50 Most Influential Virginians

A rundown on people with clout in the commonwealth

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Print this page by Paula C. Squires

Compiling a list of the 50 most influential people in Virginia is not a chore for the chicken-hearted.  The Virginia Business staff began with a list of names from across the state.  We tended to focus on people who have appeared in the magazine’s pages and on leaders the magazine has interviewed; in short, people who have a knack for getting things done.

Then we put the list on the threshing floor. Staffers tended to support their own candidates while debating the candidates of others. That turned out to be a good exercise because no one was a shoo-in.
What makes a person influential, anyway? Usually, it’s someone who wields power effectively and who has a network of contacts they can harness to shape an issue or determine an outcome. In many cases, it’s a person whose influence is apparent in several spheres.

Take James W. Dyke Jr. A former Virginia secretary of education, this McGuireWoods law firm partner chaired the governor’s education summit last year. He’s also a high-profile leader in Northern Virginia’s business community and recently was appointed as Virginia’s first representative on the authority that oversees the Metro system in Northern Virginia. Expansion of that system is influencing development in the entire Washington, D.C., area. 

While some people on the list are rich, money wasn’t a determining factor. However, we did follow some guidelines. Warren Buffett’s sister, Doris Buffett, once explained her approach in giving away millions each year through her Sunshine Lady Foundation:  “I don’t do SOBS.”  Translated that means she doesn’t give money to symphonies, operas or the ballet.

In the same vein, Virginia Business decided not to include politicians or college presidents. Of course, these people are influential, but there are so many of them, they would have dominated a list of 50. 

So, we looked to movers and shakers who are building businesses, starting ventures and having an effect on important issues such as higher education, transportation, economic development, philanthropy, the arts,  health care and energy. We hope you will agree that they are having a big impact in Virginia. 

50 Most Influential Virginians and 30 people On the Move

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