Karen Hughes, one of President George W. Bush’s most trusted and powerful advisors, spent her childhood hopscotching around the globe. But the 1977 Southern Methodist University graduate has always considered Texas her home, partly because of her years as a Mustang.
“I love SMU,” said Hughes during a recent phone interview.
Today, Hughes is back at SMU, this time as a member of the Woman’s Initiative Fellowship with the George W. Bush Institute. The program equips women from the Middle East and North Africa with leadership skills, according to the institute‘s website.
“This is a wonderful program that allows me to stay focused on my main interests, while giving back,” said Hughes.
Hughes’ day job is serving as the global vice chair of the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller. She is best known, however, as a main figure in President Bush’s campaigns for both Texas governor and president; as a counselor to the first Bush Administration; and as an Undersecretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs in the U.S. Department of State.
Hughes calls her old boss a serious president, but also fun to work with.
“He is quick, fun, and has a great sense of humor, as well as challenging,” she said.
Former President Bush, reached by email through his office, said Hughes always provided sound advice and wise counsel.
“Her understanding of how to frame issues was an integral part of any successes I may have had,” Bush said. “I am grateful not only for her professional expertise over the years, but for her friendship.”
In 2013, Karen Hughes received the Dedman College Distinguished Graduate Award, and was named by the Associated Press as the ‘most influential woman ever to serve an American President.’
Hughes’ work at Burson-Marsteller includes strategic positioning for companies and their executives. She said she searches for what the companies stand for and what they are responsible for. Most importantly, though, Hughes is in charge of crisis management.
“If our client has a crisis, we have a crisis,” said Hughes.
Hughes, who lives in Dallas with her family, graduated from SMU with majors in liberal arts and journalism. She credits her favorite class, Radio Television News Writing, for helping her find her voice.
“I fell in love with it because we learned to use words and pictures that communicated everything so powerfully. I fell in love with the art of mirroring words and pictures,” said Hughes, who worked in her early career as a television news reporter.
Hughes was recognized during her senior year by Phi Beta Kappa, a society that prides itself on inviting only about one in a hundred college seniors dedicated to the liberal arts and sciences each year.
Hughes was also a Panhellenic Woman as a part of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority.
In addition to her professional career and her work with the Bush Institute, Hughes said she is busy these days helping her eldest son Robert plan his upcoming wedding.
“My family is the most important part of my life,” said Hughes.