Capital Region CATALYZE

Catalyze: Inclusive Growth

June 17, 2021 Greater Washington Partnership Season 1 Episode 4
Capital Region CATALYZE
Catalyze: Inclusive Growth
Show Notes Transcript

This episode features a robust conversation about Inclusive Growth across the Capital Region. Host JB Holston is joined by Tony Pierce, a GWP board member, in discussion with Sheila Johnson and Jason Wright, Co-Chairs of GWP's Inclusive Growth Strategy Council.

Hosted by JB Holston. Produced by Maribeth Romslo and Nina Sharma. Edited by Maribeth Romslo. Engineered by Micah Johnson. With support from Francesca Ioffreda, Jenna Klym, Justin Matheson-Turner, Joe Maloney, Giardy Ritz, and Christian Rodriguez.



Tony Pierce is the partner in charge of the Washington DC office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer Feld LLP.  His clients span an array of industries, including technology, telecommunications, health care, energy, media and entertainment, financial services and government contracting. An experienced trial lawyer, Tony brings well-honed litigation skills, ingenuity and a vigorous presence.

Throughout his career, Tony has been an active force in legal organizations, including the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia.  He is the past chair of the Greater Washington Board of Trade and serves on the board of the Greater Washington Partnership, a group of civic-minded business leaders investing in solutions that drive growth and create economic opportunity. He is also the General Counsel of the Economic Club of Washington and a member of the Executive Committee of the Federal City Council.


Sheila Johnson is Founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts, a collection of properties along the east coast and in the Caribbean that includes Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Virginia, which has been awarded the distinguished Forbes Five Star rating.

As Vice Chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, Ms. Johnson is the only African-American woman to have ownership in three professional sports teams: NBA’s Washington Wizards, NHL’s Washington Capitals, and the WNBA’s 2019 World Champions Washington Mystics, for which she serves as President and Managing Partner. Ms. Johnson is a member of the Collective Bargaining Committee of the WNBA. In 2016, she spearheaded WE Capital, a venture capital consortium that invests in female-led enterprises.

Ms. Johnson is a founding partner of Black Entertainment Television. Ms. Johnson is founder and chair of the Middleburg Film Festival.  A supporter of education, the Sheila C. Johnson Fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School supported a cohort of 50 fellows – emerging leaders dedicated to improving the lives of the underserved.


Jason Wright is the President of the Washington Football Team. He is the first Black team president in the history of the NFL and currently is the youngest team president in the League. He is the fourth former NFL player to become president of a team.

Prior to joining the Washington Football Team, Jason was a partner in McKinsey & Company's Washington DC office. His work focused on expanding the value of large, complex organizations through operations and culture transformations. Jason also led McKinsey's global inclusion strategy and recently spearheaded the rollout of McKinsey's anti-racism and inclusion strategy. He co-founded the Black Economic Institute, a research entity that analyzes the racial wealth gap, and is a prominent voice in public discussions regarding racial equity in corporate America. 


people, capital, sheila, jason, salamander, leader, inclusive growth, business, washington, inclusion, tony, folks, places, role, question, social capital, called, learned, thought, pandemic


Sheila Johnson, Tony Pierce, Jason Wright, JB Holston


Tony Pierce  00:01

As people are coming out of the pandemic, how do we make sure we don't exclude a group of people from that access the social capital access,


Sheila Johnson  00:09

I wanted to put myself in their shoes to learn to sit back and listen to see how I could keep them motivated, activated, not to give up how you have to


Jason Wright  00:20

become okay making your best available decision in the midst of uncertainty.


JB Holston  00:26

Welcome to Capital Region Catalyze a monthly podcast from the Greater Washington partnership featuring thought leaders who are shaping the future of our region. I'm jB holston, the CEO of the Greater Washington partnership. As many of you know, the partnership believes that inclusion is the preeminent economic and moral imperative of our time, the region that's the most inclusive will be the region that grows the fastest. Our mission is to make the capital region the nation's leading economic engine of inclusive growth, and a magnet for talent and business investment. Since the partnership began, we've been accelerating inclusion through our work on education, transportation and housing. Last year, Tony Pierce agreed to chair our boards inclusive growth committee. And a few months ago, we launched the inclusive growth strategy Council, headed by Sheila Johnson and Jason right. We're thrilled to have these three incredible leaders with us today. Tony Hsieh let Jason welcome. Glad to be here.


