Then & Now: Schoettlin, ex-politico, now in business development

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 340 views 

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Nov. 8 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.

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Phil Schoettlin is the answer to an Arkansas political trivia question.

Who was the campaign manager of John Boozman’s first run for political office?

In a recent interview, Schoettlin recalled that fall 2001 campaign to represent Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Boozman, an optometrist elected twice to the Rogers School Board, won the special election to succeed Asa Hutchinson, who resigned from Congress in August when President George W. Bush appointed him head of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Boozman defeated State Sen. Gunnar DeLay (R-Fort Smith) in the primary run-off and then State Rep. Mike Hathorn (D-Huntsville) in the November general election.

“We assumed Asa was going to be appointed [to lead the DEA], and I worked with a group of people in the 3rd District to interview and recruit several candidates,” Schoettlin said. “We landed on supporting John. We worked really hard, and I’m very proud of what we did.”

Schoettlin owned a political consulting firm and was chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas’ 3rd District Committee in 2001 when the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal named him to its Forty Under 40 class. He was also a principal of Retail Marketing Group, a retail vendor consultant.

Arkansas voters continued to send Boozman — now the state’s senior senator — back to Washington, D.C., during the past 20 years.

Schoettlin, meanwhile, is far removed from the Arkansas political landscape — literally and figuratively. He lives in the Kansas City metro, his hometown, and has spent the past two decades working for various companies in the contract manufacturing industry.

Since 2009 he has worked in a business development role for Sanmina, a Fortune 500 company based in California and one of the largest contract electronics manufacturers in the world.

With nearly 80 manufacturing sites, Sanmina is one of the world’s largest independent manufacturers of printed circuit boards and backplanes, along with a range of other electronic products. The company collected nearly $7 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2020.

“The thing that parallels politics and sales is you’ve got to be able to talk to people and work with people,” Schoettlin said. “I travel a lot, and I enjoy that. Back then [2001], I traveled to Little Rock or wherever in Arkansas. I [travel] to Asia now. It’s a lot different.”

Schoettlin declined a non-political job on Boozman’s staff and remained in Fayetteville following the 2001 general election. The following year, he was Northwest Arkansas field director for U.S. Sen. Tim Hutchinson’s re-election campaign, which ended in a loss to Arkansas Attorney General Mark Pryor. Schoettlin also consulted for several Northwest Arkansas campaigns that year.

Nineteen days after the November election, Schoettlin married, prompting a move back to Kansas City, Mo., effectively ending his hands-on work in politics.

“I did look around in the political space when I knew I was coming up here,” he said. “Just like in Arkansas, you don’t just go and start doing what I was doing [in Missouri]. You’ve got to have connections and got to have time. You’re not going to buy your way into running campaigns.”

Schoettlin said he still follows the political landscape in Arkansas — where, except for two years, he lived for two decades — and he and his wife have talked of retiring one day to Fayetteville.

He maintains ties to the region, including the University of Arkansas. He earned two public administration degrees from the UA: a bachelor’s degree as a non-traditional student in 1993 and a master’s degree in 2005. He’s a past member of the Dean’s Alumni Advisory Council for the Sam N. Walton College of Business and former president (2009-2015) of the Arkansas Alumni Association’s Greater Kansas City Chapter. Schoettlin also remains involved in various ways with the Kappa Sigma Fraternity.

Schoettlin said a return to politics would be a possibility with the right campaign.

“My role would be a volunteer, not a paid staffer,” he said. “I think I would be better at it now. One thing I could do better is raising money.”