Women in Business: Lynda Webster, Founder and Chairman, The Webster Group

03/16/2015 04:54 am ET | Updated May 15, 2015

Lynda C. Webster is the Founder and Chairman of The Webster Group. is one of the most sought after event, development and relationship strategists in Washington, DC. She has an incomparable ability to coach and connect clients with thought leaders and decision makers at the highest levels of business and government; her ability to create strategic partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit organizations comes from her wide-ranging experience as a business and community leader.

For more than twenty years, Ms. Webster has played a key role in major projects in the Washington, DC area and beyond. Her first extraordinary opportunity came in 1984 when she was given the role of opening director of sales for the historic Willard Inter-Continental Hotel; she was later promoted to director of marketing and eventually moved on to marketing and sales roles with the Watergate and Fours Seasons- Boston hotels.

Following her marriage to former FBI director and then CIA director William Webster, Lynda retired from the hotel business and turned her sights to service--assuming leadership roles in a number of key philanthropic organizations such as the National Symphony, Friends of the US Arboretum, The Salvation Army and many more.

Ms. Webster's reputation as a responsible fundraising volunteer changed to professional event planner when the international relief and development organization, Save the Children, engaged her to coordinate a fundraising event to honor a retiring chairman. The highly successful dinner launched the organization's now famous Halaby/Murphy disaster fund, and soon thereafter, Ms. Webster became Save the Children's director of development for the mid-Atlantic region. In that role, she worked on new donor development programs, launched an annual Embassy Luncheon fundraising event, masterminded two Ringling Brothers Circus events and collaborated with the Mosaic Foundation on a major event that resulted in the largest private gift ever given to Save the Children's Middle East programs.

Then September 11 changed the country. The Websters lost a treasured friend in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. Months later, a board founded and run by dedicated victims' families was seeking fundraising counsel for a planned Pentagon Memorial to honor those who had tragically perished. The Webster Group was hired and embarked on a four year journey that would result in raising over $22 million dollars for the dedication of the Pentagon Memorial.

Another of Ms. Webster's signature projects include "A Washington Weekend" to benefit George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate which included a reproduction gala dinner at the estate of the only state dinner ever staged outside of the White House by President Kennedy, a lecture by beloved historian David McCullough at Statuary Hall, dinner at the Library of Congress and a major donor brunch.

Recent client organizations Ms. Webster has served include American Red Cross, Congressional Medal of Honor Society, GardaWorld, Common Sense Media, Trust for the National Mall, The John Marshall Memorial Park Foundation, Points of Light Foundation, The Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, U.S. Department of Transportation and USAID.

Ms. Webster is chairman emeritus of American Forests, the nation's oldest environmental organization; she is also a two- term member of the Stephens College board of trustees and has recently been appointed to the board of fellows at Thunderbird School of Global Management. She recently completed her role as regional co-chair for the first Mayo Clinic capital campaign, an effort chaired by J.W. Marriott, Jr. that exceeded a $1.25 billion dollar goal.

Ms. Webster holds two advanced degrees including a Masters in Business from Southern Methodist University and a Masters in International Management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management. She graduated with honors from Stephens College with a BA in History and Foreign Languages while earning Certificates of Study in Spain from the Universities of Salamanca, Granada and Madrid.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was raised in rural Illinois and was exposed to solid, patriotic, Midwestern values. My father lived by the Golden Rule "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." I think that advice still serves us well today.

My parents owned and operated three funeral homes. I grew up in one of them and worked on hundreds of funerals and memorial services over time. I could have taken over the family business but decided to expand my horizon. I am still doing events--just happier ones! That said, I've never forgotten the many lessons I learned from that upbringing--among them are the importance of being compassionate, kind and fair. A 'nice business person', in my opinion, is not an oxymoron.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at The Webster Group?
My 'first' career was in the luxury hotel business. I started with Fairmont Hotels when the company had only four five start properties, yet each represented the highest standards of guest service and elegance in the industry at the time. I later had the privilege to serve as opening director of sales for the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel in Washington, DC--a dream job in many respects. I was hired two years prior to the historic hotel's re-opening and served later as director of marketing. There I was exposed to a wide range of clients in the corporate, association, social and diplomatic markets.

Later, I worked at the Watergate and Four Seasons Hotels. Over those fifteen plus years in the hotel industry, I learned a great deal about how to run a business that provides multiple services to guests that expected the best; excellence was paramount in everything we did. I worked with many of the industry's finest chefs, restaurateurs, catering experts and conference service directors. I was also privileged to work on a number of high level VIP visits. The exposure to the personalities and needs of kings, queens, presidents, secret service and delegation support staff have served me well. As a result, we at TWG are equally experienced in handing high level visits anyplace in the world and we do it with confidence and (most of the time!) ease.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at The Webster Group?
The biggest challenge was September 11, 2001. Our client event that night, and many subsequently, cancelled because understandably and respectfully it was inappropriate to hold galas, parties and other social functions during that unofficial time of national mourning. Like many hotels, airlines, caterers and other service people in our industry, we took a big hit for many months. Even more difficult, my husband and I lost a treasured friend, Barbara Olson, in the plane that slammed into the Pentagon.