Sheila Johnson  01:17

JB, thank you. Pleasure.


Jason Wright  01:18

Same. Let's get going.


JB Holston  01:20

Let's get going. All right, let's start by talking a little bit about you. Just take a moment and talk a little bit about what you do and what you have been doing. Tony, why don't we start with you?


Tony Pierce  01:31

Sure. I'm Tony Pierce. I'm the partner in charge of the Washington office of Akin Gump Strauss, Hauer and Feld and I am a native Washingtonian, one of the few that you will meet my grew up in the Washington area, went to high school out Northern Virginia, went to college at George Mason and law school in Georgia. I have been practicing law for almost 34 years now and enjoying it. And I've been very active in local business organizations having chaired the Board of Trade. I've been involved in the Olympic bid, federal City Council, economic club, you name it. I've been involved in it. That's one of the reasons I have an interest in our inclusive growth plan because of that involvement over the years. 


JB Holston  02:12

Sheila, how about you?


Sheila Johnson  02:14

I'm Sheila Johnson, CEO, founder salamander hotels and resorts and vice president of monumental sports and entertainment. I have been here since 1972. So I have watched the growth of this incredible city, and I am from the Chicago area. I cant say I was born and raised here because I moved 10 times because my father was a African American neurosurgeon with the government and was not allowed to practice in white hospitals. And he was positioned in VA hospitals. But it was a great experience. It helped build resiliency. As far as my life is concerned, I got to move to so many different schools and finally settled outside of Chicago, where I started studying music. So I'm also a musician. I'm an educator taught at the Sidwell Friends School, also taught in New Jersey public school system, then was all part of the whole cable business that shot up in Washington DC, from DC cable to Black Entertainment Television. From there then got into the hospitality business, and paralleling to that getting into the sports business. And I got to know Tony through the Olympic bid, and I've gotten to know Jason, just briefly more, I have watched Jason through media, I am so proud of him, and the new position that he has with the Washington football team. And both of you were my idols, I just have to say that I just want to say it's a pleasure working with both of you.


Jason Wright  03:44

Oh my gosh, I mean, Sheila, you are an icon for all of us. You blazed the trail that made us all think it was possible to be a chief exec at a young age breaking into new new industries.


Sheila Johnson  03:57

Well, that's great, but now it's about you.


Jason Wright  04:01

You're right. I gotta pick up the baton. To hear you say that I'm like, whoo, that's a lot. I'll give the quick on me. I'm Jason Wright, president of the Washington football team. I'm not a native Washingtonian from the west coast, but I've been here since 2012. And the path that brought me here was one that was written on the back of a pigskin. I played in the NFL for seven years. And with the Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals, I finished up my career as a team captain for the Cardinals and labor union leader during the 2011 labor lockout, which is where a sense that had been building for a long time really came to fruition for me, that it wasn't just the most talented athletes or the most talented whatever, in any workplace that actually were able to drive social impact or impact on the things that I cared about. It was the people that knew how to generate and distribute capital. And I realized during those negotiations, like I don't know how money is made in this league, and that's why I got no shot in talking to these owners about anything. So I should go to business school and learn about how capital was generated and distributed if I care about all these equity issues and other things that I've been working on over that time. And so where that all led me was to a consulting firm called McKinsey and Company where I cut my teeth as a business leader and thinker. And as part of that got provided with an unexpected platform to drive a national dialogue on economic equity, did a bunch of research that set the stage for the business imperative of diversity and inclusion, whether that was the inclusion of diverse profiles in the C suite to closing the racial wealth gap, you know, if you close the racial wealth gap as it existed five years ago, then it would produce one to $1.5 trillion annually to the US economy. And that's a benefit to everybody. And that's what I want to generate. And that's why you see me here today. And it's frankly, why I took this role that I'm in now, because this is a franchise that has a ton of capital, intellectual capital, relational capital, the power of our brand, its connection to people and their history, and are getting prepared to make investments in the DMV that can have a generational impact. And if we do that with equity principles in mind, then that does something really powerful. So I get to no longer just talk about it, I get to be about it.


