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Name: Gips, Don
Current Position: Previous Ambassador

South African officials can take solace in knowing the new U.S. ambassador to their country at least has a direct line to President Barack Obama. For what Donald H. Gips lacks in experience as a diplomat or involvement in South African affairs is made up for in his close relationship with the president, for whom he has raised substantial sums of money and offered critiques on such personal matters as the president’s best-selling memoir.

Born in 1960, Gips grew up in Highland Park, IL, an affluent area on the north shore of Chicago. He graduated from Harvard in 1982 with his Bachelor of Arts, and then used his Rockefeller fellowship to work in Sri Lanka with the grass-roots organization Sarvodaya USA, helping install freshwater wells. After returning to the states, he went to work on then-Senator Bill Bradley’s (D-NJ) 1984 re-election campaign.
After the election, Gips attended graduate school at Yale and earned a Masters in Public and Private Management in 1989. He earned a Coro Fellowship, which focuses on leadership training and prepares individuals for careers in public affairs. Gips went on to work for New York Mayor Ed Koch as a policy analyst for one year, before joining the management consulting firm of McKinsey and Company as an executive manager
In 1992, Gips took a leave of absence to write a report for the Commission on National and Community Service, What You Can Do for Your Country, that helped become the blueprint for Americorps. He also worked as a consultant to the congressional commission that set up the national service operation. He then went to work for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from 1994-1997 as the agency’s international bureau chief and director of strategic policy.
In April 1997, he moved to the Clinton White House and became chief domestic policy advisor to Vice President Al Gore for one year. Focusing on communications and technology issues, Gips worked on privacy and security issues surrounding the growing Web while trying to expand access to the Internet, particularly in schools.
The following year Gips quit his job and moved to Colorado to become senior vice president of corporate development for Level 3 Communications, a fiber optic-based communications services provider. A little over two years later he was promoted to group vice president of sales and marketing, and in January 2001, he became group vice president of corporate strategy, in charge of merger and acquisitions efforts.

While still at Level 3, Gips joined in 2004 the board of directors of

Mindspeed Technologies, Inc.,

a supplier of semiconductors for network infrastructure and consumer premise equipment applications.

That same year he met Obama for the first time at a fundraiser in Colorado for Ken Salazar’s U.S. Senate campaign. Gips wound up helping Obama raise money for his own election to the Senate, and helped him staff his office in Washington. The two became close, and Obama asked Gips to review the manuscript for this second book, The Audacity of Hope.
Months before the November 2008 election, Gips signed on to help Obama begin formulating a transition team strategy—work which required him to take a leave of absence from L3 in October.
Gips was one of Obama’s top bundlers during the presidential campaign, helping funnel more than $500,000 to the Obama effort. He has personally donated more than $11,000 to Obama’s elections since 2004, according to, and has reportedly given $64,000 to politicians (mostly Democrats) since 1999.
After helping with the transition, Gips joined the Obama White House in January as director of presidential personnel, in charge of a staff of 40 that processes candidates for positions in the new administration. He resigned from the board of Mindspeed after accepting this position. He reportedly has held positions on the boards of Mobile Satellite Ventures and Sky Terra Communication Inc.
Donald H. Gips (Forbes)
Don Gips (WhoRunsGov)
Boulder Man Helps Obama’s Transition (by Vanessa Miller, Boulder Daily Camera)
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