News & Politics

Business Hall of Fame: John E. Akridge III

Building on innovation and service

Success stories aren’t always told with bold type. Some of the most successful business leaders make their mark with quiet competence and unswerving commitment to their enterprise and their city.

The five business leaders to be inducted into the Washington Business Hall of Fame are just such success stories. As one of the honorees, telecom entrepreneur Jeong Kim, puts it, “I tend to say less and do more.”

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. Each year Junior Achievement sends more than 1,000 volunteers into local classrooms to teach about business, entrepreneurship, and personal finance. The volunteers serve as role models for more than 33,000 kids from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The 2006 laureates will be inducted into the Washington Business Hall of Fame at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel on Tuesday, November 28. For information about the Hall of Fame dinner, contact Junior Achievement at 202-296-1200.

John E. Akridge Iii

At age 13 “Chip” Akridge knew he wanted to be in the real-estate business. That’s when he started working for a building owner digging ditches, cutting grass, and cleaning bathrooms. By the time he was a senior at Georgia Tech, Akridge was the owner’s representative for one of the buildings. He’s been single-mindedly building a real-estate empire ever since.

Akridge studied mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech. The next step in his plan was getting his MBA. With only enough money to apply to one business school, Akridge set his sights on Harvard. He had been a campus leader, but his grades weren’t stellar. He decided he’d have to talk his way into Harvard.

Akridge called the dean’s office only to be told that the dean did not talk to prospective students. So he went to Cambridge, walked into the dean’s office, and told the secretary he would sit there until the dean walked by. When he finally buttonholed the dean, Akridge told him, “I need this degree, and I’ll do well when you let me in.”

The dean did, and Akridge did.

The day after graduation, Akridge reported for military duty and went to Vietnam. When he returned stateside, he started looking at real-estate markets. Someone suggested that he look up Bob Gladstone in Washington. Akridge became the first full-time employee at Gladstone’s Quadrangle Development.

But Akridge itched to go out on his own. In 1974, the John Akridge Company opened for business. Starting in 1976 with a building at 1627 K Street, a site so narrow that other developers shunned it, Akridge created a real-estate company that handles everything from securing sites to finding tenants and managing properties.

Akridge has a wall full of awards from industry groups—the only Washington office building with full wi-fi, the first to offer floor-by-floor temperature controls. “We’re not in the space business—we’re in the service business,” he says.

Akridge office buildings have had about a 1-percent vacancy rate since 1977; the Washington-area average is about 9 percent.

Akridge’s commitment to work is matched by his passion for the outdoors. A longtime leader of the Nature Conservancy and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, he has turned his Eastern Shore farm into a demonstration site for protecting wetlands and wildlife.

The former Eagle Scout says he still tries to follow the Scout code with his real-estate projects. “Make sure it’s legal, moral, and ethical first,” he says. “Hopefully, it also makes money.”