JB Holston  06:06

That's terrific. And you just set up my next question. So I appreciate that. Jason. But you know, we talked about inclusive growth. And we've said, okay, we want to make this region the most inclusive, the most equitable. Jason, I'll start with you. If you think about what that looks like, in 10 years, what does that look like? And what does it look like in one year?


Jason Wright  06:24

I think in 10 years, you'd have to look at some of the large markers of inequity, it would be everything from employment numbers across demographic groups, it would be net worth by census track business growth, revenue growth, by company and demographic, you'd want to see a closing of the gaps that currently exists in the near term, I think you look for one, two to three targeted programs that do a couple things, bring substantial capital to places that have been capital starved, and doesn't have to be necessary financial capital to be other types of capital, intellectual, relational, whatever it is, but something that is in a targeted way, bringing new capital two places that have been disinvested, or individuals or companies that have been disinvested in in the past. And then I think what we want to see is that capital coming not just from the Sheila Johnson's of the world who have done it for some time, but from a coalition of companies from around the DMV, and the Greater Washington area, Baltimore to Richmond that are together, saying that this is a priority. And we know this impacts all of us. And there is a broader coalition of folks and maybe even voices and companies and leaders who weren't invested in this cause or this topic before bringing some of that capital to bear again, whether it's intellectual, relational capital, or real financial and physical capital. 


JB Holston  07:46

That's great. Thank you for that. And that allows me to talk a little bit about hospitality. In particular, Sheila, if you could talk to us a little bit about how's the hospitality industry heard over this last year? And where do you see some of the opportunities if we're going to focus on inclusive growth for that industry?


Sheila Johnson  08:02

Well, first of all, I want people to understand hospitality is so important in this whole DMV area, it's really the economic engine, that is really keeping over 600,000 people employed. And because of COVID, and layoffs and closings, it is really made a huge economic impact, especially to women, to minorities, it has really been tough, but we're going to have to start looking at this differently. And I think change can be our friend, and we need to reset and look at everything that is going on. We may have to have new business models and all of this. I know that during the time that we closed down our hotels, we realized that we needed to get together and start thinking outside the box. As a leader myself, I had to be alert, I needed to be poised and disciplined on how I was going to move forward. And I think so many in the restaurant industry and in the hospitality industry are taking this idea and really resetting how they're going to move forward.


JB Holston  09:07

Yeah, thank you for that. And, Tony, let me turn to you. You've got a broad swath of business clients, what are you hearing from them about recovery? And then maybe comment on Jason's frame for you know, what does success look like 


Tony Pierce  09:21

on the the access to capital of all kinds that he mentioned, it's probably the single biggest issue facing our effort to get a more inclusive economic growth. There's a significant amount of money being left on the table, because we don't have that there was a good piece in The Washington Post magazine about all the restaurants that had opened during COVID. And what they were doing was sort of an effort to promote them. And I just wondered where the capital came for some of those restaurants because it's that kind of business growth that I think we're going to need in the long term. As for what's happening now, most of our clients are large, first of all, so they are all trying to figure out When to get their folks back, and it runs again, you know, our good friends at our chair of our GWP, JP Morgan, you heard his boss say, we need to be back yesterday. And then I know there's some law firms that have no plans to come back until January of 2022. You know, what I always think about is the folks that couldn't stay home and work the folks that had to come in, I stayed at home for about a month, last year. And then I just started coming in, in my role as managing partner here. I came in, and the only people I would see were the cleaning folks. And I wondered to myself, they have to come in every day. And I want to see those people rise up. That's what I want to see. And I think if we do that, I think we will have done the region and the country and ourselves a great service.


Sheila Johnson  10:47

Tony, can I ask you a question, then if you want to see them rise up? What can we do? This is what's worrying me more than anything. And these are the people that we are directly trying to help. But I'm just very concerned that the people that we've had to lay off at Monumental Sports that have been furloughed, these are the ones that are suffering. And I think this is where our focus is going to have to be.


