Women in Business Q&A: Angela Fox, President/CEO, Crystal City BID

09/04/2015 12:08 pm ET Updated Sep 04, 2016

Angela Fox was hired as the first President/CEO of the Crystal City BID in November of 2006. Under her leadership, the Crystal City BID has grown in both size and scope, dramatically changing the way the people see and perceive Crystal City. The Crystal City BID is also become a pioneer in the industry, with many of the programs and methods created by Ms. Fox being adopted by other organizations throughout the region.

Prior to working at the Crystal City BID, Ms. Fox served as Executive Director and CEO for Cultural Tourism DC. While at Cultural Tourism, she expanded the capacity, visibility, viability, and reach of the organization in every area from membership and funding, to program delivery. She either initiated and/or delivered creative and innovative marketing programs including three Heritage Trails, WalkingTown Spring/Fall, Warm Up to a Museum, and Culture Cool. Though Ms. Fox now works in the non-profit sector, her background is primarily corporate. She has run her own consulting firm providing business strategy, marketing and executive coaching services to individuals, corporations, and non-profits, including ESPN, Bank of America, Association for Education Development, and more. She was also VP for Product and then Strategic Development at Simplexity, and she began her career in the Executive Development Program at Bell Atlantic (now Verizon).

Ms. Fox has honed a deep and meaningful commitment to her community. She currently serves and has on several boards, including the Arena Stage Corporate Board, Synetic Theater (as Chair), Georgia Tech, and the FotoDC Advisory Board. She is a past chair for the Capitol Fringe Festival and the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company's board, which raised more than $9M and built a new theatre during her tenure. She also served on the Arlington Arts Commission. A 28 year, Prius-driving vegetarian, avid traveler, runner, and active yogi, Ms. Fox lives in Arlington and is the proud mom of an amazing middle schooler at Gunston Middle School.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I have always loved math and science, so after graduating from high school I set out to study Electrical Engineering at Georgia Tech. At the time, my father, a PhD in Nuclear Engineering, was the CEO of a tech company and my other goal was to figure out what he did all day. After graduating from Georgia Tech, I began working at a Fortune 50 technology company. Then, after nine years working for a large company, I was recruited to a small internet start-up, which was later bought by another tech company.

While I was working crazy long hours in the tech industry, I decompressed by spending my off hours avidly attending Washington theaters. It was the surest way to shake off corporate stress and return to a human state. It was then that I inadvertently discovered and began donating to the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, DC. They quickly asked me to join the board and within six months, I was elected to chair the board. In this role I helped raise more than $9 million dollars and guide the building of a new theater facility in the heart of DC.

Both of these experiences, while very different, made me realize the importance of pursuing something you are passionate about. As President of the Crystal City Business Improvement District (BID), I encourage members of my team to do the same and believe that people do their best when they're working on something they love.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Crystal City BID?
After graduating with highest honors from Georgia Tech, I was recruited by Bell Atlantic (now Verizon). At Bell, I was promoted through five different jobs in nine years. I moved through the company working in engineering standards, IT, consumer services, new product development and merger negotiations. After nine years at Bell, I was recruited to run strategy for a technology start-up and then started my own consulting firm.

After consulting for several years, I was recruited to be CEO of Cultural Tourism DC. While there, I was responsible for strategy, fundraising, creating and developing programs to promote the Nation's "Cultural Capital," as well as running the day-to-day operations of the organization.

Admiring my work at Cultural Tourism and leadership success in guiding a local DC theater company, a property owner in Crystal City, VA (just outside of Washington, DC) asked if I would consider leading the Crystal City Business Improvement District, which was just being formed. As a resident of Arlington, I saw the potential and was excited at the prospect of impacting my own community. I took the position and have been working with our team to transform Crystal City since 2006.

Through each of these experiences I have learned how to work and communicate with people of all different mindsets and backgrounds, which is invaluable. This has helped me build support for the BID's work and vision. Additionally, when you work with groups of people who think in different ways and have different motivations and histories, you have to get creative to find the best path for everyone involved. These are lessons that I continue to carry with me today.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Crystal City BID?
In 2005, Congress passed the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC), which authorized the Department of Defense to reorganize its structure. Crystal City lost many of its DOD tenants, including more than 13,000 defense and military jobs. In response to BRAC, the Crystal City BID was established to bring the community back to life.

In 2006, I was selected as the first president of the BID. The BID's challenge was to get individuals, businesses and visitors to see Crystal City as a great place to work, live, play and stay. Nine years later, Crystal City has become a destination that is innovative, active, artful, accessible and green.

Some of the things we're most proud of include turning a former hotel conference venue into Synetic Theater, an award-winning performing arts center, becoming home to TechShop, a 21,000 square foot makerspace with $1 million worth of equipment, and hosting over 200 events each year, while remaining committed to environmentally friendly practices and protecting our community. Each of these highlight how our team has achieved the goal of transforming the way that people perceive and experience the Crystal City community.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking a career in business development?
One of the best pieces of advice I can give is to find a mentor. My mentor at Bell Atlantic took me along with him whenever he got promoted within the company. He would throw me in the middle of all kinds of crazy mixed up projects and say, "I need you to fix this." So I did. He advocated for me and gave me opportunities to be a leader and realize my potential. When you look for a mentor, find someone who inspires you. Most people are happy to sit down and talk to you about their career path and experiences, so ask someone to grab coffee with you.

