Chelsea Clinton Makes Her Move

Chelsea Clinton is the product of two of the most powerful brands in the world. Now she’s finally carving out her own identity–by joining the family business.

Once upon a time, Chelsea Clinton was a little girl from Arkansas.


And deep down, she still is. Despite her White House–Stanford-Oxford-Columbia-McKinsey–hedge-fund grooming, she’s still got a thing for poultry. “Fried chicken is my husband’s favorite food,” she divulges in her new office at the Clinton Foundation, a midtown Manhattan space outfitted with thick mahogany desks and an inordinate amount of beige that’s brightened ever so slightly by Chelsea’s surprisingly casual look–gray suede ankle boots and jeans. The first time her then-boyfriend, now-husband, Marc Mezvinsky, visited Little Rock, she whisked him off to Bojangles, her favorite childhood fried-chicken hole. In New York, she explains, he’ll now indiscriminately “gorge himself on fried chicken” anywhere from Popeyes on 14th Street to the more refined Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken in the East Village. Chelsea insists she would get in on the grease too, were it not for an allergy to gluten. “I was a vegetarian for 10 years and a pescatarian for eight. Then I woke up one day when I was 29 and craved red meat,” says Chelsea, now 34, and a self-described omnivore. “I’m a big believer in listening to my body’s cravings.”

Of course, there was another Clinton who believed in listening to his body’s cravings; and the sad fact that such a harmless statement could call to mind a national embarrassment perfectly illustrates the dilemma facing the scion of one former president and one potential contender. For years, the world has been wondering what Chelsea would do someday, wondering especially if she would do things like, and with, her family. “One of my earliest childhood memories is being three years old and on the campaign trail with my dad,” says Chelsea, who was born when her father was governor of Arkansas. That day, a woman approached her and asked, “‘Do you want to grow up and be governor one day too?’ And I looked at her and said, ‘No, I’m 3. I’m just waving the flag. That is my job right now.’ Flag-waving extraordinaire.”


For a decade after graduating from Stanford in 2001, Chelsea experimented with the world beyond the Clinton machine. In peripatetic bursts, she tried out international relations, then management consulting, then Wall Street, then a PhD. She even signed on for (an embarrassingly lightweight) gig as an NBC News “special correspondent.” Chelsea rationalizes this career promiscuity as a hallmark of being just another millennial, experimenting liberally until she figures out her professional purpose. But, of course, she’s not just another millennial. She’s political royalty. And now, finally, she has decided to join the Clinton family business. As vice chair of the recently rebranded Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, she is helping one of the world’s most notable philanthropies grow up.

At the Democratic National Convention in 1992Globe Photos, Zuma Press

As with all things Clinton, it is anything but a simple, straightforward task. Reflecting her father’s famously scattered genius, the foundation has grown chaotically. Recently, it has been criticized scathingly by the New York Times and the New Republic for past bureaucratic ineptitude, and worse. It’s clear that Chelsea’s power within the organization, and in relation to its many and various power players, is a matter of some debate. But by applying all that she’s learned from her decade of job-hopping, Chelsea just may bring order to the organization. She’s been there three years and has a solid record. And her plans for its future are deeply ambitious.


“It is frustrating, because who wants to grow up and follow their parents?” admits Chelsea. “I’ve tried really hard to care about things that were very different from my parents. I was curious if I could care about [money] on some fundamental level, and I couldn’t. That wasn’t the metric of success that I wanted in my life. I’ve talked about this to my friends who are doctors and whose parents are doctors, or who are lawyers and their parents are lawyers. It’s a funny thing to realize I feel called to this work both as a daughter–proudly as a daughter–and also as someone who believes that I have contributions to make.”

Working in any family business is complicated. Working in this one is something else altogether. But opting in may turn out to be the best decision Chelsea Clinton has ever made.

