Industries

Top 25 in 25: Best in business

From hams to health care, Virginia’s deans of business lead the way

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Print this page by Paula C. Squires

Virginia is known as one of the best states in the country for doing business. So it should come as no surprise that the business talent here has produced everything from the Geico Gecko to the dollar store, mass marketing of credit cards and computerized systems for travel reservations. 

As part of our 25th anniversary coverage we profile our selections — in alphabetical order — for the Top 25 Best in Business leaders over the past quarter century. Some of these men and women were pioneers who went on to build Fortune 500 companies. Others transformed their industries. Still others helped shape the landscape of entire regions.

Eager to learn from this accomplished group, we posed a question:  What’s the best business advice you ever received? Quoting everyone from their fathers to Winston Churchill, these executives provide insight on building a business and staying on top of your game. 


John Adams Jr./Mike Hughes

The Martin Agency, Richmond
These advertising industry executives transformed a regional shop into the country’s top-rated agency. Martin does work for big corporate clients such as Wal-Mart and Geico.  As chairman and CEO, Adams runs the business side while Hughes has been the driving creative force. He stepped down as creative director in 2010, but not before raking up a slew of honors. Hughes was inducted into the national One Club’s Hall of Fame, and Creativity Magazine named him one of the 50 most influential creative thinkers in the U.S. Adweek named Martin Agency of the Year in 2010. The best advice these men got came from their fathers:
Adams: “Even if you don’t make it, you’ll get farther by aiming for the stars than you will by aiming for the top of the nearest telephone pole.” 
Hughes: “As I was entering the business world, my dad told me, ‘Never lose your sense of humor.’  Best advice I ever got.”


Gloria Bohan, Founder

president, CEO, Omega Word Travel, Fairfax
Bohan started a boutique firm in Fredericksburg in 1972 and has built it into the fourth-largest travel management company in the country. Omega, a corporate travel and convention specialist, pioneered the industry’s adoption of 24/7 customer service and computerized reservation systems.  Today, it employs more than 1,100 people in 200 locations. Bohan has been named “One of the 25 Most Influential Leaders in the Travel Industry” by Travel News. Diversity.com also has recognized Omega repeatedly as one of the top U.S. woman-owned businesses.  Her advice: “Learn your business from the ground up.”  


Macon F. Brock Jr.

Chairman, co-founder, Dollar Tree Inc., Chesapeake
Everyone loves a bargain, particularly during tough times.  Dollar Tree stores — where most items cost a dollar — has flourished since 1986. That’s when Brock, the company’s longtime chairman and former CEO, started the company with brother-in-law Douglas Perry and H. Ray Compton, fellow directors on the board. Dollar Tree has become a Fortune 500 company with 3,800 stores in 48 states and more than 50,000 employees. In 2009, sales surpassed $5 billion, as recession-weary customers scooped up bargains on household goods.  “Retail is detail.  Stick to basics and be honest with your associates and especially with your customers.  Never under estimate your customers, so build your business around doing the right thing for them and your organization.  Most business is common sense so keep it simple and deal with honest people.”  


Steve Case, Co-founder

America Online Inc., CEO of Revolution LLC, McLean
As the chief executive of AOL, Case made the Internet a part of everyday life. After AOL’s rocky merger with Time-Warner, he started private investment firm Revolution LLC in Washington, D.C., in 2005. The company has investments in health care, real estate and financial services. Case, who views entrepreneurs as change agents, was recently tapped by President Obama to chair the Startup America Partnership, a public-private initiative designed to boost entrepreneurship. A multimillionaire, Case has pledged much of his money to philanthropy through the Case Foundation, which he and his wife founded in 1997. “The most important lesson I learned was that success in business is all about people — getting the right team in place, working effectively together, towards a unifying goal.  With the right people, anything is possible; with the wrong people, not much is possible.”


