I’m sitting where?

Wilmoth began his career with a job that put him mere steps from the Oval Office

By age 25, Ben Wilmoth had compiled a resume that most young politicos might imitate only by binge watching reruns of West Wing.

As executive assistant in the office of Josh Bolton, the White House chief of staff during the final two years of the administration of President George W. Bush, Wilmoth occupied a desk situated just steps away from the Oval Office. His vantage point enabled him to witness presidential decision-making at its more intimate levels,.

His gig required him to shadow Bolton all the time he was at the White House. His day began well before Bolton would head to the Oval Office for a morning briefing, usually around 6:30 a.m. He would open the office and prepare documents for the first briefing, including national intelligence materials from the briefing room. When Bush wrapped up his day, usually 4 p.m., Wilmoth would focus on Bolton-related affairs, which would typically keep him in the office until 9 p.m. or so.

Wilmoth entered the White House orbit by completing an internship in the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs after his junior year at Lafayette College. He returned after graduation for a brief stint in the correspondence office. Bolton hired him a year later.

“It was a great upgrade in real estate,” he remembers.

Wilmoth stayed in Bolton’s office until the administration turned the lights off. From there he accepted an offer to move to Dallas to help structure ideas for what the eventual Bush Foundation might look like.

Today 33, Wilmoth is an executive recruiter in the Minneapolis office of Heidrick and Struggles, where he specializes in finding CFO-types. He is also a founding board member of Center of the American Experiment’s Young Leadership Council.

His decision to leave Washington, he says, was inspired by a speech Karl Rove gave to interns. Take this experience into the real world; find something you want to get good at, that maybe puts you in a position to make a contribution someday. Go go out in the real world and get a real job or a real life, and then be the farmer, doctor, or whatever who then uses those talents in some way to make your community better.

While some of this former colleagues were plotting stars to hitch and ways to ensure they hadn’t made their last trip on Air Force One or in a presidential motorcade Wilmoth left D.C. He and his now-wife Emily both enrolled in the MBA program at Kellogg School of Management and subsequently both initially accepted offers to work at Target’s corporate headquarters in Minneapolis.

Despite the heady experiences, his favorite White House memory is a personal one: During President Bush’s last year in office, Wilmoth invited both of his parents and his sister to be his guests at the White House Christmas party, where they visited the Oval Office and met the president.

Wilmoth recalls looking out across the South Lawn at the Ellipse and remembering a trip 17 years earlier when his family drove to D.C. in his dad’s old Pontiac. It was back in the days when citizens could still personally visit the white House. They stood in rain and cold for two hours to get a quick visit and glimpse of the White House Christmas Tree.

“That’s where we were,” he remembered. “And look where we are.”

Oh, and one other thing: Before leaving the administration, Wilmoth was a finalist for a contest called White House Hotties. He had no comment.

Ben Wilmoth is a founding member of American Experiment’s Young Leadership Council.