News & Politics

Secrets of Success

Five business leaders who made all the right moves

Business movers and shakers often seem to be in the right place at the right time with the right stuff. But usually that’s because their records are viewed in retrospect.

At the time Sidney Dewberry went out on his own as a civil engineer or David Rubenstein created the Carlyle Group, their enterprises weren’t sure things.

The business leaders to be inducted into the Washington Business Hall of Fame took risks that turned out to be the right moves. And because they did, the Washington area’s economy grew.

The Washington Business Hall of Fame was founded in 1988 by the Greater Washington Board of Trade and The Washingtonian to benefit Junior Achievement of the National Capital Area. Last year, Junior Achievement sent 1,708 volunteers into local classrooms to teach about business, entrepreneurship, and personal finance. The volunteers serve as role models to nearly 36,000 kids from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The 2007 laureates will be inducted into the Washington Business Hall of Fame at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel on Tuesday, November 27. For information about the Hall of Fame dinner, contact Junior Achievement at 202-296-1200.

Vernon Jordan

A Leading Voice for Economic Opportunity

Growing up in the segregated South, Vernon Jordan followed his family’s unspoken mantra: Don’t get mad, get ahead.

The first time he walked into a corporate boardroom, Jordan was wearing a white jacket, working as a waiter for his mother’s catering company. The next time, he was wearing a business suit and making the case for increased opportunity for minorities as president of United Negro College Fund. He did the same as executive director of the National Urban League.

These days, Jordan is senior managing director of the investment-banking firm Lazard Freres. He’s also senior counsel at the law and lobbying firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. He serves on corporate boards and wears pretty much whatever he wants.

Jordan never had a plan for success. “I never had a job where I didn’t like what I was doing,” he says. “Wherever I was working, I gave that stewardship my very best.”

Working that way led to more and bigger opportunities—although Jordan hasn’t applied for a job since he graduated from DePauw University and sought work driving a trolley in Chicago before starting Howard law school.

He says he chose Howard because it was “the West Point of the civil-rights movement.” After graduating, he went home to Atlanta to work for civil-rights lawyer Donald Hollowell. Jordan later served as a field director for the NAACP and as director of the Voter Education Project. That gave him visibility as a leader, public speaker, and fundraiser. He had informally announced he was running for Congress when the United Negro College Fund called.

That job meant moving from Atlanta to New York. “I learned an important lesson,” he says. “Opportunity is never convenient.”

Jordan was shot and seriously wounded in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1980 while director of the Urban League. His assailant, Joseph Paul Franklin, was acquitted of attempted murder but years later admitted to the shooting. Jordan recovered and moved to Washington to practice law at Akin Gump. He also served on Bill Clinton’s 1992 transition team and remains one of Clinton’s closest friends and advisers.

In 1999, Jordan was approached by Lazard Freres. He took the shuttle to New York, returned that night to Washington, and asked his wife, Ann, what she thought. “I think its exciting to be wanted at 64,” she told him.

Now 72, Jordan has no interest in retiring and has taken on a new assignment—president of the Economic Club of Washington, DC. He wants to expose the club to the most prominent thinkers and business leaders.

One of the first speakers he sought was President George W. Bush. When Jordan called the White House and asked to see the president, he was asked the nature of his business. “Tell him I’m thinking of becoming a Republican,” Jordan said. He got his meeting, and Bush agreed to address the club.

John P. McDaniel

Creating a Medical Powerhouse That’s Good for the Region’s Health

A funny thing happened to John McDaniel on his way to medical school—he had an encounter with organic chemistry at Ohio’s Wittenburg University.

It was time for plan B.

“I’d always been attracted to business,” McDaniel recalls. His sister, a physical therapist, told McDaniel about a new field—hospital administration—that would encompass his interests in both medicine and business.

His timing couldn’t have been better. As McDaniel went off to the University of Michigan to study hospital administration, the federal Hill-Burton Act was spurring hospital construction all over the country. Michigan’s program—a joint effort by the medical school, the business school, and the school of public health—equipped McDaniel with the right academic training.

He also got practical experience at a community hospital. “I worked in credit collection,” he says. “I had a desk in the backroom with a phone and bills piled up on my desk. I heard every reason why people couldn’t pay. It gave me an appreciation for patients and their problems.”

After working at a Delaware hospital, McDaniel moved to Baltimore to head Lutheran Hospital of Maryland. Twelve years later, McDaniel became CEO of Washington Hospital Center with a mandate to create a constellation of area medical facilities.