Richard D. Fairbank Founder

chairman, CEO, Capital One Financial Corp., McLean
Under his leadership, what was already an innovative credit card company — known as a pioneer in mass marketing — has evolved into a diversified financial services company. Today, Capital One runs the country’s ninth largest bank, with $118 billion in deposits and 1,000 branch locations in six states and the District of Columbia. Fairbank was named Banker of the Year in 2006 by American Banker and was inducted into the Washington Business Hall of Fame in 2008. “My greatest inspiration and the best advice have always come from my father.  He taught me that success is not about money, title or the number of zeroes in your budget; it’s about having the courage to have a dream.  He also taught me that it’s about the journey and what happens on the way to that destination — even if you don’t get there.  Success, as others define it, will often come as a byproduct of the quest. But the minute success as others define it becomes the objective, the quest is corrupted.”


Thomas F. Farrell II Chairman

CEO, president, Dominion Resources Inc., Richmond
Since becoming CEO of one of the country’s largest energy producers in 2006, Farrell has made his mark. He’s moved the Fortune 500 company forward in the area of alternative energy — Dominion has gotten into solar, wind and biomass — while building a controversial coal-fired plant in Wise County. Farrell has served on some of Virginia’s most high-profile boards, including the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. He also was rector to the board at the University of Virginia, his alma mater. His favorite advice comes from Winston Churchill. “We know where we are and what we are going to do, and also we know what we are not going to do.”


P. Wesley Foster Jr.

Founder, chairman, CEO, The Long & Foster Cos., Chantilly
From a small Fairfax office in 1968, Foster has developed his company into the largest independently held residential real estate business in the country. With 200 offices and more than 13,000 sales associates, Long & Foster is now one of the Washington area’s largest private employers. It offers a full spectrum of services — mortgage, title and insurance — which racked up more than $51 billion in sales in 2009. “I learned early in my career that you need to stay focused on your primary customers in good times and in bad times. You have to just surround yourself with good people and, in our business, keep your focus on your agents and their customers. If you do those things, you’ll always win.”


Michael D. Fraizer

Chairman, president, CEO, Genworth Financial Inc., Henrico County
Fraizer has run the Fortune 500 insurance and investment company since General Electric spun it off in 2004. Its long-term, life insurance and mortgage products ring up sales of nearly $10 billion a year, making Genworth one of the largest insurers in the country. However, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Fraizer is credited with guiding the company’s recovery after 2008 when Genworth reported a loss of $527 million. In 2010, it posted a full-year profit of $142 million. However, a loss of $161 million in the fourth quarter — due to continued weakness in the U.S. housing market — has some observers wondering whether Fraizer’s next move should be spinning off Genworth’s mortgage insurance division. He and his wife, Elizabeth, recently became investors in The Richmond Raiders, an America Indoor Football Association team.


William H. Goodwin Jr.

Chairman and president, CCA Industries, Richmond
Whether it’s business or charity, Goodwin has a golden touch. He bought a struggling bowling operation, AMF, in 1986. Ten years later, he sold it for $1.3 billion and shared $50 million of the proceeds with its employees. Since then, he has focused on leading a diversified holding company with investments in real estate, including luxury hotels. CCA Industries owns Richmond’s five-star rated The Jefferson Hotel. Goodwin and his wife, Alice, have given millions to charity. The couple gave more than $30 million to Virginia Commonwealth University for its School of Engineering, and, according to some sources, has donated more than $80 million to cancer facilities in the U.S., including $25 million for VCU’s Massey Cancer Center. “While working for my father as a teenager, I was able to observe how he conducted business, which was to always work hard, to be very honest and to treat his customers with the greatest amount of respect.”


The Gottwalds, Floyd D. Jr. and Bruce C.

