Atomic Pulse

Get to Know NTI: Director of Operations Laura Kiefer, aka the “Mayor of NTI”

Laura Kiefer joined NTI in 2013 as a temp working the front desk. Today, she is the organization’s director of operations with a diverse set of responsibilities that include managing information technology, cyber security, and property related issues and ensuring the organization and its facilities have the resources needed to operate smoothly and efficiently. Bottom line: Laura runs the place. She keeps us all in line and keeps us all laughing. Laura sat down with NTI’s Mary Fulham for the latest in Atomic Pulse’s “Get to Know NTI” series.

You’ve been at NTI for 10 years, how did you find your way here in 2013?

I finished out my last semester of college with just two classes: a global health class (taught by NTI’s Nathan Paxton!) and gospel choir. Let’s just say I did not have a clear path, but I did know that I wanted to work somewhere actively trying to make the world a better place.

After graduating, I signed up with a temp agency and got an interview for a long-term position at this place called the Nuclear Threat Initiative. I started as receptionist, and I’ve grown from there; I’ve done development, admin, been an executive assistant—I’ve been all over the office in my 10 years here. I guess this is my longest relationship, other than family. I joke that I’ve stayed for so long because I really hate writing cover letters, but I really love working here, and I love that I’ve grown here. It’s ended up being an incredible career path for me.

NTI has many long-time employees like you, and many of them come back between stints in the government. What do you think attracts people to working here?

People want to work here because they want to make a difference in a tangible way and that’s what we do. And it’s the community. We’re a group of highly experienced and motivated people committed to pushing towards a goal so important that we can’t let anything get in our way. I think it’s incredibly special to be part of a team where everyone is so determined to do their part to make the world a better place—whatever that looks like. For me, it looks like making sure that our experts have the technologies, the spaces, and whatever else they need for a smooth and productive day.

I also want to say that in such a male-dominated field in a male-dominated city, NTI has so many amazing women leaders all over the organization with powerful and unique voices. I’ve also always loved the fact that I have never had a male boss. It’s been incredible to work with the other women at NTI.

Can you talk a little bit more about what you do day-to-day?

I jokingly call myself the “Mayor of NTI.” I walk around, I kiss some babies. I manage the vibes of NTI. I also work with our amazing operations assistant Keirstin Anderson and our IT team to make sure that this place and all its technology runs as well as it can. It’s all about common sense and problem-solving skills, plus my institutional knowledge helps. I create the systems, policies, and procedures that ensure we operate well, and I try to make it a nice place for people to work, too. I care deeply about NTI; it’s become a second family to me, so I like knowing that I’m helping people succeed here.

Is there a day that sticks out to you, that you would call your best day ever at NTI?

No matter how stressful it is, any day that we have a big meeting or event that goes well is a great day. It makes me proud to showcase this organization to the outside world. I think back to the big events we’ve had recently, like the NTI Nuclear Security Index launch and the roll-out of the White House’s strategy for countering WMD terrorism. There are always a million moving pieces with all the external vendors and partners involved, but it’s up to me to keep the ball rolling in the right direction. It’s all worth it when it’s over and I hear people say on their way out, “Wow, that event was so well done.”

I also love throwing NTI’s annual holiday party. It’s so much fun because everybody loves a great party!

You’re also in charge of the office snacks!

Oh, yes. It’s a huge power (and responsibility!) and, honestly, I like to think it’s really what keeps NTI running. Forget the firewall, email accounts, network, servers. It all comes down to those fruit snacks and seltzers! I go to Costco quarterly, and I get to pick out all the snacks. I could tell people that I’ll take into account what they want, but honestly, the first thing I think about is what I can fit in my car. And second, what I want to eat.

Do you get a hot dog when you go to Costco?

Yes, and I submit a reimbursement for $1.25 every time. My boss is like, “You can get something nicer.” And I’m like, “What could be nicer?” But yeah, my two passions are cats and hot dogs. You can use that for the headline.

I know you have a cat because I’ve seen her on Zoom.

I have a cat who I’m very passionate about. Her full name is Eloise Hillary Rodham Clinton Kiefer, but she goes by Lulu. She is a mid-size black cat, and she’s the love of my life. She’s an active participant in Zoom meetings. She’s hilarious, and she’s too smart. She knows my cellphone controls her auto feeder, so she’ll knock my phone over and just start hitting it with her paws. So that’s humbling.

You’re known around the office as a bit of a prophet. Can you tell me more about that?

First, something important to know about me is that I do not believe in guilty pleasures. I think people should enjoy what they want to enjoy! And I enjoy pop culture. So, a few years ago, I started coming up with a list of pop culture predictions for the next year. It revolves around celebrity divorces, marriages, babies, who’s going to win what during award season, things like that. I kept the first few mostly to myself, I was usually getting about 50% right. But this year I decided to share the whole thing, and I’ve been hitting it out of the park!

What were the predictions you were most excited about getting right this year?

Kourtney Kardashian having a baby, Tom Brady retiring or having a career-ending injury, a new Olivia Rodrigo album, Paris Hilton having a baby via surrogate, and Michelle Yeoh winning the Academy Award for best actress. But I’ve have had some misses, too; I put down Beyonce to win the Grammy for album of the year, and then the writers and actors strike shook things up in a way I hadn’t expected.

I also have some pop-culture blind spots because I don’t watch Bravo. And it’s not because I have anything against Bravo, it’s just I cannot fit it in with what I’m already watching. And I have notoriously terrible taste in television. I like British mystery dramas that 80-year-olds watch. I love them, though. Like, give me Agatha Christie, and I’m so happy.

You still have a few weeks left for your 2023 predictions list—hopefully the celebs stay busy so you can cross the last few off! Can you give us a preview of something on your list for 2024?

I’m banking on Tom Holland and Zendaya to get engaged.

Oh, I’d love to see that. Fingers crossed.


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