Business Hall of Fame: Theodore Lerner, Bob Johnson, Ed Mitchell, John Tydings, and Austin Kiplinger
Five Business Leaders Who Did the Right Thing for Their Companies and Their Community
The Right StuffSuccess is more than being in the right place at the right time. You also have to be there with the right stuff. The 2003 honorees of the Washington Business Hall of Fame had the vision to see opportunities and the abilities take advantage of them. Theodore Lerner started out selling houses and then sold Washington on shopping malls. Bob Johnson had more moxie than money when he created the first cable network devoted to African-Americans. Ed Mitchell turned an energy crisis into an opportunity to diversify an energy company. Austin Kiplinger made money journalism pay. John Tydings convinced a government town that business also was its business. The Washington Business Hall of Fame was founded in 1988 by the Greater Washington Board of Trade and The Washingtonian for the benefit of Junior Achievement of the National Capital Area. Junior Achievement sent more than 500 business volunteers into more than 750 classrooms last year to build students’ business knowledge. The volunteers served as role models for 24,000 kids from kindergarten through 12th grade. The 2003 laureates will be inducted into the Washington Business Hall of Fame at the Washington Hilton on November 18. They prove that business leaders with the right stuff can do the right thing for their community.
Robert JohnsonHow Do You Spell Billionaire? B.E.T.
Bob Johnson, billionaire founder of Black Entertainment Television, owes a debt of gratitude to the late congressman Claude Pepper of Florida. Johnson was a young lobbyist for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA). Part of his job was escorting cable bigwigs to Capitol Hill. One day Johnson’s mission was to get Pepper’s support for a cable network aimed at senior citizens.
The idea triggered something in Johnson. Why not start a cable channel for blacks?
“My feeling was, boy, if I didn’t do this and someone else started the first African-American-oriented cable channel, I’d be kicking myself the rest of my life,” Johnson says.
In 1979, Johnson left NCTA to start BET. Although he had no business experience, he convinced John Malone, then head of a cable network, to invest in his venture. With a $15,000 bank loan, Johnson launched his company.
Johnson did not have capital to invest in content for BET. He realized that another cable network, MTV, owed its success to rock videos, which record companies offered free to promote their artists. But except for Michael Jackson, MTV seldom featured black artists. So Johnson started featuring African-American performers. BET’s audience grew.
By the time Johnson sold BET to Viacom in 2001, his network was worth $3 billion. The company had expanded into radio, movies, books, and the Internet.
Not bad for a kid from Hickory, Mississippi, who was the only one of ten siblings to go to college. Johnson graduated from the University of Illinois and has a master’s in international affairs from Princeton.
Viacom insisted that Johnson stay on at BET for five years. But America’s first black billionaire was already widening his financial interests to include real estate, hotels, fast food, gaming, and entertainment. This year, Johnson realized a lifelong dream when he became the first African-American owner of a National Basketball Association franchise, the Charlotte Bobcats.
The recipient of many cable-industry and community awards, Johnson feels he hit the jackpot with the Bobcats. Unveiling the team logo, he told a crowd in Charlotte, “This is the proudest day of my life.”
John TydingsPutting the “Great” in Greater Washington
In 1969, on his first day at the Greater Washington Board of Trade, John Tydings got stuck in a broken elevator. That same week, he went into a meeting, leaned back in his chair, and felt it collapse under him.
“There’s a lot to fix around here,” parking-lot magnate Bud Doggett told Tydings.
For the next 32 years, that’s what John Tydings did. Under his leadership, the Board of Trade expanded its reach from downtown DC to the region and widened its focus beyond business to concern for the whole community.
“His network of contacts includes every facet of the community’s public and private sectors,” says John Derrick, chief executive of Pepco and former chair of the Board of Trade. “He has built his effectiveness on two key ingredients—competency and trust.”
Tydings grew in Anacostia—a diverse neighborhood even then, he says. He studied history and psychology at the University of Maryland, went back for graduate study in finance and accounting, then headed to New York to seek his fortune.
His New York state of mind lasted four months. Tydings came home to look for a job in DC, ran into a Pepco recruiter he had met at University of Maryland, and was hired to work for the utility’s personnel-services group.