Tony Pierce  11:11

So I think, you know, on the in the short term, getting us as back to normal as much as we can should be our focus. And obviously the best way to do that, I think, and I'm not a doctor or anything, but it just makes sense to me. And the evidence is been clear so far, that vaccinations are the key. So one thing I would say is it we as all larger employers should be focusing on making sure people get in backstage, because that's the fastest way we're going to get back to normal. So you can have people back in the restaurants back in hotels, back in my office building and doing things that generated employment like we had before. I think in the long term, you know, I think for example, we're gonna have to pay a hell of a lot of attention to education. One of the things that were key to my success was my parents focus on education, right on making sure I got the table stakes to function in society, right? By the way, education doesn't mean that everybody's got to have a college degree. But people have to have a skill and a skill that wanted in the economy. But to the extent we can instill more than it is now that concept of getting, I'm talking from preschool, driving that thought of education of some form to prepare them for what we all know is out here, as we deal with our businesses everyday. I think that's terribly important. So I don't know Sheila, that answered your question. But


Sheila Johnson  12:36

That answered my question. And You took the words right out of my mouth, because I can give you examples where I have employees with vocational training, and they're now my top chefs. I mean, there's just so many opportunities out there. And we have got to take the responsibility of really helping focus these students into other areas. I am telling you the way college tuitions are now, they're going to be so many of us that cannot afford sending kids to college,


Jason Wright  13:05

I think one of the things that we will definitely look at is re examining the concept of re skilling and upskilling. It's been talked about for the better part of a decade now as a key factor on inclusion, because black and brown folks and women in particular typically positioned in the jobs that are the most automatable that are on the decline in terms of pay, how do we actually rescale populations of the workforce at this moment where there's furloughs and pauses to remember in a different job classification or on a different career path with a new set of credentials and skills that allow them to accelerate into bigger income, more high growth industries and jobs going forward? I also think there's something that we can do within our companies, and that we can look at across the Greater Washington partnership. And that's how we hire talent. Can we shift from a credential based approach where you require a bachelor's or you require some sort of graduate degree just to have a conversation with us just to get through the resume screen, when we know that there is systemic bias going way back in the educational system that prevents especially black and brown people from even being in that conversation? So if we as companies take a different approach, let's say the resume screen is no longer going to be based on higher ed credentialing alone, but we get granular and we say what are the other certifications that could signal the ability to compete in one of our mid level management roles or entry level management roles or even upper management roles? What are the skill sets and the experiences that people have had that are actually analogous to what makes you successful in this role separate and apart from the traditional credentialing that is rooted in historic bias? I think if we're able to do that, we could actually do our part to move the needle.


Sheila Johnson  14:44

Yeah, I think Jason that's, that's really great. And I think we all have to do what we can to individually reach out. But I'd like to see it even from the elementary school level into the high school where we can bring people in there that can help inspire these young people in To show them that there are other paths in education where they can be successful. Yeah, sure,


JB Holston  15:05

that raises a good point. But Sheila, you and Jason are both involved in the sports world. But you know, athletes can have a role in all this. They're certainly ambassadors, Jason, how are you thinking about that out of the players think about that.


