Reggie Love, Obama’s “body man,” talks at IOP on desire to serve

“Do I want to go someplace where they’re going to pay me three or four times the salary, or do I want to go someplace where I’ll have impact? “

By Brandon Lee

Reggie Love, Obama’s “body man,” spoke Thursday evening about how persistence, maturity, and a passion for a cause greater than oneself landed him only steps away from the Oval Office. The event was held at the Quadrangle Club, hosted by the Institute for Politics (IOP), and moderated by IOP Fellow and ESPN columnist LZ Granderson.

Love was the captain of the Duke Blue Devils basketball team in 2001 and pursued a short stint in the NFL before beginning his career as Barack Obama’s personal aide in 2007 during the 2008 presidential campaign. He then left the White House in November 2011 to complete his M.B.A. at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

Granderson set the stage for what would be a lighthearted night with a quip about Love’s transition from relative obscurity to fame within the black community.

“As you know, your presence was of much conversation, particularly within the African-American community because we were trying to figure out who the heck you were,” Granderson said.

When asked what his most notable experience as personal aide was during his career, Love mentioned that he gave an off-the-schedule, impromptu tour to French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s then-11-year-old son around the White House.

“From then on out, every time I would see President Sarkozy, he would, like, hug me… I think that’s still one of the weirdest things,” Love said.

Love then spoke about why he had forgone a potentially lucrative career in sports to work for then-Senator Obama.

“I wanted to serve; I wanted to give back,” Love said, stating that his job included smaller elements that, while not “sexy,” were impactful to the people he worked with. He told of how, as a staff assistant, Love helped manage a mailroom backlog through clever use of Excel spreadsheets, and was then considered the go-to man for difficult problems. Through this, he emphasized the importance of playing a role as part of a greater cause, rather than being the star of the show.

“Do I want to go someplace where they’re going to pay me three or four times the salary, or do I want to go someplace where I’ll have impact? It’s much easier to scale up than it is to scale down,” he said, reinforcing that while many want to secure themselves financially before pursuing impactful careers, they move themselves out of these opportunities because of the lives they grow accustomed to.

When discussing how Obama has been criticized as soft on those who veer from party lines, Love explained that Obama’s eagerness to get everyone’s opinion, rather than impose a position, is a strength rather than a weakness. He saw it as an effective means to get the best out of people.

“I don’t think it’s soft to be inclusive…it’s empowering.”