Tredegar Corp., Albemarle Corp., NewMarket Corp., Richmond  
These brothers are the second generation of a family dynasty that built Ethyl Corp. from a small company into a major enterprise offering petroleum additives, specialty chemicals, aluminum and plastics. Today, they and their children continue to play leadership roles and own stock in the three public companies.
Bruce serves as chairman of NewMarket, the parent company of Afton Chemical Corp. and Ethyl Corp. It just reported its most profitable year in 2010, with $1.7 billion in revenue. His son, Thomas E. “Teddy” Gottwald, is NewMarket’s CEO.
Floyd is chairman emeritus of Albemarle, where he retired from the board in 2007, shortly before Albemarle relocated its headquarters from Richmond to Baton Rouge, La. Floyd’s son, William M. Gottwald is vice chairman of Tredegar’s board. Another son, John D. Gottwald retired as Tredegar’s president and CEO in 2010 and now serves on its board and executive committee.
The Gottwald family has been active in various community projects, including St. Andrew’s School and Richmond’s new performing arts center, CenterStage. 


Gerald T. Halpin

President, CEO, West Group Properties LLC, McLean
Halpin is one of the visionaries behind Tysons Corner.  In 1962, he and some partners purchased a 125-acre farm. It became the first land developed for what is now Virginia’s largest office center. West Group recently sold its Tysons Corner portfolio, but that doesn’t diminish Halpin’s stature as one of the leading developers of the region. During his career, he has been credited with developing as much as 18 million square feet of office, retail, residential, resort and industrial space. In 2009, he proved that he hadn’t lost his touch when he initiated construction of a net-zero carbon demonstration project. The GreenHouse in McLean, a single-family home, was named Project of the Year by the National Association of Homebuilders. “Do the very best you can. Angels can do no better.”


John Tilghman “Til” Hazel Jr.

Land-use attorney and developer, Fauquier County
Hazel has been an influential pro-growth force in Fairfax County. He and Milton Peterson built Burke Center and Fair Lakes, a 35-building complex, and as a lawyer he was involved with the planning behind Tysons Corner. Hazel also helped acquire the land for George Mason University, where he has enjoyed a long relationship, serving on its board, as a trustee for its foundation and as the university’s rector. In 2005, GMU named its School of Law building after Hazel, who led efforts to accredit the school. “The best business advice I ever received is from my parents’ example of integrity, common sense and hard work.”


Randal J. Kirk

Venture capitalist, Radford
Kirk is the founder and CEO of venture capital firm Third Security LLC. He got his start in business with a medical supply company, which he sold in 1998. He became a billionaire after selling New River Pharmaceuticals in 2007 to a British company, Shire PLC, for $2.6 billion. At the time, Kirk owned 50 percent of the company’s shares. He is chairman of the board at two biotechnology companies, Halozyme Therapeutics in Rhode Island and Blacksburg-based Intrexon Corp. He also serves on many state boards, including the board of visitors for the University of Virginia, where he received his law degree. He’s also a former rector for Radford University, where he received his undergraduate business degree. “My favorite quote, and potentially the best advice I ever heard, at least in terms of effect, occurred when my partner (in what would become our first significant business success) and I were working fervently to figure out what our opportunity was and how to realize it, calling anyone who could be helpful and basically pestering these people to the brink of their tolerance — and sometimes beyond that point.  We were on the phone with a gentleman who was the sales manager of a company that soon thereafter would become one of our largest vendors — and for which we would later become their largest customer — and we were peppering him with questions when he decided that he had had enough, terminating the conversation by telling us in a raised voice to ‘Stop wasting my time and come back only when you know something about this business.’

We had relished the fact that we were taking a fresh look at a tired little backwater of an industry and had appreciated that we did not know the prevailing norms, but we believed that if we applied ourselves to figuring things out from scratch we would have a decent chance of building something of significance.  The quotation was at once a challenge and a badge of honor to us.  It motivated us to be sharp, and we quoted it for years thereafter, even after our little company had grown to a position of leadership in its category and even after the man whom I have quoted had applied to us for a job.”