Jason Wright  15:15

Yeah, the way that I look at where athletes have evolved to and using their platform, their influences, they have become probably the most sophisticated influencers in society, on driving public narrative, they've learned how to not only use their voice, but they have learned how to create a space for dialogue and debate. They've learned how to guide and direct that debate. By getting smart on the background of the issues they're talking about the Bill Russell's the Kareem Abdul Jabbars the Muhammad Ali's folks who are doing this in pockets. That's now a broad set of folks who have developed this capability, I think the evolution you have seen over the last several months is that it has gone from driving public narrative and dialogue to influencing impact at the legislative or community level. And that's where I'm very interested in I feel like it's my responsibility, as the business leader of the organization to provide the structure, the resources, the connections, the capital, back to the theme of capital provide the capital that players don't have, they've got a ton of brand capital and relational capital, but they might lack some of the intellectual capital, the financial capital, the political capital to drive some of these things forward. So I'll give two examples. One of those, and this is related to inclusion, because part of driving economic inclusion forward is ensuring that you have representative inclusion when you're voting. And so one of the things that our players came out of the summer wanting to do was really get behind to get out the vote campaign, we, you know, we heard them and we said, well, let us help you, here's how we're going to do that. We're going to provide the stadium as infrastructure, we're going to provide registration at all of our physical locations around the Greater Washington area, we're going to partner with organizations that you might not have reach into players, but we're going to partner with them to provide food and water for people in line. So we were able to put the wrap around infrastructure around something the players wanted to do, and then bring them along with us so that they then learn the muscle on how to do that. I think as they continue to become more and more thoughtful about all of these different topics related to racial justice, they eventually are going to start talking about economic justice. What we can do with this effort is bring them into the things that we are working on, allow them to use their voice to drive narrative, but also use their influence to help drive some of this capital forward in a more equitable way as well. So I think there's there's so much that they've done, and there's so much that we as business leaders can help do in partnership with them.


JB Holston  17:41

It has to do with a social capital question, you know, each of you, as leaders in the community have a tremendous amount of social connectivity and network capital and all that Antonia, and I think of you as Vernon Jordan of today, but you've got


Tony Pierce  17:54

it would be wrong. There's there's no other Vernon Jordan.


JB Holston  17:58

Well, you know, you,


Tony Pierce  18:00

I'm glad you think. No comparison.


JB Holston  18:05

You know, the question is, how do we scale that social capital that you folks have? So much of the opportunity head isn't just going to be about making sure we've got that financial capital, where we've got that educational opportunity? It's how do we connect folks at scale to those places where that kind of social capital, and I ask it, partly because you know, we're coming out of COVID, where people are coming out of hibernation?


Tony Pierce  18:30

Oh, that's right. It's not the it's not the networking that we all love to do beforehand, right? I know, there are a number of organizations that work on those kinds of issues and try to make those connections, I guess, I would say that one of the ways we could help is to maybe figure out ways to support those organizations. You know, I do a lot with the Legal Aid Society, which I will tell you that organization does more to keep people out of poverty than anyone could ever imagine. One of the great things they do is the difference between someone who is the subject of domestic violence, or someone who has an eviction issue, or someone who was subject to predatory lending, the difference between taking that person into poverty and not, it's what I view is social capital. But it's a tough issue that you raise. And it's certainly something that we're going to have to pay attention to, particularly as you say, as people are coming out of the pandemic, they're going to be back out in the community, and how do we make sure we don't exclude a group of people from that access, the social capital access that she talked about? And as we talk about the financial capital?


JB Holston  19:35

Absolutely. If you look at the whole STEM pipeline, you know, new skills, data is really clear. We're just not making progress on broadening the pipeline, the STEM talent pipeline. And Sheila, you talked about this. Part of the reason is if we say the only way to do that is to get an electrical engineering degree at a top 20 University. We're never going to get there. We're gonna have to find new pathways, I think and I think that's going to have to be part of the answer, folks. I want to segue a little bit and just talk about the last year and make a little more personal. If you think about the last year, I'm gonna ask each of you, what did you learn about leadership? leading through a pandemic?


Jason Wright  20:10

I think I learned a couple of things about leading in a pandemic. The first is, it's hard to recognize in the moment when you're going through something that is unprecedented and historic. I mean, I know we felt it, I know, we said it, the word unprecedent was probably the most popular word of 2020. But at the same time, I don't think we thought about how a once in a generational event is affecting all of us psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, thinking about how our workforce was impacted, throughout all the change. And all of that is something that I came to it later than I would have wanted to. And I definitely came to the realization of the need for self care as a leader later than I wanted to, I think the other thing that you have to become Okay, making your best available decision in the midst of uncertainty. The companies and individuals who did the best during the pandemic, are those that placed a bet and provided some forward momentum or vision to their staff, to their business partners, to their customers, to their fans, and said here is where we are headed. Those who got an analysis paralysis and left their customers fans, others in limbo are those that suffered the most. And we were good at that at times. We weren't good at that, at times. I think there's something about decisiveness in the face of uncertainty that even if you're wrong, actually gives you a closer connection and a better ability to recover out the other side. Those would be my couple of reflections.