Enrolling in Stanford University back in 1997 was Chelsea’s first attempt to cut the umbilical cord connecting her to the family tradition of public life. Far from the Beltway, she found herself surrounded by people who used technology rather than politics to solve problems. It was the height of the first tech boom, and her new friends were dropping out of school to start or join startups (including Mezvinsky, who was also at Stanford, also the child of politicians, and then just a good friend; he now runs his own hedge fund). “This was all just beginning. That moment of being in Silicon Valley, it helped shape all of us,” says Anne Hubert, a close friend from Chelsea’s freshman year who now works as SVP of Viacom’s Scratch consultancy. Chelsea, who considered premed but majored in history, wasn’t drawn to the entrepreneurial life, but she did discover that she was “a person who wanted to fix, improve, expand things.”


After graduating in 2001, Chelsea had no clear plan for how she could apply that inclination. She attended Oxford University in England, where she got her master’s in international relations. One day, she says, “I woke up and thought, Wow, I love this. Do I want to do a PhD? And then I realized, I’m going to be 27 and know a whole lot about one thing. So I did what everyone I knew was doing when they didn’t know what the right professional answer was for them and applied to different consulting firms. I thought that might help sort out if I wanted to have a professional track in health and public health, or an academic track, or something else altogether.”

Chelsea spent three years at McKinsey, working in its public health practice before rising up the ranks to become a team manager in its financial services and technology practice. Then the doubts encroached again. “Was I going to continue to work a hundred hours a week and invest time there and energy to remain on the partner track?” she says. “Or was I going to go do something else?” “Something else” was working as a chemical-industry analyst at a hedge fund called Avenue Capital Group. As with every new job during these years, Chelsea had to make people forget her heritage. She explains that her method of debunking assumptions is pretty simple: She behaves as the overachiever that she has always been. “I will just always work harder [than anybody else] and hopefully perform better. And hopefully, over time, I preempt and erase whatever expectations people have of me not having a good work ethic, or not being smart, or not being motivated.”

But ultimately, she was becoming more frayed than focused. She took a leave of absence from Avenue to work on Hillary’s 2008 campaign. After returning to her Wall Street job, she decided to also get her master’s in public health at Columbia, which entailed night and weekend classes. It was a grueling schedule. While she enjoyed being in the same industry as Mezvinsky–“We both built lots of Excel models and can talk about pivot tables together. We geek out a lot,” she says–the couple had little downtime. Chelsea left Avenue to finish her master’s and got a job as an assistant vice provost at NYU.


Surprisingly, it took Chelsea and Marc’s 2010 wedding to put an end to the meandering. According to Bari Lurie, Chelsea’s chief of staff, the heretofore private Chelsea was caught off guard by the level of attention paid to the event. “It was abundantly clear there was this pent-up interest in her, and she couldn’t understand why,” says Lurie. When she had campaigned for her mom in 2008–400 events in 40 states–Chelsea had first experienced the impact her voice could have in a public setting. As Lurie explains it, “It was, ‘Gosh, everywhere I go it seems like there’s this interest in me. How can I displace some of that; how can I use that interest to help push forward issues I care about?’ ” Over the years, Chelsea had turned to her grandmother many times for advice. Hillary’s mother had a favorite phrase–“to whom much is given, much is expected”–that continually tugged at Chelsea. The bottom line, says Lurie, is that there was a platform waiting for her, if she could only figure out how and when to use it: “She quickly realized, ‘There is nothing I’m doing now that’s satiating this interest. This doing-nothing thing: I’ve tried it, and it didn’t work.’ ”

Chelsea’s To-Do List

Part data geek, part dynasty daughter, part celebrity, Chelsea’s found a way to thrive both within and without the family business.

Ramin Talaie,Getty Images (1); Justin Sullivan, Getty Images (2); Heng Sinith, AP Images (3); Yana Paskova, The New York Times, Redux (4)

1. Reshape the Clinton foundation

  • Secure the Clinton legacy by ensuring that the foundation will be sustainable for decades.
  • Modernize it using data to track results.
  • Get younger people involved.
  • Do the necessary photo ops at foundation projects in African and Asian villages.
  • Help raise a $250 million endowment.
  • Democratize the president’s annual Manhattan confab, so it becomes more than a feel-good event.
  • Become a regular on the speaker circuit, and show up when Bill and Hillary can’t.