Alan I. Kirshner, Anthony F. and Steven A. Markel

Executives, Markel Corp., Henrico County
In what is a triumvirate, Kirshner serves as chairman of the board and CEO while Steven Markel and Anthony Markel, who are cousins, are vice chairmen. The leadership style seems to work, with 2010 a productive year for this $2 billion-a-year specialty insurance company. It continued to grow its non-insurance operations through ac­­­quisitions, including As­­­­­­­­pen Holdings Inc. of Nebraska, a workers’ compensation insurer with operations in 32 states. Markel also acquired a 50 percent stake in West Broad Village, a mixed-use development in Henrico County.
Kirshner: “Stick to your core values. Change is good as long as you stick to your values.”
Anthony Markel: “Be as specific as you can with your associates regarding expectations and reward them for results.”
Steven A. Markel: “When making business decisions, always consider what is in the best long-term interests of the company and its stakeholders.”


Theodore “Ted” J.  Leonsis

Founder, chairman, majority owner, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, Washington, D. C.
One of the original pioneering America Online executives (its vice chairman emeritus) Leonsis later became a movie mogul, author, and founder and investor in startups such as Clearspring Technologies. His current focus is his $850 million sports and entertainment company. Leonsis already was majority owner of the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League. Then he purchased the Washington Wizards (NBA) and the Washington Mystics (WNBA) plus other assets last year from the estate of the late sports entrepreneur Abe Polin. Leonsis is building his sports franchise by recruiting new investors.  “Don’t get too high with the highs or too low with the lows.”


Joseph W. Luter III

Chairman, Smithfield Foods Inc., Smithfield
Luter’s grandfather started the company in 1936.  Over 30 years, Luter built the company into a global food company that in 2010 sold more than $11 billion worth of fresh food products. Before stepping down as CEO in 2006, he oversaw a series of transactions that positioned the Fortune 500 company for growth. Luter also was the architect of the company’s vertical integration, ensuring Smithfield’s own supply of hogs. Challenges along the way included protests from animal rights groups about the company’s treatment of pigs and a $12.6 million civil fine in 1997 for illegal discharges of hog manure into Smithfield’s Pagan River. In 2002, the company hired a former state environmental quality official who oversees sustainability efforts, and today it has been recognized with state and national awards for environmental leadership. Luter remains chairman of the board and his son, Executive Vice President Joseph W. Luter IV, ensures the family’s presence with the company for a fourth generation.


James W. McGlothlin

Founder, former chairman and CEO, The United Co., Bristol
For 39 years, McGlothlin was the chief executive of a private company that became one of the country’s largest coal suppliers.  It diversified into other interests as well, including real estate, golf courses and pharmaceutical manufacturing. In April 2009, Metinvest Holding LLC acquired the privately held United Co. for $1 billion. Jim and his wife, Frances, are art collectors and donated $140 million worth of their American art collection to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. A new addition, including a wing for the McGlothlins’ collection, opened last spring.  “Cash is king.”


G. Gilmer Minor III

Chairman, Owens & Minor, Inc. Richmond
Minor’s great-grandfather co-founded Owens & Minor as a drug wholesaler in 1882.  As CEO from 1984 to 2005, Minor transformed it from a regional player into a publicly traded, Fortune 500 company through a series of acquisitions. While Owens & Minor sold its drug wholesaling business, it became a leading distributor of medical and surgical supplies and a health-care supply-chain management company.  Minor serves on the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and has received numerous business awards, including the Virginia Region Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award.  “My father gave me the best business advice I ever received.  He was my mentor and a great human being and business leader. He said, ‘Always be honest with yourself and others so your conscience will be clear and you can get a good night’s sleep every night.’ He was right!”


Julien G. Patterson

Founder, chairman, Omniplex World Services Corp., Chantilly
Patterson started his security company in 1990. Under his leadership, it has grown into a major enterprise, with two wholly owned subsidiaries, that employs 3,500 people worldwide and generates about $100 million in annual revenue. In 2008, Patterson was the first African-American elected chairman of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. He has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Greater Washington Entrepreneur of the Year Award. “Success is a formula that must be put into practice each day.  It is based on a real vision, a viable plan and building relationships.”