McDaniel led the merger of Medlantic with Helix Health in Baltimore. Today MedStar Health is a regional non­profit healthcare conglomerate serving 500,000 patients a year with seven hospitals and more than 4,000 physicians. It’s the largest home-healthcare organization in the region.

Acquiring Georgetown University’s medical center in 2000 was a key ingredient in MedStar’s success, McDaniel believes. “We needed a tie with an academic institution.”

MedStar trains 1,000 doctors a year and works closely with researchers at both Georgetown University and its own MedStar Research Institute. “People want to be seen in a system that’s cutting-edge.”

The creation of MedStar was ambitious, but McDaniel never doubted it could be done. “I saw where healthcare was going, that an integrated system was essential. No hospital can be an island anymore.”

Training new healthcare management has also been a priority. McDaniel created the Executive Development Institute with Georgetown’s School of Professional Studies to train future hospital administrators.

McDaniel has been a community leader as well as a healthcare visionary: He has been chair of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, a trustee of the National Capital Area Foundation, and a member of the Economic Club’s executive committee.

Community is what MedStar is all about, he says. “Without community support, input, and involvement, we couldn’t succeed.”

David M. Rubenstein

The Wonk Who Made Washington a Capital Capital

If a movie were made about Washington’s big money, David Rubenstein would never be cast as the lead. Head of the Carlyle Group, a private-equity firm that owns 201 companies and has generated more than $86 billion in revenues, Rubenstein looks more like a quiet backroom guy than the front man for a global powerhouse.

But front man he is. And the quiet guy with the almost-shy manner is the firm’s top fundraiser.

Edward Mathias, a Carlyle managing director who used to be with Baltimore’s T. Rowe Price, told Washingtonian writer James Glassman what makes Rubenstein successful: “He’s persistent and unbelievably direct,” Mathias said. “He gives the impression that he is going to be successful, and you ought to get aboard.”

Rubenstein founded the Carlyle Group in 1987 with William Conway Jr. and Daniel D’Aniello and $5 million in capital. The firm has employed well-connected advisers, including former president George H.W. Bush and former British prime minister John Major. In the early days, it learned that connections can backfire. Marriott Corporation offered to sell its airline catering business to Carlyle. “The financing was there. And we thought, this is an easy business,” Rubenstein recalled. “Well, then the Gulf War came. People stopped flying.” Carlyle lost its money and its investors’.

“It reminds us all the time that we shouldn’t have hubris.”

Carlyle’s fortunes overall have fared very well. The firm first focused on investments in defense industries but has widened its scope. It bought car-rental giant Hertz in 2005 and pipeline company Kinder Morgan the following year. Rubenstein himself is said to be worth $2.5 million.

Rubenstein’s beginnings were modest. The son of a Baltimore postal worker, young Rubenstein sold magazines in high school. He went to Duke on scholarship, then to the University of Chicago law school, where he was an editor of the law review. In 1973, he moved to New York to practice law with Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

That’s where he met Theodore Sorensen, who helped him get a job in government. Rubenstein landed in the White House as deputy assistant to President Jimmy Carter for domestic policy.

At 27, Rubenstein says, he was unqualified for the job. But, he adds, “in that administration, I didn’t stand out.”

He started earlier and stayed later than anyone else. He’s still a workaholic. Asked by Glassman what he does in his spare time, Rubenstein pointed to his desk.

A major donor to Duke, Johns Hopkins, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and the Kennedy Center, Rubenstein also sits on the boards of Freedom House, the Council on Foreign Relations, and other organizations.

At the ceremony announcing his $10-million gift to the Kennedy School, Rubenstein called it the repayment of “a debt I have to our country for letting me serve for four years in the government—despite the job I did.” Then he added, “I don’t think I’ll be invited back” to serve in government.

That’s good news for Carlyle investors.

David Reznick

Growing a Local Accounting Firm Into a National Player

For David Reznick, being a certified public accountant has always been about more than numbers. His partners have been his boyhood friends from DC, and his focus has always been on the hometown he loves and never left except for a stint in the Army.

But Reznick’s numbers are impressive. He heads the Reznick Group, one of the nation’s top 20 public-accounting firms, with 1,400 employees and offices from Atlanta to Austin.

“Year after year, we’ve exceeded more than 20-percent growth,” Reznick says.