2. Help The Secretary (In Whatever Ways Necessary)

  • Promote Hillary’s new project: a partnership to save the African elephant.
  • Accelerate her data-driven No Ceilings initiative; the partnership with the Gates Foundation analyzes rights for women globally.
  • Become a senior adviser for that 2016 Hillary presidential run?

3. Tackle big causes

  • Drive delivery of affordable treatments against diarrhea, the second-largest killer of children in the world.
  • Get more people involved in public service.
  • Help get juvenile detention facilities to collectively bargain for healthy food.
  • Push for equal LGBT rights globally.

4. Get even more of a life

  • Finish PhD dissertation.
  • Do more softball interviews for NBC.
  • Find best coffee shop in every city around globe.
  • Tweet more or less daily.
  • Is 2014 really the “Year of the Baby?” (Update: Yes, it is!)
  • Contemplate running for Congress–someday.
  • Find time for date night with Marc, despite all this.

The Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation is not a foundation. Unlike the Gates or Rockefeller foundations, which function as trusts managing the disposal of the families’ wealth, the Clinton’s organization is actually a charity that must raise money from others in order to do work on the ground. This is just the beginning of the confusing nature of this philanthropic bureaucracy. The group has eight CEOs. One, Eric Braverman, is CEO of the whole enterprise, which is in some ways an umbrella organization for nine separate “initiatives” and two “entities.” In fact, they are divisions, each with its own leader, that focus philanthropy on a range of causes, including global warming (the Clinton Climate Initiative), food and health care for poverty-stricken Africans (the Clinton Development Initiative), sustainable small businesses (the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership), infant and toddler health (Too Small to Fail), and rebuilding the Haitian economy and infrastructure (the Clinton Foundation in Haiti). The glue that has held this together is President Clinton, who created the charity in 1997 (its first task was to raise funds for his presidential library) and who now presides over the annual three-day gathering of his pet project, the Clinton Global Initiative, in midtown Manhattan. The conference, which shuts down traffic as thoroughly as the General Assembly of the United Nations because it features equally noteworthy speakers from around the globe, brings together CGI members, who pay a $20,000 yearly membership fee to get a seat at the table with other corporations, NGOs, not-for-profits, and governments that want to partner and commit to solving specific global problems.


CGI is a creature that only a character like Bill Clinton could create. With conferences and events around the year, it is his perpetual cocktail party, his Rolodex brought to vivid, brilliant life. “CGI combines all the things that the press and all of us love: money, celebrity, and doing good,” says Brad Smith, president of the Foundation Center, a non-for-profit information source on philanthropy. Put another way, says one Democratic consultant, “He gets the CEO of Coca-Cola in the room and says, ‘You can help distribute medicine in Tanzania.’ Everybody does it because everyone does what Bill Clinton says. It’s like he has this magic wand.” It is a unique construction designed to generate real good: CGI has helped create $103 billion of pledges to 2,800 philanthropic projects around the globe.

At CGI events, the locus of power is constantly shifting between Chelsea and her parents.Photograph by Melissa Golden

Enter Chelsea. When she arrived in 2011, she knew her primary role was to apply the data-driven skills she had developed in her other jobs to an organization that had long outgrown its startuplike infrastructure. “My father has always been such a doer. He had never focused on ensuring that we had the functions that not only enabled [other] doers to focus on doing, but also to help us keep systematic track of all the work that was being done,” she says. The foundation had more than 2,000 employees in 36 countries, but its back-office support had fallen behind. There was little collaboration between initiatives. Employees were focused on the work, but there was no unified system to report, measure, or assess the impact. There wasn’t even a comprehensive database that housed the hundreds of projects the foundation was working on.