JB Holston  21:28

Sheila, how about you? What would you say you learned about leadership over this last year?


Sheila Johnson  21:31

Well, I think first of all, I had to learn to sit back, develop patience, stay positive, I had to do a lot of collective soul searching about me as a leader and how I was going to continue to inspire and motivate not only my executive team, but my employees to give them hope. And one of the things I learned to do is to learn to sit back and listen, just to listen to what other people are thinking and wanting to hear what they thought about how they were going to start living their lives. During this shutdown, I wanted to put myself in their shoes, I also reached out to some employees, to see how I could keep them motivated, activated, not to give up hope. And that's where I did have to use my voice to continue to try and inspire and give them the strength in the hope that we were going to get back on our feet. Because when COVID hit every month, we didn't know whether we're going to open the next month, the next month. So I had to really think of myself as a leader and where I was going to position myself. But I wanted to give everybody more of an equal voice and then come together and see if we could find a solution. And I think more than anything, it was more of teamwork working together, so that no one felt left out.


JB Holston  22:54

Tony. How about you?


Tony Pierce  22:55

Collaboration and connectivity are the two things I learned the most in this. And what I realized is that as we made decisions about what to do, you couldn't just make decisions on your own, that you needed to have the collaboration with other leaders in the organization and with the staff, people who you were leading to get their input on many of those decisions. I think I learned important to that, to have that collaboration. JB I think we had to stay connected, it was very hard to be connected when you didn't see everybody in the office, right? We you know, we started with phone calls, then we went to the crazy zoom world that we're in now. But we stay connected. And it really helped me lead. I mean, I set up this thing inside firm called tea time with Tony. Every Wednesday at 330, there will be 15 people from the office ranging from partners in the firm to you know, a guy that's in our mailroom, and they would all get on zoom, and we'd all have conversations, much of it would not be about work. So I would say that both of those things helped me to be a better leader. I hope that we don't forget, at least I hope I don't forget that you're going to have to have more collaboration, you can't do it alone, and you're going to have to stay connected to your people. And then also one other thing, you also got to stay connected to the clients.


JB Holston  24:11

Yeah, that's great. Next up is our Ask the other person, anything part of the show where we give each of you an opportunity to ask a question, any question you'd like,


Tony Pierce  24:20

I got a question. You want me to go first. There's nothing to ask of me. But we got two people much more exciting to me on here. Jason, you were hit physically on the football field, compare the hits on the football field to whatever hits you're getting as a business person now.


Jason Wright  24:36

I'd say the the one difference with football hits in business hits is that in football, you are always able to hit back in business. You can always hit back lawyers tie your hands. The business strategy ties your hands. You can't always hit back when you get hit even if you would be justified in hitting back. I think in business. It does work. require a bit more of anchoring in your values, your belief in yourself and your company and where you're headed. Whether it's a bad business investment that didn't go, Well, a negative PR campaign targeted against you, whatever it is, the ability to weather those things gets into a very deep place of what is your bigger vision? How can you focus on that vision to help you weather those moments and actually make the measured patient adult decisions in those moments, whereas in football, you got to have some patience, you got to be measured can't hit them right after the play when you got hit. But then next play, I'll cover for you, therein lies the difference. Okay, can I go next with questions?


JB Holston  25:38

Yeah, you can go. Yep. 


Jason Wright  25:39

All right. So for Tony, if you were to take me through, you know, what would you do? If you had, I don't know, 12 hours and DC to give me the authentic Tony Pierce, DC experience? Where were we eating? What are we doing? Where are we going and spending our time? Okay,


Tony Pierce  25:56

So you're a skinny in shape guy. I'm a big guy. First is we're going to have some food. So we got 12 hours during the day, we're going to have breakfast first, okay. And we're going to try to find breakfast at a little place that I hope it's still in business, because I haven't checked about called Florida Avenue grill. Then what we're going to do is we Well, let's do lunch, we'll do lunch at Ben's Chili Bowl. And then because you're a high class guy, we're gonna have dinner at one of my favorite restaurants downtown called Iriki. Alright, so that's the food portion of our event. The other thing we're going to do, you can't have an authentic DC experience, in my view without seeing some of the monuments. And I would tell you to take your wife and I'll take my wife, and we'll go to the most romantic place in Washington, nighttime, we're going to go to the Lincoln Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial go read the words for the second inaugural address in the Lincoln Memorial, and you will be inspired, both mentally and lovingly.


