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Valerie Biden Owens says success comes down to one principle

The sister of President Joe Biden and political strategist – who made the Forbes “50 Over 50” list – shares her best advice to help women unlock their long-term career potential.
Valerie Biden Owens at the White House
Valerie Biden Owens at the White House on Dec. 1, 2022. Biden said he wouldn't apologize for a new climate and tax law that European leaders say unfairly subsidize American companies, threatening to overshadow a visit by his French counterpart Macron. Photographer: Sarah Silbiger/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesSarah Silbiger / CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Valerie Biden Owens never imagined her career after 50, but the political strategist, author and sister to President Joe Biden has been shattering age norms – and influencing the political landscape – for decades now.

Last year, she was honored in the "50 Over 50” impact list, created by Forbes and Know Your Value, which celebrates women over 50 who are making a difference in the non-profit, law, policy and education space.

At 77, she has reached a pinnacle in her life and shows no signs of slowing down. “Morning Joe” reporter and Know Your Value contributor Daniela Pierre-Bravo caught up with Biden Owens at a luncheon in New York City this month honoring the next group of women who made this year’s “50 Over 50” list.

“[Being on the first list] is a great honor but the real truth was, I never thought that I would be on a list where I admitted that I was over 50,” she quipped. “How could I be that old? But it was a real kick.”

Nevertheless, it was at 50 that Biden Owens decided to venture out on her own, departing from the so-called “family business” of her brother’s politics. She went on to work for a political media consultant and joined Women's Campaign International, where she helped train women in emerging democracies about getting a seat at the political table.

She ultimately returned to manage her brother’s campaigns, including his successful 1972 Senate run, unsuccessful presidential attempts in 1988 and 2008, and eventually his election to the White House in 2020.

In 1972, when Joe Biden’s first wife and infant daughter were killed in a tragic car accident just weeks after the he won an upset victory over longtime U.S. Sen. Cale Boggs, Biden Owens moved in with his family to help take care of his sons – Hunter and Beau – so he could work in Washington, D.C.

“It’s not easy raising an older brother, so I had to get him settled,” she told Pierre-Bravo. “After I got him settled, then I could move on to other things.”

Biden Owens jumped from high school teacher to her brother’s Senate campaign manager at just 26, but admitted she never pictured her career over 50 back then. “I didn’t have a game plan but I knew that I always wanted to be in the game,” she said. “And my brother in his profession offered me great opportunities that I could be involved with him and spin off into other adventures of my own.”

More recently that included penning the a memoir, “Growing Up Biden,” which details her career in politics and the unshakable bond she shares with her brother, who she considers a key mentor in her life.

“He told me that whatever he could do, I could do better – no matter what it was,” she said. “I had to believe in myself because he was so certain that I was capable of many different things. I think confidence is the No. 1 prerequisite for success in life.”

But for Biden Owens, advocating for others doesn’t stop with a pat on the back and a few words of encouragement. “Take a woman and throw her in a situation,” she told Pierre-Bravo. “Say OK – let’s see you, go ahead and do it. I’m standing right beside you that I can put a hand in and help you, but you don’t need that hand. You can do this, you can do this – and she says, ‘Yes, I can do this … I did it! That’s sponsorship.”

Growing up in a devoted Catholic family, Biden Owens has leaned on her faith to inform her values and sense of fulfillment – something she credits her parents with instilling early on.

“Success means that I’ve been able to do something constructive – use power in best sense of the word – to be kind, to work and help other men and women find their own potential,” she explained. “My parents’ values meshed with the social values of the Catholic church. What we learned at school with the nuns was reinforced at home … and it’s not being righteous, it’s an awareness that kindness is the most important thing in life [and] defines the character of the man or woman.”