Getting things done in DC’s business suburbs

While the greater D.C. region is experiencing growth, constructing new huge buildings for even bigger companies, it’s not always clear what draws this growth to the area. Mary-Claire Burick, is the President of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, and a tireless promoter of growth in our region. During her career, Burick has been the manager and operator of a number of media news organizations, including WJLA Channel 7, Politico, and Fox News Channel. She’s also an expert on leadership and change.

ABERMAN: I’m not sure everybody knows: what is a business improvement district, and what do you do as president of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District?

BURICK: So, it’s so funny, Jonathan, I did not know what a BID was when I took the job. Honestly, when they were recruiting me, I had to check it out, and once I discovered, really, they are the neighborhood conveners, if you will. We make the place look great. We make sure people know about it, and really at our core, we are convening the people who live there, work there, invest there, play there, and just making it a great place to be.

ABERMAN: In a prior experience, you were heavily involved, from an operational standpoint, in delivering news, delivering information. It seems to me that influence is a commonality. What do you think has been the hallmark success of people who’ve really been able to impact how D.C. operates?

BURICK: So, I think it’s such an interesting question. When you talk about influence, and where that stem from, how does that come about, I think anything worth doing is done through other people. So, I think the most successful leaders, and certainly something that I’ve tried to employ, is around other people. Getting the right people involved, at the right time. And that’s how you influence change.

That’s how make things happen, you get the right people involved, and you get them really coalesced around one common goal. And that, to me, I believe is one of the reasons why we’ve had success in Rosslyn. That’s really been my approach to get not only the right staff, and the right board members, but the politicians involved, and really getting everyone coalesced around one goal, which is not only making Rosslyn and Arlington great, but really showcasing what this region has to offer.

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ABERMAN: It’s funny, you talk about leadership as bringing people together. I think that there is a real large misapprehension, and some of it may be driven by the media, that— we love stars. The people who wave their arms the most get the most attention. But my experience is the folks that really have the influence here, you don’t necessarily hear a lot about them.

BURICK: I agree one hundred percent with you, Jonathan. Again, it’s that quiet leadership that really is around having a vision, helping to create and coalesce vision, and then get people around that, and bought into it. And that takes a lot of work, and frankly, I am grateful that I’ve had experiences both in media, I’ve worked for nonprofits, I’ve done government work, and it all really boils down to the same thing. It’s around how you establish a vision, and then really think through the steps to get yourself there. And again, it’s around getting the right people involved.

ABERMAN: And it’s not a function, I think, of creating a vision in a vacuum. The other part I see: I’ve really never seen an effective leader who isn’t incredibly empathetic.

BURICK: One hundred percent. You have to be. I mean, interestingly, I’m going to be giving a talk to some young folks today, around managing up. And part that message, I think, is around empathy. You have to be able to manage up, down, sideways, and really, it’s around understanding where the other person is coming from, and how you meet in the middle to get something accomplished. Because you’re never going to get everything that you want, and the other person is never going to get everything they want. So, how do you meet them in the middle? And I think empathy is a key piece of that.

ABERMAN: How often, and how effectively, do government and the private sector really work together in this community? Where do you really see it working well?

BURICK: So, I think we’re a prime example of where it does work well. Certainly, it’s not without its challenges. I can attest that. But, that’s really the essence of what a business improvement district is. It’s bringing together the best of the private sector, the best of the government, and putting all that together, to make sure that it works. And I think we’ve seen some great examples with some of the regionalism that were seeing happening around some of these big HQ moves, and some of these other things.

You can’t do those unless you are bringing together the private sector and the public sector. I think Nestlé and Rosslyn is a perfect example of where government and the private sector worked beautifully together to attract, and ultimately land, this tenant. Because it’s more than just incentives, and the area, and then wanting to locate in a wonderful region like what we have in a neighborhood like Rosslyn, but they really had some concerns that had to be addressed, and the government was really the only one that could make some of those moves.

ABERMAN: I love hearing stories like how the Nestlé building happened. I think it’s a great example of how private investors take a risk, build a building, and government and private sector come together. Now, we have another anchor company here in the region. I find that very inspirational. It’s exciting. I’m excited about this coming year, myself. Mary-Claire, what are you most excited about?

BURICK: I think we are really poised, in Rosslyn and within our region, to do some great things. Obviously, Amazon HQ2 has been on everyone’s mind, and it’s just exciting to me to see, with the MetroNow coalition coming together, and us finally, seemingly, working together as a region. That’s really exciting to me, and I think that brings a lot of good things down the pipe. So, I’m very bullish on this area, and I think we’ve got a lot of great things coming.

ABERMAN: Well, it’s always good to see you, and I look forward to hearing about many large buildings rising in our region, and that you and Rosslyn get your fair share.

BURICK: Thank you, Jonathan.