Furthermore, according to lengthy articles in The New York Times and The New Republic, there was considerable internal strife. The stories paint a picture of an organization mismanaged by old Clinton insiders, including the president’s longtime adviser, Doug Band, who allegedly had been exploiting his access to the former president, causing conflict-of-interest issues within CGI. (Band is no longer at the foundation; after the article came out, President Clinton told CBS This Morning that he is “very grateful” for all the fundraising Band had done for the foundation.)


Understandably, this isn’t a past anyone at the foundation really wants to discuss. CGI CEO and former Goldman Sachs investment banker Bob Harrison denies outright that there were ever any issues. “I don’t think there’s ever been organizational chaos in my experience at CGI,” he snapped defensively when I asked him about the stories, telling me also that, “She [Chelsea] has not impacted the organization of CGI. And CGI has not, in my experience, been in any state of disarray.” And when I ask Chelsea herself to give me an assessment of the state of the foundation when she arrived, the former McKinsey consultant fails to mention any of these problems, and she doesn’t bring up the audit she and her father commissioned that year to analyze the foundation’s health until I explicitly ask her about it. She is her parents’ daughter, after all; during interviews, her crystal-clear thinking is accompanied by a healthy bit of deft stonewalling.

But when you look closely, you find myriad ways Chelsea has been reorganizing this foundation that supposedly has never been in “disarray.” Of the three Clintons, she is the one who’s most hands-on. (She is also the only one whom staffers actually address by name; Bill and Hillary are “the President” and “the Secretary.”) Bill spends much of his time traveling around the globe, collecting checks from speeches at a rate as high as $11,000 per minute. Hillary, who has used the foundation as a refuge since her resignation as Secretary of State, will presumably be on the road again, working to get into the White House. So the onus is on Chelsea to help shift the foundation from a star-powered charity into a sophisticated, data-driven, sustainable organization that can thrive for decades to come. “You can’t measure everything,” says Chelsea, “but you can measure almost everything through quantitative or qualitative means, so that we know what we’re disproportionately good at. And, candidly, what we’re not so good at, so we can stop doing that and double down on what we’re particularly disproportionately good at.”

Slowly, she is turning the Clinton Foundation into a more entrepreneurial enterprise. “Many of the initiatives of the foundation were in silos,” says CGI’s deputy director, Ed Hughes. “The president was happy to see each succeed on its own, but he did not necessarily appreciate them as a more comprehensive connection of opportunities.” When Chelsea arrived, some CGI employees worked out of the president’s office in Harlem, others operated out of midtown, and the rest were headquartered in downtown Manhattan. To incite collaboration, Chelsea insisted on a consolidation, which occurred last year, bringing all three offices into one midtown location. This January, Chelsea created a new position that sits across all nine initiatives. Julie Guariglia, the new-initiative liaison, compiles lengthy biweekly reports that alert workers at all the divisions of potential overlap, and suggests possible connections between initiatives. In the works is a database that will finally give employees access to data on all of the foundation’s activities. “Chelsea’s brought a willingness to invest in the product,” says Hughes. “I think she’s recognized–maybe it’s her background in management consulting–you need to spend money to make money.”


Chelsea is also reshaping the way the foundation chooses the issues it wants to attack. “Sometimes President Clinton simply would come in and say, ‘You know, I had a great conversation with the King of Jordan. We should do something about Jordan.’ And it would be like, Well, now we’ll make Jordan a priority,” explains Hughes. Chelsea, on the other hand, “wants to see some evidence of why we’re making decisions, as opposed to the anecdotes,” adds Hughes. Chelsea especially wants the foundation to address concerns that have, in her words, “existed too long in the shadows, that historically have made people uncomfortable.” Two projects: ensuring that the juvenile justice system offers healthy food and combatting childhood diarrhea.

