal and state level.
My career has spanned government, business, and law, but at the heart of everything I’ve done is the intersection of communication and politics—a combination that was influenced by my parents. My mom was a community activist, so I learned the importance of political involvement at an early age. My dad was a part-time radio newscaster at a Spanish-language radio station and my mom and I would tune in to listen to him report the news on air. My love for public speaking and politics and the understanding that both have a powerful effect on people came from my parents. Originally, I aspired to be a journalist, but once in college my focus shifted to law, though not because I wanted to be an attorney; I wanted to be a legislator and figured I needed a firm understanding of the law if I was going to make laws.
After law school, I worked on several local and statewide political campaigns with a focus on get-out-the-vote efforts in Latino communities. In 2000, I gained the attention of Vice President Al Gore’s political campaign team and was asked to become the New York state political director for his presidential campaign.
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After the Gore campaign, I worked as deputy counsel and eventually campaign manager for the person who would have been New York’s first Latino mayor, Fernando Ferrer. Although he didn’t win, it was a great time for Latinos in New York City. Soon after, I became a state lobbyist for MetLife. No longer was it about running political campaigns, it was about the legislative process. I did this work for almost five years before being recruited to work as chief of staff to the president of MetLife International. In that role, I gained a global business perspective as well as important insight and exposure to the c-suite. The role piqued my interest in learning more about the fundamentals of running a business.
My new found interest in business led to a short stint in the entertainment industry working as chief of staff to rapper, record producer, fashion designer, and business mogul, Sean “Diddy” Combs. My work for Mr. Combs exposed me to a broad range of businesses, including recording, music publishing, artist management, television and film production, recording studios, apparel, fragrances, and restaurants. I served as a liaison between the company’s various business entities and internal departments.
Today, I am assistant vice president and senior counsel for The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, a life insurance and financial services provider. As AVP and senior counsel, I develop and implement lobbying strategy for several issues, including life insurance, investments, dental, and federal health-care reform. I also provide regular briefings to senior executives on relevant legislative and political developments. I spend a lot of time on the road traveling to state capitols to meet with legislators and insurance regulators. With the support of Guardian, I recently enrolled in New York University’s executive MBA program where I plan to specialize in leadership. In my spare time, I host a women’s leadership podcast and I speak at women’s leadership events.
Looking back at my career, my time in politics running campaigns, building coalitions, and plotting political strategy laid a strong foundation for my current role at Guardian. The ability to be strategic, develop a personal brand, and build alliances is key to success in corporate America. My personal experiences as a young Latina climbing up the ranks in politics—a male-dominated field—instilled in me a passion to motivate, inspire, and challenge women to achieve their best.