In 1968 Pepco lent Tydings to the White House and the National Alliance of Business jobs project. NAB sent Tydings to run a summer-jobs program at the Board of Trade. Tydings never went back to the utility business.
The Board of Trade that Tydings joined was largely white, male, and rooted in a city still reeling from the 1968 riots. Under Tydings’ leadership, the BOT built housing units and started recreation centers. He recruited leaders from around the area and concentrated on regional development. The Board of Trade’s science-industry committee helped lure technology firms.
Tydings was a founder of Leadership Washington and helped Junior Achievement develop here. He is deeply involved with Heroes Inc. and is president of the National Capital Area Foundation.
Tydings retired in 2002 as president of the Board of Trade, but he is still a major booster of the Washington region.
“This community is so rich in human talent,” Tydings says. “Our diversity is our strength. We have the capacity to solve any problem if we set our minds to it.”
Theodore N. LernerHe Built It, and They Came
Ted Lerner was 21 and going to George Washington University Law School on the GI Bill in 1946 when his father died. He started selling houses on weekends to support his mother, sister, and brother.
Washington builder Melvin Gelman had 300 houses he couldn’t sell, so he offered to let Lerner sell 25 of them. “It was the middle of November,” Lerner recalls. “I had one house completely wrapped in cellophane with a huge red bow. Santa Clauses stood on each corner… .”
By the end of the weekend Lerner had sold 100 houses—and discovered he had a knack for real estate.
A few years later, Isadore Gudelsky called to offer Lerner an interest in a “pile of dirt” he was planning to turn into a shopping center. Lerner went to Michigan and New York to check out the newest retail idea—the shopping mall. Gudelsky and Lerner opened Wheaton Plaza in 1960.
It was the start of something big—and then bigger still. When Lerner proposed building Tysons Corner Center, the only customers in sight were cows looking for grazing land. “Even Isadore hesitated,” Lerner recalls.
Tysons opened in 1968 and immediately became the hottest mall in the region.
In the decades that followed, Lerner helped create more shopping centers as well as commercial and residential projects. By the late 1980s, one could assume that every adult in Washington had probably lived, worked, or shopped in a building developed by Ted Lerner.
Lerner also started the Annette M. and Theodore N. Lerner Family Foundation to serve the community that nurtured him. His many contributions include a law-school building and a health-and-wellness center at his alma mater, George Washington University; a theater for the Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts; and major gifts to the US Holocaust Museum, Hadley’s Park, and organizations serving Washington’s Jewish community.
Ted Lerner’s son, Mark, and his sons-in-law, Robert Tanenbaum and Edward Cohen, are now in business with him. He rarely offers them advice. He says, “If they asked me, I would tell them to look at the facts but also to follow their instincts.”
They can only hope their instincts are as sound as Lerner’s—instincts that for 50 years have built a great family business and a tradition of giving back to the community.
Austin KiplingerHis Reporting Makes Dollars and Sense
Austin Kiplinger didn’t jump at the idea of going into the family business. His father, W.M. Kiplinger, had created a new kind of journalism—reporting on money issues in a way that explained to readers what was important to them.
Young Austin did some work for the Kiplinger Washington Letter in high school and after his graduation from Cornell University. But he itched to get out of Kiplinger publishing and out of Washington.
“You don’t want to be a hothouse flower,” he says.
So he became a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. He took leave to serve as a naval aviator in the Pacific during World War II and came back to help his dad start Changing Times magazine in 1946. But then he went off again to write a column for the Chicago Journal of Commerce.
Television news was in its infancy when Kiplinger jumped to the new medium. In Chicago he covered politics for NBC and ABC. He also did the first TV show on business news. He was getting feelers from the networks in New York when in 1956 his dad sent him an SOS saying he needed help.
Austin came home to work for Kiplinger Washington Editors and the magazine, now called Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. In 1961 he succeeded his father as editor-in-chief. “I knew this was the job I should be doing,” he says. The Kiplinger Letter is now the longest continually published newsletter in the country. Austin’s son Knight has succeeded him as editor-in-chief. His other son, Todd, is vice chair of the board.
In addition to his journalism career, Austin Kiplinger followed his father’s lead as a collector of Washingtoniana. He championed the creation of a city museum for the District of Columbia. It opened this year.