Trying to give causes like these a new prominence is where Chelsea’s celebrity and political heritage are strategic weapons. Within the foundation, she has steered the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (a partnership with the American Heart Association) to train juvenile detention facilities to collectively bargain for healthier food. But the foundation can’t drive this alone, so she’s also pushing for national standards. According to Chelsea, the week before our second interview, “I did a foundation fundraiser in Connecticut and Senator Blumenthal came. I beelined for him, because he’s on the Judiciary Committee,” she admits. “He’s really interested in prison reform.”

CGI’s Bob Harrison, right, is one of eight CEOs at the Clinton Foundation. “CGI has not been in any state of disarray,” he says.Photograph by Melissa Golden

In 2011, Chelsea pushed the Clinton Health Access Initiative, which had historically focused on driving down the prices of HIV and AIDS vaccines, to do the same for Zinc/ORS, the leading treatment for diarrhea, which is the second-leading killer of children under 5 years old in the developing world. One of the first countries it targeted was Nigeria, but negotiating with the government, NGOs, public-sector organizations, pharma companies, and others threatened to endlessly delay the effort. According to Guariglia, the team asked Chelsea if she “could facilitate it–get the right players at the table, get them to commit to this program.” After a couple of weeks of intense preparation, Chelsea traveled to Nigeria and “went around to every partner, knew exactly what we needed from them, pledged her support and belief in this program, and got them to commit,” says Guariglia. Her academic work (she’s finishing her PhD in global health governance) armed her with the ability to talk about the issues, and she was able to get each player to understand how their role was important in the bigger picture. “Without her, it would have taken months of meetings,” says Guariglia. Prices of Zinc/ORS have been cut by 40% to 60% in Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda.


Chelsea’s most significant impact on the foundation’s long-term credibility is through the work she has done on her father’s signature initiative, CGI. She is trying to bring in younger members, hoping to “democratize” its commitments through a more sophisticated online platform, and doing everything she can to ensure that CGI can measure its actual impact. When the organization was created in 2005, it was highly forgiving of its members. Almost half are corporations, which regularly lap up tons of press with headline-grabbing declarations and are rarely held accountable on the other end. “The idea was that we were going to be a platform that allows a thousand flowers to bloom, without judgment,” says CGI’s Hughes. “We basically celebrated the effort, if not the achievement.” But when Chelsea arrived, she started asking questions about the actual results. So now the entire organization is undergoing an impact audit of its 2,800 commitments. The results so far, according to CGI CEO Harrison, suggest that in the organization’s first decade, 800 commitments have been completed. “But,” he adds, “then there are the 1,600 that are in the category of ongoing. Not every one of those we have a high level of confidence in where they stand.” Those deemed failures would be removed from the portfolio, albeit with no real consequence or public shaming (“We’re not a law-enforcement organization,” says Harrison). Nevertheless, says Hughes, “it is very clear that, at whatever point the book on CGI is written, it will need to reference whether what people got up and said they were going to do actually happened, and whether it made a difference.”


This impact audit is part of a larger effort to transform CGI into a smart, accountable, and sustainable support system for philanthropic disrupters around the world. CGI now has 70 working sessions a year, where members and potential members can meet, brainstorm, and come up with ways to collaborate. The data-gathering exercise will help CGI learn what works best, so it can help members shape more effective commitments in the future. So far, CGI has learned that commitments are more successful when there’s a three- to five-year goal that is made by a group of organizations together, versus a single one. That’s the kind of learning that excites a data geek like Chelsea. She wants to see more groups make commitments that build on proven success, versus always feeling like they need to blaze a new trail. “Celebrate those who have the courage to be second,” says Chelsea, “because I do think that often there really is this claustrophobic pressure to innovate instead of to adapt.”