Another great way to get break into a specific area is to look for professional development opportunities and leadership training. I once attended an Executive Women's Workshop at the Center for Creative Leadership. I wasn't quite an executive then, though I was on the way. The women in the workshop were so inspiring and open to helping me learn and gain insight.

Finally, take time to get to know yourself--figure out what you're good at and what you're not good at (and be ok with it). Find out what you like and what you're passionate about and follow it. I never had a five-year plan; I just followed my passions and things have unfolded naturally. I could have never planned this path, and it has been one amazing ride.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Work / life balance is something I take very seriously. I am committed to maintaining work / life balance personally, but also encourage members on my team at the BID and members of the Crystal City community to strive for this.

Personally, I make staying physically and mentally fit a priority on a daily basis. I regularly practice yoga (for 25+ years now), meditate daily to recharge and take at least one solo international yoga adventure each year to reenergize. I also enjoy other physical activities including running and cycling, and participate in many of the active events that we put on in the Crystal City, including Bike to Work Week and 5K Fridays. As a businesswoman and mother, I believe that maintaining work / life balance is one of the most important things I can do to be a strong, effective leader.

"Active" is also one of the core goals at the BID. The BID host many events aimed at getting our community members out of the office and moving around. Some of the BID's signature "Active" events include Wednesday Night Spins (a weekly indoor bike race), 5K Fridays (5K races every Friday in April, which attracted 6,572 runners last year), 21 free outdoor yoga and 22 free Zumba classes and Phoenix Derby (an annual indoor bike competition with 50+ riders). I encourage my team at the BID to participate in these events as well.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I believe that we need to encourage more women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Graduating with a degree in electrical engineering opened up many doors for me and while I did not ultimately end up with a career in STEM, I believe that this was an important step in helping me get to where I am today.

Women in STEM jobs earn more than those in non-STEM occupations and also experience a smaller wage gap relative to men. Increasing STEM opportunities for women is an integral part of realizing greater economic success and equality for women across the board.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Having a mentor while at Bell Atlantic made a major difference in my career and helped me take on each challenge with confidence. Now, I approach each obstacle I face - personally and professionally - with that same attitude.

The BID also works to foster environments where individuals can connect with mentors and industry peers. The BID has partnered with local organizations such as Women 2.0 and Tech Cocktail to host networking events. These events help members of the booming tech and entrepreneurial communities share, connect and grow. The Women 2.0 meet up helps connect local aspiring entrepreneurs, current entrepreneurs and investors, while Tech Cocktail events focus on tech and startup entrepreneurs.

Because of my personal experience with mentorship, I also love being able to give back and mentor other women looking to develop professionally. Outside of my work with the BID, I spend time mentoring and teaching young women. As a graduate with highest honors in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech, I also mentor young women interested in working in STEM fields. I also served on the board of Women in Technology, providing advocacy and leadership development to my peers in the industry.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
First and foremost, I admire my mom. She earned her PhD while raising two daughters and holding a full-time job. She was very accomplished in her career in finance because she understood people and how to help them achieve their goals. I also work with some amazing female leaders, including my incoming Board Chair, Mara Olguin. Mara is SVP for Marketing at Vornado/Charles E. Smith - one of the largest public REITs. She is also founding Chair for the Crystal City BID. I am continually awed by her energy, stamina, and creativity. When I need a really creative angle for something, she is my go-to!

What do you want Crystal City BID to accomplish in the next year?
Crystal City is constantly evolving. As a mixed-use neighborhood, change is always underway. The BID must be adaptable, respond to those changes and continue to bring innovative programming and fun events to the area to attract new residents, visitors and workers. Over the next year, the BID will host more exciting events and will continue to develop partnerships with organizations that support our goal of being active, innovative, artful, accessible and green. I am also very focused on working with our local government to help make Arlington's key business districts more competitive. The trust and success that we have gained through our programming is helping open up some key regulatory processes that are in need of a serious refresh.

I am really excited about what the future holds for Crystal City. Our community has been identified as an area with great opportunity and potential. In 2010, the Arlington County Board approved the Crystal City Sector Plan, which developed a vision for the next generation of development in Crystal City over the next 40 years. The plan envisions the area as a lively, complete, urban community with richer transit options, better streets, more functional public open spaces, and numerous community and neighborhood-oriented services. Some highlights include 65 new or redeveloped buildings, 26,000 residents and 56,000 jobs by 2050.

As these long-term changes take place, the BID will focus on expanding the services that it provides to members of the Crystal City community, ensuring that visitors, workers and residents have a positive experience in Crystal City every day.