Kiplinger is chairman emeritus of the Cornell Board of Trustees and a trustee of the Tudor Place Foundation, the Federal City Council, the National Symphony Orchestra, and the National Press Foundation.
The economy—and the publications that report on it—have traveled a rocky road in the last few years. But Kiplinger is optimistic about both.
“Business is everybody’s business,” Kiplinger says. Mainstream journalists have caught on to the message, but they haven’t quite caught up with Kiplinger’s.
Edward F. MitchellHe Was Pepco’s Leading Light
In 1973 a Middle East oil crisis created long lines at the gas pump and big headaches for American energy companies. Overnight, the power industry lost its power to forecast the future. The Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco) went from being the nation’s fastest-growing utility to its slowest.
“It was nail-biting time,” Ed Mitchell recalls.
Mitchell directed that two oil-fired units at Pepco’s Chalk Point Generating Station be modified to burn natural gas, then built on that flexibility during the 1990s. Four new combustion turbines were added to the Pepco arsenal—all designed to burn both oil and gas. Mitchell’s initiative enabled Pepco to take advantage of shifting fuel costs and save money for consumers.
Mitchell also led Pepco’s effort to extend the lives of aging generating units at a fraction of the cost of building new ones.
Mitchell came to Washington and to Pepco in 1956 out of the University of Virginia. He started in the civil- and substation-engineering division. He moved up in the company and in 1980 was named executive vice president, chief operating officer, and a member of the board of directors. He became president in 1983, CEO in 1989, and chairman of the board in 1992.
The secret of Mitchell’s success? “Make yourself as indispensable to others as you can, and they will respond in kind,” he says.
Ed Mitchell lead his industry as well as his company. He served as president of the Association of Edison Illuminating Companies and the Southeastern Electric Exchange and as chairman of the Edison Electric Institute. During his tenure, Pepco was named Electric Utility of the Year.
Mitchell also led the community with a strong commitment to volunteer service. He helped form Corporations Against Drug Abuse and served as cochair of the Maryland Business Roundtable on Education. He encouraged Pepco people to serve in the community.
“We had people doing all kinds of things—thousands of hours of labor went into volunteer work every year,” he says. “We really are joined by more than just power lines.”
Past Honorees 1988-2003
JOE L. ALLBRITTON
NORMAN R. AUGUSTINE
ROBERT C. BAKER
JAMES G. BANKS
SISTER M. MAJELLA BERG
DONALD S. BITTINGER
ROGER R. BLUNT
EARLE PALMER BROWN
ELIZABETH PFOHL CAMPBELL
OLIVER T. CARR JR.
A. JAMES CLARK
NEHEMIAH* AND ISRAEL COHEN
EDWIN I. COLODNY
JOHN J. CURLEY
DR. LLOYD H. ELLIOTT
GEORGE M. FERRIS SR.
ROBERT V. FLEMING
THEODORE R. HAGANS JR.
STEPHEN D. HARLAN
WILLIAM C. HARRIS
JOHN T. HAZEL JR.
SIDNEY L. HECHINGER
CHRISTIAN HEURICH SR.
EDWIN T. HOLLAND
GEORGE W. JOHNSON
JAMES V. KIMSEY
WILLARD M. KIPLINGER
DAVID LLOYD KREEGER
JOHN A. LANKFORD
R. ROBERT LINOWES
JANE E. MARILLEY
J. WILLARD MARRIOTT
J. W. MARRIOTT JR.
DAVID O. MAXWELL
WALTER F. MCARDLE
WILLIAM G. MCGOWAN
JESSE H. MITCHELL
ALLEN H. NEUHARTH
THORNTON W. OWEN
FLAXIE M. PINKETT
THOMAS G. POWNALL
JOSEPH H. RILEY
BENJAMIN T. ROME
BERNARD FRANCIS SAUL
CATHERINE FILENE SHOUSE
JEAN HEAD SISCO
CHARLES E. SMITH
JOHN D. STEWART
W. REID THOMPSON
JULIA M. WALSH
WALTER E. WASHINGTON
EARLE C. WILLIAMS
EDWARD BENNETT WILLIAMS
ROBERT H. ZALOKAR