Jason Wright  26:59

Okay. Yes, sir.


Tony Pierce  27:01

That last thing that I would encourage Well, the two other things I would encourage you to do. One is take a walk and Rock Creek Park. It's one of the prettiest places in the world and you can get in the park and places and not know that you're in the city. And the other thing I would tell you to do, and you have to take advantage of some sporting event in the city.


Jason Wright  27:20

Yeah, Sheila, I would love to hear when the dream of Salamander and a set of resorts. What was the moment where you saw the vision for it? And I'm just curious how it all came to be in your head and your heart.


Sheila Johnson  27:33

Yeah, the only reason why I got in the hospitality business is I bought 340 acres from Pamela Harriman. It was the last for a state I walked up on that piece of lands. And so as I walked up there, the light bulb went off and I knew that I needed to build something there. And right away it came to me that first of all is going to be in in and then he said you're not gonna make any money off and so then it turned into a resort. But I also knew that economically the town in Middleburg was really economically distressed. I took it upon myself first of all to buy a gun shop, which had a Confederate flag in it took that flag out, turned it into a salamander market. Then I started putting together an idea of designing a resort. And the reason why people don't know why I call it Salamander. The farm that I bought was called salamander. And it used to be owned by a man by the name of Bruce Sutherland, who became governor of Rhode Island later, but he was a fighter pilot and was shot down over Nazi occupied Belgium. To his entire unit was taken in the POW camp, he was able to escape the story of Hogan's Heroes is the story of Bruce Sutherland. So when he got to, into the occupied allied occupied areas in France, the US came to him and said, Look, we got to rescue your unit out of this POW camp, we're going to give you the codename Salamander. And he says, Well, what does Salamander mean, he said, they said, it's the only animal that can walk through fire and still come out alive in thats you. And at that point in my life, I was walking through some fire. And I said, I want that name. And from that moment on, I recite with my employees. The Salamander motto is perseverance, courage, and fortitude. And that's how I live my life moving forward. And from there, I've been able to build a company with five more hotels. That's where Salamander came from. So now I will ask you all question and it won't be an easy one. What is your favorite movie? And why?


Tony Pierce  29:46

Now? Sheila, you want favorite movie? We can't do categories because I haven't broken down into categories, but I won't give you my favorite one. I know. I'll give you my favorite one. It's a lot of people's favorite one. The Godfather.


Sheila Johnson  29:58

It's about the family.  


Tony Pierce  30:00

It is about the family. And the reason I like it so much is because if you think about anything that you have happened to you in life, good or bad, there's always a scene in The Godfather that you can relate it to.


Jason Wright  30:13

I like the epics and the fantasies because I think they contain timeless truths about heroism about defying the odds. I'm in Star Wars nerd, I'm a Lord of the Rings nerd, there's so much in there that I need to be inspired by on a consistent basis. But if I pivot off of the my nerdiness, which I could do all day, and I can watch those films and nothing else and be fine, it will be Sister Act II. Between the music the fact that Lauryn Hill was the star of it and was like before we knew it was gonna break out like, I mean, it's a great movie, great movie.


Tony Pierce  30:48

Both of our Sister Acts a great movies.


Jason Wright  30:51

And there's a quote, I always use if you want to be somebody if you want to go somewhere, you better wake up and pay attention.


Sheila Johnson  30:57



JB Holston  30:58

Thank you for listening to capital region catalyze tune in next month, where I'll talk with our board chair Peter Scher is also vice chair at JPMorgan Chase and the head of the new Morgan Health Initiative. Be sure to check out our weekly interview series called Fresh Take where we talk one on one with thought leaders from across the region. And for more information on the podcast and what we do, follow us on Twitter and Instagram or visit Greater Washington Partnership dot com. Thanks for joining us.