In 1959, after graduating from the University of Maryland, Reznick got an accounting job with the Washington office of the Baltimore firm Berman Goldman & Ribakow. “Actually, Stu Fedder got a job offer and asked them to hire me, too,” Reznick says.

Fedder and Reznick had met in second grade. They would later be partners in Reznick Fedder & Silverman, founded in 1977. The firm became the Reznick Group in 2004 when Fedder retired. “The branding people said our name was too long,” Reznick says sheepishly. “Ivan Silverman said he would change his last name to Group.”

Reznick is a full-service accounting firm with a difference—Reznick has become an expert on affordable housing. In 1967, a client had a piece of land in Landover he couldn’t use. A mortgage banker approached Reznick to help put together financing for affordable housing on the property. But the Federal Housing Administration had arcane accounting rules.

“It was my job to figure out how the financing worked,” Reznick says. “Government subsidies weren’t enough. We’ve helped raise equities from investors, stressing the tax benefits.”

It was a win-win-win for developers, disadvantaged families, and investors. Before long, real-estate developers, investors, and nonprofit groups all over the country were seeking his firm’s expertise on affordable housing. After Hurricane Katrina, Reznick’s government-services group worked with the Mississippi Development Authority to help give grants to homeowners.

Clients who dealt with the firm liked what they saw. “If you are going to grow a firm, you must empower people who have the same business ethic and philosophy you do,” Reznick says.

Reznick was a founding member of the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes. He and the firm are also involved with groups that raise funds for research and treatment of breast cancer, children’s cancer, muscular dystrophy, leukemia, and lymphoma.

He spends time grooming new talent as well. “This is a rewarding but taxing profession,” Reznick says. “I tell young people to focus on what they’re doing, invest in themselves, and invest in knowledge. Don’t just look for immediate reward.”

After 47 years as a CPA, Reznick is still more a people person than a numbers cruncher. “Very few decisions here have ever been made based on monetary reward,” he says. “People who remain here have become good friends.”

Sidney O. Dewberry

Engineering a Business Success

Young Sid Dewberry knew what he didn’t want to be when he grew up—a farmer. The seventh of nine children on a family farm, he often got stuck with the worst chores.

At the same time, Dewberry’s father was helping to build bridges up and down the East Coast. Only nine years old when his father died, Dewberry remembers accompanying him on bridge projects. The experience was enough to inspire him to become a civil engineer.

Dewberry’s first job was with the Montgomery County Department of Public Works. It was 1951, Washington was booming after World War II, and rural Montgomery County needed roads.

Dewberry was out with a surveying team on Sagamore Road in front of columnist Drew Pearson’s farm when Pearson appeared with a shotgun. “What are you boys doing?” Pearson asked.

When Dewberry explained they were there to take measurements for widening the road, Pearson countered, “I don’t think so.”

They beat a hasty retreat and let the county’s lawyers deal with Pearson. When Dewberry and his team returned a few weeks later, Pearson sat on his porch glowering, but the roadwork went on.

Dewberry soon went to work for a small firm called Greenhorne & O’Mara, then moved on to M.T. Broyhill construction company. In 1955, mortgage rates spiked, homebuilding tanked, and Broyhill offered to sell the engineering department to its employees. Dewberry and his colleague Jim Nealon persuaded Dewberry’s old employer, Greenhorne & O’Mara, to bankroll them. After a slow first year, Dewberry and Nealon landed two big projects—one for M.T. Broyhill and one to review site plans for Fairfax County.

Today Dewberry is an architectural, engineering, planning, surveying, and landscape-architecture company with 33 offices nationwide, more than 1,800 employees, and billings of $220 million a year.

Sidney Dewberry has served on many commissions and received many professional honors. He headed the George Mason University Capital Campaign from 1998 to 2005 and is a rector emeritus of the university.

But his most unusual contribution to GMU is to the Music Department. When he was a young man, a professor encouraged him to make a list of life goals. “I ran out of things, so toward the end I listed ‘learning to play the piano.’ ”

A few years ago, Dewberry mentioned this to former Fairfax County chair Jack Herrity, who introduced him to the dean of George Mason’s School of Visual and Performing Arts. Dewberry was soon taking piano lessons at the university. You need to buy a piano, his teacher told him.

Dewberry had a Steinway delivered to the Dewberry building on a Saturday so no one would see it arriving. He had soundproofed a room so he could practice. At his company’s 50th anniversary celebration, he played Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” for the staff and family. And thanks to Dewberry—who raised the funds for 16 more grand pianos—George Mason now has an all-Steinway music department.