George J. Pedersen

Co-founder, chairman, CEO, ManTech International Corp., Fairfax
Starting with a single contract for the U.S. Navy, Pedersen built his company into a leader in defense security and intelligence. ManTech provides IT expertise in areas ranging from secured communications to cell-phone coverage for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. With 10,000 employees and more than $2 billion in annual revenues, it’s well positioned to remain a top federal contractor due to strategic acquisitions. 


Milton V.  Peterson

Founder, chairman of The Peterson Cos., Fairfax
Peterson is one of Northern Virginia’s leading real estate developers. His company, begun in the early 1970s, has built many major projects including Fair Lakes, Tysons McLean office park and more recently National Harbor, a massive mixed-use complex in Maryland.  As the owner of more than 2,000 acres of land in the Washington area, The Peterson Cos. continue to help shape the region. Peterson has been recognized with many awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003 from the Urban Land Institute. 


Ralph W. Shrader

Chairman, CEO, Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., McLean
Shrader has guided the management and technology consulting company through significant growth. Booz Allen last year made a strong debut on Wall Street, with the value of its stock rising by 13 percent during its IPO. With $5 billion in annual revenue, it’s a mainstay on several, large federal contracts. The company employs more than 25,000 people and continues to beef up its Northern Virginia staff. Shrader is active in many professional and charitable organizations and was named to the Washington Business Hall of Fame in 2009.  His best business advice comes from Gen. Colin Powell.  “Too often change is stifled by people who cling to familiar turfs and job descriptions.  One reason that even large organizations wither is that managers won’t challenge old, comfortable ways of doing things.  But real leaders understand that, nowadays, every one of our jobs is becoming obsolete … The most important question in performance evaluation becomes not, “How well did you perform your job since the last time we met?” but, “How much did you change it?’” 


Carl D. and Larry Silver

The Silver Cos., Fredericksburg
The Silver Cos. have been a major force in Fredericksburg’s development. Carl, the company’s founder, sold used cars in the late 1950s but switched his focus to real estate. His son, Larry, became president in 1972. The company has developed signature projects such as Central Park, a 2.2 million-square-foot retail and restaurant complex. Adjacent to that is Celebrate Virginia, a 2,400-acre campus of hotels, a conference center, retail and entertainment. The company has evolved into a national player in real estate investment and development with a broad portfolio of residential and commercial properties and a commitment to funding its projects.


Michael E. Szymanczyk

Chairman, CEO, Altria Group Inc., Richmond
The former head of Philip Morris USA became chief executive of its parent company, Altria, in 2008. That year Altria spun off its international tobacco unit and moved its headquarters from New York to Richmond. It also consolidated manufacturing operations in Richmond and invested in a $350 million research center downtown. In a new era of federal tobacco regulation, smoking bans and continued lawsuits, Szymanczyk has moved to diversify the Fortune 500 company, overseeing its expansion into smokeless tobacco, cigars and even wine. In 2010, Altria’s adjusted diluted earnings per share were up by nearly 9 percent. Altria has donated millions to support Richmond projects and was named Corporate Philanthropist of the year in November by the Central Virginia Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. The best business advice Szymanczyk received came early in his career from a Proctor & Gamble supervisor, Ray Kimball. “Work hard, be fair and accountable and learn from the mistakes you will inevitably make.”


Michael J. Quillen

Chairman, Alpha Natural Resources Inc., Abingdon
This Southwest Virginia coal executive will see his company go from being America’s third-largest coal producer to the world’s third-largest producer of metallurgical coal after its planned merger with Richmond-based Massey Energy Co.  The $8.5 billion cash and stock deal makes Alpha a global player at a time when metallurgical coal — used in making steel — is in high demand. Quillen, who served as Alpha’s CEO from 2004 until 2009, is credited with building Alpha through a series of acquisitions. After the merger is complete, Quillen’s board will preside over a combined company with 14,000 employees, more than 110 mines and coal reserves of about 5 billion tons. Quillen is generous with his time, serving on the Virginia Port Authority and the board of visitors at his alma mater, Virginia Tech.  “Always treat people the way you would expect to be treated in a similar situation.  People deserve to be treated honestly, fairly and with respect.” 


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