On a blindingly snowy morning in Febru­ary, Chelsea Clinton takes the stage of a packed NYU auditorium along with the women married to the world’s two most powerful Bills. Melinda Gates and Hillary Clinton–along with Chelsea–are there to announce No Ceilings, a new collaboration between the Clinton Foundation and the Gates Foundation that will use data to analyze the progress of women and girls globally. While the three chairs onstage are intended to appear egalitarian, it quickly becomes apparent that here, Chelsea will function as a glorified Vanna White. She politely tees up questions for the two and melts into the backdrop when her mother cuts her off.

Chelsea Clinton, speaking at a Clinton Global Initiative event in February. She’s always been “a person who wanted to fix, improve, expand things.”Photograph by Melissa Golden

It’s a sharp contrast to her appearance one week later at CGI’s annual winter meeting. In front of several hundred people, she displays all the earmarks of a natural leader: command of the subject matter, passion that feels authentic, and off-the-cuff comments spliced in with academic favorites such as gestalt and milieu. She even displays an edgy wit during a Q&A session she shares with Harrison, who mentions that in Bill’s Harlem office he drank purified water from one of CGI’s developing-world commitments and jokes, “I’m alive today.” Chelsea, as if compensating for an embarrassing uncle, chides: “You’re more than alive, thankfully.”


This day is clearly Chelsea’s operation. That is, it’s clear until an hour later, when, halfway through a discussion she’s leading on elephant poaching, the conference room doors open, two Secret Service men appear, and Chelsea’s father attempts to slip in quietly. By the time the former president sits down at the table, reaching for a cookie and a Diet Coke, the gravity in the room has shifted. The ebb and flow of power changes depending on which and how many Clintons are in a particular space at any given moment.


There was a time when Hillary was defined by her husband. Chelsea’s challenge is to work within a Clinton enterprise without being solely defined by her parents. The Clinton machine makes this a particularly daunting task. Chelsea is as forward-thinking and open-minded as any Silicon Valley entrepreneur of her generation, but none of those folks is surrounded by the suffocating retinue that envelopes her public life. Chelsea’s handlers are likely auditioning for White House gigs, should Hillary become president, and they bring to their current jobs all the paranoia that may serve them well in Washington. One repeatedly urges Chelsea not to change her facial expression during the cover shoot for this issue, standing so close that it’s a miracle the staffer’s mug isn’t on the cover alongside Chelsea’s. Another sits in on her interviews holding an iPhone like a stopwatch (“you have two minutes”), whisks her away when she’s in the middle of answering one final question, and scolds this journalist for even mentioning Doug Band’s name in Chelsea’s presence. It’s all an odd, occasionally funny blend of control and confusion. Their four-page press release pointing to Chelsea’s impact at the foundation only obfuscates her true accomplishments by mentioning such ephemera as visiting rural Myanmar “where she delivered the six-billionth liter of clean water to a family” or “a Starkey Hearing Foundation event in Uganda, where Chelsea helped fit patients for hearing aids.” One handler explains that “CGI America is the project Chelsea’s least involved in,” while another insists that the division’s upcoming June conference is really Chelsea’s coming-out party.

The more they try to ensure a narrative that Chelsea is her own person, the more they remind you that she is also part of a machine. Perhaps this is the way of Washington, but it’s not the way of the entrepreneurial culture she supposedly is embracing. “We see it as different things–the foundation, CGI, running for office, Hillary’s book, these trips,” says a Democratic consultant. “It’s all one thing. It’s all the family. Capital T, capital F.”

The Family will almost surely call on Chelsea for a favor in 2016, assuming Hillary does again run for the presidency. In the 2008 campaign, Chelsea’s smart, lively, and engaged appearances helped younger voters feel connected to her then-60-year-old mother. Amie Parnes, coauthor of the recent New York Times best seller HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton, is convinced Chelsea will take an even more formal role in her mother’s next run. “I can see her being a senior adviser,” she says. “You can see it already; she and her mom are working on these issues together–elephant poaching, women and girls. Something her mom learned last time was that there was arrogance at the top. She wasn’t hearing the truth from people, and Chelsea will give her the truth.”

