Melissa Lewis started Melissa Lewis and Associates with a laptop, printer, cellphone and lobbying license.
“I’ve always had a pretty hardy work ethic – I’ve been an entrepreneur since age 7 when my brother and I started a lawn business,” she said. “I paid my way through college, and that’s a big part of who I am because from an early age I’ve had to pull myself up by the bootstraps and do it myself.”
The 39-year-old is the first person in her family to graduate from college, and she has staked a career in state and national politics. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Western Washington University in 2001, she got started working on former Sen. Max Baucus’ 2002 re-election campaign.
Lewis worked for a national consulting firm, where she says she learned the importance of working with clients from both sides of the political spectrum.
When she moved with her husband John back to Montana, she registered Melissa Lewis and Associates, but the business just didn’t take off.
“I always wanted to own my own business, but I realized I didn’t have the relationships to establish a robust client base,” she said.
Lewis worked for an engineering firm when in 2011, she “took a leap of faith” to start her own firm. Years later and boasting that client base, she still keeps the business flexible, employing an assistant during the legislative session and contracting with associates as needed.
“I love my job, and I like the diversity of issues I get to work on,” she said. “I’m naturally a people person. I like interacting with state and local elected officials and Montanans in general, and I’m also kind of a policy wonk.”
The most challenging part of her work is balancing family and work with providing service to her clients and being a wife to John and mother to their three kids.
Lewis received 17 nominations for the 20 Under 40 award, including one from Montana Department of Health and Human Services Director Sheila Hogan.
“I’ve watched her over the years work at the Legislature and how well she does working across the aisle,” Hogan said. “She listens. She brings people together. And quite frankly I’m impressed with a young woman who has been so successful at starting her own business.”
One of the most important things for Lewis is sharing her experience with other young professionals.
“I take a lot of pride in mentoring other young professionals and letting them know that starting your own business is totally doable,” she said.