11/27/2013 04:44 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2014

John Tydings: The Man to See

How does a brand new chief executive with little little experience in the local business community get to know the people necessary to build the network that is essential for corporate success in this region?

When I was just starting out as Trinity's president in 1989, there was one clear answer to this question: John Tydings was the man to see. John was then the president and chief executive of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, and he was already legendary for his prowess in forging effective networks among business and civic leaders alike. He built coalitions to support major initiatives to advance the economy and enlarge the public good throughout the Washington region.

John Tydings left the Board of Trade in 2000, but his influence as one of the region's most trusted business leaders continued. When he died on November 16, leaders from Baltimore to Washington to Richmond remembered this Washington native for his deep devotion to regional cooperation and unwavering enthusiasm for Washington's growth and development.

For me, as for many young business executives in the days when John ran the Board of Trade, he was "the man to see" to learn the ropes for success in the business community.

Trinity alumna Cathie Black, then president and publisher of USA Today in Arlington and a member of Trinity's Board of Trustees, knew that I needed to build a strong network of business partners to make Trinity stronger in the 1990's. She reached out to John Tydings and he immediately agreed to come out to Trinity for a meeting.

I still remember that first meeting with John in Trinity's formal Board Parlor. He was friendly, courteous and incisive. He wanted to know about our strategic plan -- a concept that I was struggling with in those days. He queried me on how I planned to focus on critical success factors as well as challenge old ideas that were not working. In just an hour, with gentle questioning and no lectures, he tutored me on principles of effective change leadership.

John readily agreed to an invitation to join Trinity's Board of Trustees, and he devoted six years to remarkable service in a time of great transformation for this college. Many of the changes that were necessary to make Trinity stronger also generated controversy. Because John's entire life's work was about bringing together people who disagreed initially in order to help them find ways to agree and work together, he was an invaluable advisor and intrepid guide for Trinity's entire board through some tumultuous days.

John taught me to focus on results and not get distracted by the opposition, to resist the urge to vindicate myself when things got personal. Instead, he explained with that patient tone he used to calm down agitated listeners, stay the course, achieve the goals and everyone will want to get on board. He was right. Everyone wants to be part of a great success story.

Trinity's success today is due in no small part to John Tyding's consistently great advice and tireless efforts to make sure I was networking with all the right people who, in turn, lent their time and resources to helping Trinity build a business model that could work for a new era in higher education. John made sure I became active in the Board of Trade, and through that network I was able to establish relationships that led to effective business partnerships for Trinity. He made sure that I showed up for events, and once there, he made sure that I met everyone in the room -- and then he would later ask me if I followed up with them. I was not alone -- he was "coach" to just about every business leader in town.

Among many other contributions, John was instrumental in the creation of Trinity's first computer classroom, a remarkable achievement for this then-small college in 1997 when blackboards and chalk were still our primary teaching tools. John understood Trinity's need to have a technological revolution. He worked closely with Louise Lynch, then president of Courtesy Associates, a major meeting planning company founded by Trinity alumna Jane E. Marilley, Class of 1944.

Jane Marilley was a remarkable woman business leader at a time when few women were in executive positions, let alone owners and CEOs. She was the second woman ever to serve on the board of directors of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. Louise Lynch worked with Jane Marilley at Courtesy Associates, and when Jane died in 1976, Louise took over as the chief executive, becoming her own legend among business leaders in Washington. Louise also managed the Marilley Foundation, and in 1997 John Tydings approached Louise about funding the first computer classroom at Trinity. The Jane E. Marilley Classroom continues to this day as a central location for technology-enhanced pedagogy at Trinity.

Trinity was but one of John's extensive civic and charitable concerns. Among many, the one that he cherished most was Heroes, an organization devoted to providing support and scholarships for the children and families of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

When John Tydings died on November 16, the Washington region lost one of its greatest champions, and Trinity and I lost a wonderful friend. Hundreds of business and civic leaders gathered with his family at Our Lady of Mercy Parish in a grand celebration of his life. The accolades about John's many achievements -- from his leadership in rebuilding Washington after the 1968 riots, to fostering the idea of regionalism among the separate jurisdictions, to getting Metro built and growing Washington's reputation as a great business region -- were only surpassed by the deep sense of affection that he shared with so many friends. In a city more often known for cynical alliances and hardball tactics, John was revered as a deeply moral community leader who exerted influence without sacrificing integrity.

Gone much too soon, John's legacy endures in the broad network of people and institutions he influenced for the better throughout the Washington region. While many business leaders and association executives continue his important work in public-private coalition building, regional economic development and helping new executives build their networks, his enduring reputation as "the man to see" has no equal.