Dynamic duos: Josh Hanfling and RD Sewald
A pair of notable brokers in state and local politics
(Editor's note: This is one of ColoradoBiz's “dynamic duos” of Colorado business, who reflect on their working relationships, what brought them together and where they’re going.)
Josh Hanfling and RD Sewald
Sewald Hanfling Public Affairs
“Josh is known as the guy who introduced Denver to itself,” says RD Sewald, one half of Sewald Hanfling. “RD was the guy who gave Denver the foundation to be what it is today,” Josh Hanfling says of his partner.
At first glance, these two men have little in common.
Sewald has a full head of wavy chocolaty brown hair, a plucky build and an untouchable calm coolness. He has three teen-age sons and a wife, Abby. Hanfling, a bachelor, has a glistening shaved head, bright, inviting eyes and a voice that carries through a hectic room.
Their bond is palpable all the same.
They sprawl out at desks less than 5 feet from one another at their Broadway office, intent on accomplishing multiple missions at once.
The duo shook hands and set out to launch their public affairs firm in 2012 at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., leveraging their political reputations and quickly becoming notable brokers in the statehouse and local politics. Two weeks following the DNC, Sewald left the governor’s office after eight years of service. "It was Friday, Nov. 16,” and he had just been promoted to senior strategic adviser, he recalls.
“When we shook hands … one of the things I learned was if I do something, I don’t need someone who’s exactly like me,” Sewald says. “I need someone who can strengthen what I bring to the table with a different set of skills.”
Before partnering, Sewald spent 20 years in Colorado politics. Born and raised in Denver, his grandmother’s life-size portrait hangs at the entryway of the iconic, though newly remodeled Mexican restaurant, La Loma.
“I started out as a press intern for Mayor Wellington Webb,” Sewald says. “When I was in the mayor’s office, I always knew I was going to leave and start my own firm.”
Hanfling’s father worked in the energy department for presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter along with three campaigns for Joe Leiberman’s runs at public office. His mom ran for alderman when he was 5 years old. He says he always wanted to run for office.
When the twosome met late night at Pete’s Kitchen on East Colfax roughly 19 years ago, Hanfling owned a sign company and was volunteering for then-hopeful Mayor Hickenlooper. He had lived in London, run a foundation and dabbled in private equity, among other pursuits.
Right out of the gate, Sewald Hanfling's first clients were Magpul Industries, working with the firearm manufacturer to keep production in Colorado, and Uber, the modern cab company. Structuring the business was “easy,” Hanfling says. “Fifty-fifty.”
Sewald says equal partnership means, “You just gave them the keys to your whole life.” And in truth, the duo socializes together, works together, shares victories and tragedies in each other’s lives.
Sewald attributes his upbringing to his present circumstances. “I always admired folks who took a chance." He adds, “My wife, Abby, said you need to do this with Josh so you have no regrets later.” He admits that in the beginning he was scared; once they set up a “formal business structure as registered lobbyists, there was a lot more at stake.”
Sewald Hanfling’s client list is diverse. A sampling of current clients includes Deloitte, Sage Hospitality, the Colorado Rockies and Denver International Airport's Great Hall project.
The DIA bid includes designs for dozens of TV screens on the walls, increased concessions, shorter security lines and a climbing wall, though specifics are still in flux.
Hanfling is the godfather of Sewald’s third child. "We’re almost like brothers,” Sewald says. “I spend more time with him than I do with my family.”
“And he’s the longest relationship of my life,” Hanfling counters.
“I have known RD and Josh for a long time and individually they have always been guys who get things done and are true to their word,” says Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. “In four short years as partners, they have proven that one plus one can be more than two. They complement each other very well and it has been a pleasure to work with them and see their firm grow to one of the best lobbying firms in Denver and Colorado.”