The power list
Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Virginia 500 — The 2020 Power List. This project has taken more than a year from concept to completion. Our hope is that you will find it to be an insightful and helpful resource on leadership in Virginia.
Five hundred is a big number. Just who should be on a list of Virginia’s most powerful? Where to begin? Capt. John Smith? John Rolfe? How about Chief Powhatan, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings or Nat Turner? Fortunately, we are doing this in 2020 as a contemporary resource, rather than as a history of power in the commonwealth. Nevertheless, Virginia’s long reputation as a powerful place continues to this day.
Just what is power? Dictionary definitions point to things like the ability to act, legal or official authority, the capacity for and the possession of control or authority over others. In the process of producing this list, there were many conversations about how being powerful is different from being influential. Not everyone on this list is well-known. Some CEOs lead companies and organizations with global dimensions extending well beyond the boundaries of the commonwealth.
Some of Virginia Business’ other lists have been less expansive — on purpose. For example, our list of the 50 Most Influential Virginians in March’s Big Book excludes politicians and university presidents on the basis that they would crowd out many influential businesspeople. For obvious reasons, December’s Legal Elite list includes only lawyers. Our list of 100 People to Meet is limited to only those who are, in our view, interesting.
A list of 500 leaders gives us a little more walking-around room to recognize people. Yes, they can be influential. Yes, they can be politicians or academic leaders. And yes, they can be lawyers. And yes, they are also interesting.
Still, while 500 is a big number, it leaves only so much room in specific categories. First and foremost, we want to make sure to include powerful leaders in the business community, which leaves less room for state government, academia and elsewhere.
Overall, the Virginia 500 includes leaders in 20 categories, some broken into subcategories, with the number of listings in each ranging from six to more than 60. Along the way, we had questions like, “How many will be included in each category?” Well, that depends. There aren’t as many players in an unquestionably important category like energy, while there are many more in other important categories such as banking or real estate. Given the commonwealth’s proximity to and the indisputable economic importance of Dee Cee, federal contractors is the largest category.
Likewise, business density or government location means that there will be more listings in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads than places like the Shenandoah Valley, Southern or Southwest Virginia. Still, we hope to have captured a solid picture of the powerful across all regions.
Similarly, diversity and inclusion are challenges. Virginia Business is purposefully conscious of the need to highlight the achievements of women and ethnically diverse communities in all our listings. Still, despite the increasing diversity of Virginia’s business community, leadership and power tends to stay a step behind the changing demographics of the commonwealth. The C-suite unfortunately lags somewhat in the diversity of top leadership positions. The good news is that Virginia Business will be here to continue to document such changes.
Yes, 500 is a big number. But we have no illusions that this inaugural Power List is comprehensive or captures every powerful person in the commonwealth. But, in a remarkable year, this publication is a good reminder that Virginia is a remarkable place for power and leadership. And we thank you for your readership.