News & Politics

Business Hall of Fame: Kenneth R. Sparks

Speaking up for the city

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.

Kenneth R. Sparks

After active duty in the Marine Corps and jobs with the United States Information Agency, the Voice of America, and the federal Office of Economic Opportunity, Ken Sparks thought it was time he put his law degree to use. But back in 1969, law-firm associates made about $15,000 a year. Even the federal government paid better. Sparks was married and had a mortgage.

Then he was interviewed for the top staff job at the Federal City Council by the chairs of four corporate boards. They offered Sparks a salary of $30,000 and a challenge—to marshal the business elite to help the District of Columbia help itself.

When Sparks became executive vice president of the Federal City Council in 1970, Washington was still reeling from the 1968 riots. Crime was rampant, home rule was still a dream, and Washingtonians were starting to realize the impact drugs were having on the area.

In 1969, Dr. Robert DuPont of St. Elizabeths Hospital had tested every person put into the DC jail in a one-month period; 44 percent tested positive for heroin. Sparks helped produce a film about DuPont’s work. It starred DC actor Robert Hooks and was narrated by newsman Howard K. Smith. “Channel 9 preempted Sonny & Cher to show the documentary,” Sparks recalls. The program won an Emmy—and community support for combating the drug epidemic.

It was just the beginning. In more than 30 years at the Federal City Council, Sparks worked to build and expand Metro, the region’s airports, the DC Convention Center, and the Verizon Center. He chaired the commission that oversaw development of the International Trade Center near the White House. He served on the advisory board for the Center for Excellence in Municipal Management at George Washington University, as secretary of the Economic Club, and on the boards of the Washington Hospital Center Foundation and the Helen Hayes Awards.

“I love the excitement of it all,” he says. “It’s a place where power gets exercised. If you live long enough and are flexible enough, you can get things done.”

Sparks now serves on the Federal Reserve Board in Richmond and teaches at the William & Mary law school.

A noted composer and performer, Sparks has written songs saluting the Marine Corps and the city he loves:

You’re gonna love the view

Down Pennsylvania Avenue,

From the big White House to the Capitol dome.

Your heart will burst with pride,

You’re gonna feel so warm inside

As you discover your nation’s fabulous home.