The lines are blurring even now, as her profile grows bigger. In March, she visited Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show, the web series Mondays With Marlo [Thomas], and South by Southwest (not exactly her typical academic or humanitarian backdrop), where she told an audience of 3,000 about how technology can be used for social change. Sure, the SXSW speech could further Chelsea’s goal of winning over developers who can create quick and cheap apps in service of the foundation’s efforts in the developing world. But it also doesn’t hurt that she is starting to connect to the young technology-friendly voters Hillary lost to Obama the last time around. Assuming Chelsea gets very active in Hillary 2016, her presence at the foundation will have to go to the back burner. In addition to the all-encompassing nature of a campaign, under tax and election-campaign laws, a charity like the Clinton Foundation is prohibited from being involved in campaigning. So, explains Leslie Lenkowsky, professor of practice in public affairs and philanthropy at Indiana University, if Chelsea were traveling on behalf of the foundation and made a pit stop to give a Hillary campaign speech, “not one drop of money from the foundation can make its way to her campaign, not even a Xerox or cup of coffee. It becomes very, very tricky.”

Where this might lead after 2016 is already a matter of much anticipation. Burberry CEO Christopher Bailey, a close friend of Chelsea’s, says, “I’m sure the foundation will always be part of her life, but I don’t know if it will be the only part of her life. I certainly do not think she’s come to the conclusion that this is it.” HRC‘s Parnes predicts Chelsea will ultimately end up in politics. “I could see her running for Congress in New York in 10 years,” she says. “She has the Clinton name, she has the chops, and she’s really smart and savvy. Nothing will hold her back.” In that scenario, you could look at the Clinton Foundation in Manhattan (where Chelsea lives with Mezvinsky in a $10 million apartment) as the perfect perch for Chelsea to prove her command of a wide range of vital global issues. Politics is inextricably in the fabric of her being, in her bloodline and her breeding. “People [were] always asking me [since I was a kid], ‘Do you want to go into politics?’ ” she tells me, her long, bony fingers and rounded features reminiscent of her father’s. “And for so long the answer was just a visceral no. Not because I had made any conscientious, deliberate decision, but since people had been asking for as long as literally I could remember, it was no.”

Photograph by Peter Hapak

It’s less visceral now. As Chelsea told Fast Company at SXSW, she’s now willing to leave the door open a crack. “I live in a city and a state and a country where I support my elected representatives. If at some point that weren’t the case, and I didn’t support my mayor or my city councilwoman or my congresswoman or either of my senators–and I’m lucky to live in a state where I have lots of women representing me, you know–maybe then I’d have to ask and answer the question for myself, and come to a different answer.”

This is a person who will have a significant impact on the society around us, whether she operates within or outside of politics. Chelsea characterizes her career before the foundation as something like an act of rebellion. She’s grown up, and in her mid-thirties seems to have grown comfortable with her dual role as Clinton scion and self-defining adult. It’s an accommodation almost all of us make at some point.

During one of our interviews, Chelsea tells me the story of her discovery of coffee, which she, like many a millennial, deems a signature life event. Back in 1996, when Chelsea was a high school junior and her father was in his first term in the White House, a Starbucks opened near the ballet school she attended for a couple of hours every afternoon. One day she walked in with a friend, and, she recalls, “I just had one of those moments where I was like, How have I not had coffee before in my life? I love the way it tastes, I love the smell, I love the ambience.”

“Were your parents coffee drinkers?” I ask.

“My dad had always been a big decaf coffee drinker. But my mom had always been more of a tea drinker. So I grew up around a lot of tea. And I also really love tea. But I’m not one of those people who has ever felt the need to choose between coffee and tea. I think that is a completely false dichotomy.” It’s not the only one.


About the author

Danielle Sacks is an award-winning journalist and a former senior writer at Fast Company magazine. She's chronicled some of the most provocative people in business, with seven cover stories that included profiles on J.Crew's Jenna Lyons, Malcolm Gladwell, and Chelsea Clinton