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Secrets of Success
Five new inductees into the Washington Business Hall of Fame may not be household names, but their companies are. By Leslie Milk
Comments () | Published November 1, 2009

They came, they saw, they created. The five people who will be inducted into the Washington Business Hall of Fame on Tuesday, December 1, have built successful organizations that fill business and community needs—and then some. They may not all be household names, but their companies are.

Twenty-one years ago, The Washingtonian, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, and Junior Achievement of the National Capital Area created the Washington Business Hall of Fame to recognize leaders who have made this area a great place to do business.

In 2007, Junior Achievement sent 1,600 volunteers into classrooms to teach 39,000 local students about financial literacy and entrepreneurship. This year, JA and Fairfax County Public Schools will open a “finance park” where eighth-graders can get hands-on lessons in money management.

For more information about the Hall of Fame dinner at the Washington Hilton, contact Junior Achievement at 202-777-4473.

Ralph Shrader: Engineering a Consulting Colossus

Ralph Shrader describes himself as an introvert. But his father’s Navy career meant the family moved so often that Shrader changed schools a dozen times. He soon realized “you can’t afford to sit in the corner and wait.”

Getting out of his comfort zone has led the PhD in electrical engineering to the top of the consulting world as chairman and CEO of Booz Allen Hamilton, a strategy-and-consulting firm with 23,000 employees and annual revenue of nearly $5 billion.

Shrader had never lived north of Norfolk when he accepted a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. It was the 1960s, and the urban landscape around Penn was bleak. “I thought I’d made a huge mistake,” he recalls.

But he discovered a far more diverse world than he had known in the South. His dormmates were from many cultures. “It’s as if somebody opened another door,” Shrader says. Looking back on his education at Penn and later at the University of Illinois, Shrader stresses that the “people you meet along the road” were more important than any of the technical material he mastered. Technology changes so fast, he says, that nothing he learned in school is relevant today.

Shrader started his career at RCA and moved on to Western Union when it launched its first communications satellite. Western Union was a very traditional company. “I thought I really needed something different, to apply my technical knowledge and skills in a way that got me out working with people,” he says.

He found that at Booz Allen. He wanted a company that allowed him to move up as fast as his abilities would allow. He found that, too. He started at Booz Allen before he was 30 and was a partner four years later. He was elected the seventh head of the firm in 1999.

Last year, Shrader presided over a corporate split that divided Booz Allen’s commercial and government-services branches. He remains CEO of the 95-year-old firm, focused on government clients. A separate entity, Booz & Company, now primarily serves commercial clients.

He counts strong mentoring as key to his success. First interviewed by Bill Stasior, who went on to head the firm, Shrader says: “I always tell people the real secret of success is to get yourself hired by the future chairman and CEO and then stick with him.”

David Bradley: From Corporate Guru to Media Mogul

In 1979, 26-year-old David Bradley started the Research Council of Washington—later renamed the Advisory Board—offering research for any company on any subject. Four years later, he felt like a failure.

Bradley had a Harvard MBA and a law degree from Georgetown. His classmates were earning six-figure salaries. He was living in an apartment over the office. He had 200 clients, but he was clearing only $25,000 a year.

“We ran out of cash,” Bradley recalls. His father had begun to think the enterprise was doomed and asked a neighbor about getting David a job at a consulting firm. Bradley asked his parents if he could move back home for a weekend of a little TLC.

“My father went to Peoples Drug and bought me a Timex watch to make me feel better,” Bradley says.

Sixteen years later, the Washington Post ran a story with the headline ENTREPRENEUR HITS IPO JACKPOT: RESEARCH FIRM HEAD DAVID BRADLEY NETS $142 MILLION.

The secret to his success was perseverance, Bradley believes: “You have to be willing to try a failed idea again and again and again.”

Bradley tinkered with his original concept. He retained the basic idea—providing research and analysis on an annual-subscription basis—but in 1983 began to target his services to the banking-and-finance industry, an endeavor that was to lead to the Corporate Executive Board. A few years later, the Advisory Board narrowed its focus to health care.

Taking his companies public and becoming wealthy did not move Bradley closer to his real dream—he had always wanted to be a US senator. Business was a means to that end, he says. But at age 40 he realized he’d never make it as a politician. “Being near journalism was second-best,” he says.

It took him only 24 hours to decide to buy the National Journal in 1997. “I thought the National Journal was such a pleasure, how hard can this business be?” Bradley says. Buying the Atlantic Monthly provided the answer. He moved it from Boston to Washington and worked to energize a magazine created in the gaslight era to reach the BlackBerry crowd.

“I’m really committed to journalism,” Bradley says. He and his wife, Katherine, are also committed to improving education in DC through their CityBridge Foundation. The Senate’s loss has been the city’s gain. 

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Posted at 04:00 PM/ET, 11/01/2009 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles