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From the White House to donut shops, alumna Cicely Simpson leads in policy and business

Drawing on her leadership experience, Simpson wants LJS students on the annual D.C. trip to know that God has big plans for them.

Cicely Simpson

Ask any LJS student who has participated in the annual Washington D.C. trip and they’ll likely list as one of the highlights getting to know Lipscomb alumna Cicely Simpson (BA ’96).

With experience as a legislative director in D.C. and a government affairs director for global companies including a Fortune 150 company, as well as an entrepreneur, Simpson can provide wisdom gained from her career experience on practically any topic the law, justice and society students ask her about.

“The questions range all over from generic to specific,” said Simpson. They ask her about law school (She went to Pepperdine University). They ask about Capitol Hill (She led the legislative agenda for former U.S. Reps. Lincoln Davis. (D-TN) and Jim Cooper (D-TN)). They ask about the differences in working in business vs. government (She worked in government affairs for the National Restaurant Association and Dunkin Brands).

Whatever LJS students ask, Simpson has a story to tell, and her enthusiasm for mentoring future civic leaders doesn’t stop with a one-night dinner in Washington D.C. Simpson gives the students her personal contacts and has mentored them over coffee in Starbucks on campus and offered her influence through recommendation letters and references for internship opportunities.

“The real beauty of the relationship is that we keep it going even after the D.C. trip ends,” said Simpson. “I have friends in D.C. now who I met when they were students on the D.C. trip. Seeing them come back and have a career here is just wonderful!

“For the students who come back to work in D.C., they not only have an instant network of Lipscomb alums here, but they also have an amazing network of friends of Lipscomb, because those friends have been involved with students through this trip, and they have a real affinity for Lipscomb now,” said Simpson. “The circle becomes much wider each year. It has really been awesome to cultivate relationships on behalf of the university.”

LJS students on the Washington D.C. trip

Each year, a Fred D. Gray Institute student group takes a five-day trip to Washington, D.C., to meet and network with some of the most high-profile individuals and organizations in the nation’s capital.

Simpson, originally from Woodbury, Tennessee, not only graduated from Lipscomb and worked as an admissions counselor here, but she also served as a trustee from 2008 to 2022 and most recently volunteered her time for the university’s Impact 360 strategic plan steering committee in 2021. She became involved with the LJS program even as it was being developed before enrolling students in 2007. 

It was fellow Lipscomb alum Beecher Frasier (BS ’98), who eventually became chief of staff to Rep. Davis, who gave Simpson her start in politics when she moved back to Nashville from California in 2001. She worked as a law associate at a Nashville law firm, before moving to D.C. in 2002 to lead Rep. Davis’ legislative agenda.

“There’s nothing like being at the center of everything happening in the country and the world,” said Simpson of life in Washington D.C. “I have worked with four presidential administrations (George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and now Joe Biden) during my career,” she said. “I definitely got the political bug. I loved being able to interpret bills and write law.”

In fact, Simpson said, she has written bills that have been signed into law by each of those four presidents, including one that readers may be familiar with today: a bill to require calorie counts on restaurant menus.

After working for Rep. Davis, Simpson took on a bevy of both public and private roles. She became federal affairs manager for the Tennessee Valley Authority, managing relationships with Congress and the federal government on behalf of ratepayers in the Tennessee Valley. Then she went back to Capitol Hill to become legislative director for Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN). 

In 2008 she was recruited to lead global government affairs as a vice president for Dunkin Brands (corporate parent of Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin' Robbins restaurants). Establishing a Washington D.C. office for the corporation and coordinating both its national and international presence, Simpson worked with public officials from local city councilmen to foreign dignitaries. Then she was recruited to lead public affairs for the National Restaurant Association, where she worked with the White House, Congress, state governments and restaurant CEOs.

Book Cover of Simpson's book

Most recently, Simpson has poured all that experience into her own entrepreneurial ventures: Summit Public Affairs, a lobbying and communications firm she established more than five years ago; and 21st Century Leadership Institute, a leadership development company. The institute was sparked from a book she published at ForbesBooks in 2021, Pull Up Your C.H.A.I.R.: Five Strategies to Change the Trajectory of Your Career, highlighting her experience at the intersection of business and government.

“I didn’t plan at all on making this kind of impact,” said Simpson, thinking back on the 18-year-old small town girl who came to Lipscomb chiefly because her friends in the church youth group were headed there. “I wasn’t dreaming big enough.”

So that’s what she tries to emphasize with the students she works with today. “Your plan is not big enough. God has bigger plans in store,” she says. “I don’t question anymore, I just know there is a bigger plan at play. So when opportunities come, I say ‘yes’, I pray a lot and then walk through the doors God has opened for me.” 

Year after year, students return from the Washington D.C. travel course raving about meeting Simpson. In 2023, when Simpson met with the LJS students to offer her advice and encouragement, she was caught by surprise when the roles reversed and students offered to pray over her.

“I’m so glad that I can continue the story of Lipscomb,” said Simpson. I am forever grateful for the imprint that Lipscomb has put in my life.”