Brandon Friedman MPA’06

The stuff you learn at UT Dallas matters. Taking a deep dive on policy analysis will put you a step ahead, adding value to your organization.

Home: Shreveport, LA

UT Dallas Degree: Master of Public Affairs, 2006
Profession: Co-Founder and CEO of Rakkasan Tea Company

My Work

In 2017, I co-founded Rakkasan Tea Company with an Army buddy. The idea behind the company is to promote peace and economic development in post-conflict countries by helping their tea farmers reach U.S. consumers. At the same time, we help American tea enthusiasts gain access to new and interesting teas they’ve never had. I spent 12 years working in politics and government, so this job wasn’t exactly a natural progression, but running this type of business has been the most fun I’ve ever had professionally.

How do you use your EPPS education in your current profession?

From my first job with a political PAC to my last political position in the Obama administration, I relied on my EPPS MPA nearly every day. The most important thing to me was having a theoretical underpinning for what we did in government, knowing what “right” should look like or knowing how to properly analyze information in a chaotic situation. I can point to specific lessons I learned from UTD instructors. In my current position, I rely heavily on the UTD network I was able to cultivate while in the MPA program. That network has proven valuable time and again.

What value has your EPPS education brought to your life?

My EPPS education has been enormously influential in my professional life. I still keep and refer to copies of Lipsky’s Street-Level Bureaucracy, Golden’s What Motivates Bureaucrats?, Kachigan’s Statistical Analysis and Shafritz’s Classics of Organization Theory. And, of course, the personal and professional network has been important. Tom Browning, one of my UTD classmates in 2004, is on Rakkasan Tea Company’s advisory board and I’m still in regular contact with longtime UTD professors and instructors, specifically Doug Kiel, Jennifer Holmes and Ted Benavides.

Honors/accolades, additional degrees received, and/or previous work/positions held

In 2017, Rakkasan Tea Company was named “Startup Impact Importer of the Year” by the Global Chamber Dallas. We received the “Biggest Social Impact” award at the 2019 UTD Big Ideas Competition as well. In addition, Rakkasan Tea has been profiled by The Dallas Morning News, D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Business Journal, Inc. Magazine, Fresh Cup Magazine and many other publications.

After graduating from UTD in 2006, I spent two years with VoteVets.org helping military veterans get involved in politics at every level. After the 2008 Presidential election, Assistant Secretary (now Congresswoman) Tammy Duckworth asked me to create and lead the first digital media team in the Office of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C. After three years at VA, I left government in 2012 and accepted a position as a vice president at FleishmanHillard — one of the largest corporate PR and communications firms in the world. After nearly two years there, I was offered my current appointment.

In 2007, Zenith Press published my war memoir called The War I Always Wanted. The book was later recognized in 2010 by The Military Times as one of “The Best Military Books of the Decade.” Since then, I’ve been a regular media contributor. I’ve written for The New York Times, The Huffington Post, TIME Magazine, The Guardian, The New York Daily News, Foreign Policy and The White House Blog. I’ve been profiled in The Washington Post, Stars and Stripes, and Government Executive magazine, and I’ve appeared as a guest on CNN, BBC, MSNBC, Al Jazeera and C-SPAN, as well as on many radio programs.

I was selected in 2010 as a Truman National Security Fellow and designated an “emerging leader” in the federal space by Government Executivemagazine in 2012. In 2013, I was named by Stars and Stripes as one of the most influential voices on Twitter for veterans policy.

The Value of My Degree

The most critical part of my education was UTD’s cadre of knowledgeable instructors who were genuinely focused on teaching students. There’s really not a day that goes by in the government that I don’t rely on something I learned at UTD. Whether it’s the theoretical underpinning of what we do, knowing what “right” should look like or knowing how to properly analyze information in a chaotic situation, I can point to specific lessons I learned from UTD instructors. I still keep copies of Lipsky’s Street-Level Bureaucracy, Golden’s What Motivates Bureaucrats?, Kachigan’s Statistical Analysis and Shafritz’s Classics of Organization Theory in my office.

Advice for EPPS Students

The stuff you learn at UTD matters. At some point, you’ll come across senior-level decision makers who don’t appreciate the significance of sampling bias in data interpretation. Or you’ll work for others who’ve never read or talked through case studies. Taking a deep dive on policy analysis will put you a step ahead, adding value to your organization. But you have to pay attention. Don’t just go through the motions. Doing your job well as a leader in government will impact people in ways you’ll probably never know.

Legacy

My wife, Alexandra Friedman, received a PhD in political science from UTD in 2010.