From that horrible experience, however, came one of our biggest opportunities. Two years after the attacks, we won the bid to work with many of the dedicated families who came together to make the Pentagon Memorial a reality. We were hired to help raise the $22 million needed for the memorial and to interface with the Pentagon and others on the events needed to do so. One of our proudest moments was the day the memorial was dedicated--that morning the president, vice president, senior military, most of Congress and the diplomatic corps at the Pentagon joined with victims' families in a full demonstration of American resilience.

During that same timeframe, we were also engaged to design and produce five big events over three days surrounding the dedication of the Air Force Memorial. The actual dedication itself involved not only the President, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Air Force and myriad VIPs, including the event chairman Ross Perot, Jr, but also 43,000 other patriotic Americans, most of them Air Force veterans and their families, who made the trip to DC to take part in the ceremony and ancillary activities we created for them.

It's also been a privilege to produce a number of events for the Medal of Honor recipients--talk about heroes!

I've mentioned but a few of the extraordinary clients we've had over the years. I wish I could tell you about each one and the important work they are doing. Whilst I cannot personally write big checks to support the work of our nonprofit clients, it's rewarding to look back and know that we've supported them in a number of important ways. Maybe one day I'll be able to write that big check too!

How are you marking The Webster Group's 20th Anniversary?
By thanking those who helped us get there! Since our clients are so varied and our government contacts could not attend, we will not be having a 'big bash' to celebrate; instead we are reaching out to thank as many clients as we can find to tell them we truly appreciate them.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
First, find a mentor in your chosen industry--I wish I had done it! Second, build up your financial cushion in case times get tough--capital is not always easy for start-ups to find. Set high standards and stick to them. It's better to do a few things with excellence than multiple things poorly, or at best in a mediocre way.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It's difficult to run a business, be married to an insanely busy man, maintain an active social schedule and still have time and energy to spend our expanding family--it's a challenge faced by many families-especially in the DC area. It's important to not to compare ourselves with others but to build our own schedule's based on our unique lives and circumstances. Forget about the Joneses!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
To maintain that work/life balance. Even though roles are changing, it often still falls upon women to be the family organizers, nurses, chefs, counselors and educators! More and more are key financial providers as well; and in the workplace, we still have to work harder, smarter and better than our male counterparts in most cases.

One of my role models is Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, arguably one of the country's most famous working mom and wife! Even she took time out of a successful professional career to spend three years at home with her young boys. I've learned from her and others like her that you CAN have it all--but not always all at once!

It's also wise to give up being a perfectionist--the need to do everything and make everything perfect is a behavior that, in time, will likely drive you and your family nuts. Professionally, I demand as much perfection as possible in the events we produce, but at home I gave up trying to be perfect wife, have the perfect house, perfect garden, perfect kids, etc. Fortunately for me, I married a man who doesn't demand perfection!!!

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
As I mentioned earlier, I would be a far better professional today if I had sought a mentor or mentors earlier in my career. I had too much pride to ask for help when I would have benefitted richly from it. I urge young people to ask as many questions and get as much advice as possible. It's not bad advice for us older folks either! We should always be willing to learn.

One of my key goals at the Webster Group is to provide a workplace that espouses the values of honesty, integrity and excellence--but also collaboration and team work. We have a number of young employees at TWG and we strive to train them well, expose them to a number of new situations and stretch them in preparation for new work at TWG or elsewhere. Many who have left TWG for other opportunities do so with tears in their eyes, saying " I learned more here at TWG than I did in four years of college." Those words make me proud and inspire me to continue to operate the best event design and production firm but also a 'best' place at which to work!

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
The four Supreme Court Justices are all very different but what stories they have! Imagine, Justice O'Connor graduated #2 in her class but could not get a job when she graduated. We've come a long way!

There are several former cabinet level women and ambassadors whom I admire tremendously--not so much for the jobs they performed in whatever administration they served, but for the work they have done afterwards. It would be so simple for them to chase the almighty dollar but each expends their resources and energy to give back through a variety of causes. Among those are Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Senator Elizabeth Dole, Barbara Franklin, Ann McLaughlin Korologos, Carla Hills, Barbara Barrett, Bonnie McElveen Hunter, Mary Ourisman--to name just a few. I mention these women because I have known or worked with them personally and they are sincere in the work they do.

When he served as director of the FBI and CIA, my husband introduced me to a number of female leaders who worked at those two remarkable institutions. Many cannot be mentioned by name but they deserve to be cited because I have never seen a more dedicated, patriotic, self-sacrificing and brave group of women anywhere. Their financial rewards are small, their personal costs are many yet they persevere to protect the American people from the growing dangers that we face.

What do you want The Webster Group to accomplish in the next year?
In 2014 The Webster Group was named one of America's fastest growing private companies by Inc. magazine. Our goal for 2015 is to continue this growth smartly, and evolve our domestic and international event capabilities and clients. So far in 2015, TWG just wrapped up our first event in Bangalore, India. It was a big success and a fun start to an exciting year of conferences, galas, ceremonies, shows -and even a few social events.

We have developed a new marketing strategy to engage a wider audience of corporate and government clients. We are currently working on a number of exciting events this year but I must admit that planning and producing events around a Super Bowl and the Olympics are still on my professional bucket list!!