Hard Work: From Kentucky Tomatoes to Conservative Politics

Robert Stuber has known the value of hard work since his childhood.

Currently the Director of Development and Direct Marketing at Americans for Prosperity (AFP), Rob began his career on a farm in Louisville, KY, when he was 12.  He and his father decided to grow extra tomato plants and sell them on the side of the road.  Robert Stuber speaks at the Leadership Institute Direct Mail School in 2013.After two years of success, Rob recalls, “We were going to become rich and planted hundreds of plants and worked our butts off, but so did everyone else and the price of tomatoes collapsed to almost nothing.  I learned a lot about free markets…and never ate a tomato again.”

Since that early entrepreneurial experience, Rob has continued working hard to help the conservative movement thrive.  He was elected Chairman of the College Republicans in Kentucky in 1979 and served on the College Republican National Committee until 1981 while working for Jefferson County Executive Mitch McConnell, later elected senator.

Rob met his future wife, Karen, at the College Republican National Convention in the summer of 1979, where she was invited by Morton Blackwell to attend one of the very first Leadership Institute trainings.

“Karen remembers that Helen and Morton hosted a bunch of students at their home for a spaghetti dinner,” said Rob.  “Hardly anyone who ever meets them can forget them.”

In 2002, Rob and Karen’s 15-year-old daughter, Kate, followed in her parents’ footsteps by attending LI’s Youth Leadership School.  She worked alongside Karen on local campaigns, eventually earning a degree in history from the College of William and Mary.  Kate lives in Richmond today, pursuing a career outside of politics, though Rob thinks she might be back in the game in the future.

“One thing to remember is that LI training is great at preparing folks for more than just politics,” said Rob.  “It’s about selling ideas, and that translates across lots of careers.”

Rob’s first taste of his career in development came while he worked for Mitch McConnell in the late 1970’s.  “I was lured into volunteering a few hours a week, and then the youth volunteer coordinator went off to law school at the end of one summer.  They asked me to take his job.”

“We started to become aware that targeted direct mail letters could be used to find new supporters,” said Rob.  “We started experimenting, as I had no formal training.”  Rob’s experiments proved successful.  McConnell had nearly 1,000 donors who contributed more than $1 million to his first local reelection campaign in 1981.

Rob said the “career-changing episode” of his life was the opportunity to work on the re-election campaign of Senator Jesse Helms, who he believes “was the greatest to ever serve in the U.S. Senate.”  Rob moved to Raleigh, NC, at the age of 27 and was the youngest on the campaign team.  “It was the hardest job I ever loved, but they gave us free reign to do amazing things.”

Now at AFP, Robert Stuber continues to do what he loves.  He sees his role as empowering his energetic team members to reach success.  “My objective is to provide a steady stream of new donors who are cultivated by regional folks on the development team.  They are the lead fundraisers.”

Robert Stuber speaks at LI's fundraising training.Rob remains prized faculty at LI’s fundraising trainings, and he stresses the importance of attending these trainings for anyone tasked with raising funds.  

“This is the only chance anyone gets to spend a couple of days with the most experienced talent in the business,” said Rob.  “The faculty has raised literally billions of dollars for candidates and causes.”

Rob has a long history of working with and for LI.  He met LI’s former development director, Rick Hendrix, while working for Eberle and Associates, and in 1993, Rick offered him a job working on foundation relations and planned giving.  

“You can't go into a right of center non-profit in Washington or office on Capitol Hill that there isn't someone who has benefited from Morton Blackwell's training,” said Rob.  “This is all the proof you need to know that you will receive quality training.”

Rob remains passionate about the conservative movement, but he cautions that “passion alone doesn’t yield success.”  Passion does no good unless you learn to channel it toward effective action for the right causes.

“My dad was a Navy veteran of World War II.  He and my mom worked hard to make life better for us,” said Rob.  “We owe it to our kids to do the same.  Engagement in the public policy process is the best way to influence our culture and improve society.”

Rob hopes young conservatives can learn the value of hard work as well.

“Remember, the political conflict in which we are engaged is one that has raged on in a big way for half a century.  Our side has often been on the losing side.  There will be more losses along the way.  Do not be discouraged.  I will keep up the fight until my dying breath, and I hope others will be there with me,” said Rob.

Please congratulate Robert Stuber for receiving LI’s Conservative Leader Award, and thank him for his tireless effort to promote conservative principles.

To nominate a Leadership Institute graduate or faculty member for the Conservative Leader Award or Conservative Leader-In-Training Award, please contact LI's Director of External Affairs Carol Wehe, at Carol@LeadershipInstitute.org.

The Leadership Institute offers over 40 types of training programs, working with more than 1,441 conservative campus groups, and helping employers connect with conservative jobseekers. Since the Institute’s 1979 founding, more than 143,000 conservative activists, students, and leaders have been trained. Graduates include members of Congress, state legislators, local officials, media personalities, and conservative organization leaders. For more information, please visit: www.LeadershipInstitute.org.