8 Presidents, 3 Businesses and an Amazing 40 Years
By Dan McGinn
In January of 1972 I left my hometown of Nitro, West Virginia and moved to Washington DC to spend my senior year of High School as a Congressional Page. At the age of 13 I had written my Congressman, John Slack, to inquire about an appointment as a Page. Over the next two years I continued to pepper him with letters, and in the summer of 1970 I persuaded my parents to drive me to Washington so I could ask him face to face for the appointment. I never got to see him on that trip, but he left a message to the effect that if I wanted the job that much I could have it.
My parents helped me rent a room from an elderly woman on Capitol Hill. I had the required blue suits and white shirts, and when Congress convened on January 18, I showed up for work on the House floor. It was a year of incredible memories; I attended the memorial service for J Edgar Hoover in the Capitol Rotunda; sat on the rostrum with President Nixon as he addressed a Joint Session on the trip to the Soviet Union; stood transfixed with a crowd of Congressmen in front of the AP wire machine in the Speaker's Lobby as the first reports of the shooting of George Wallace came in; listened in the Democratic cloak room as Congressmen discussed the Watergate break in; and received my High School Diploma from Vice President Spiro Agnew in the Rose Garden of the White House.
The Cold War raged. The Apollo program was still underway. New Deal luminaries continued to hold court around town, as did Teddy Roosevelt's daughter, Alice. There was no Metro System in Washington, only DC Transit buses. Washington had very few restaurants, limited office space and minimal entertainment options. The Willard Hotel was boarded up, the Air and Space Museum had yet to be built and there were no memorials to Viet Nam, Korea, WWII, FDR or Martin Luther King. There also wasn't a national holiday honoring Dr King. And a flight from Charleston, WV to Washington National cost $18 on Piedmont Airlines. (I remember being concerned when the fare increased to $20 and then $22).
Following my year as a Page, I enrolled at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. W & L is a great place, but after my stint in Washington, life at an all male school in rural Virginia didn't seem quite so appealing. So I transferred to Georgetown University and got a part time job in Congressman Slack's office. Over the next 7 years I received a world class education in constituent service, local politics, campaign fundraising and back room legislating. Congressman Slack died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack on March 17, 1980, his 65th birthday. The next few days I learned the harsh reality of what its like to go from a staff member of a senior appropriations member to working for the Clerk of the House.
I spent another 7 years on Capitol Hill, working for 2 WV Congressmen and for Congressman Andy Jacobs on the Ways and Means Committee. In the summer of 1986 I concluded that a life in politics was not for me so I started to look around for another path. After interviewing with several consulting firms, trade associations and corporate offices, I decided to open a Communications firm with a businessman from WV, Charles Ryan. From 1987-1997 I grew Ryan McGinn from a one person shop, with no income and no clients to one of largest firms in the region. Out of the blue, a representative from the Interpublic Group knocked on my door and we sold the firm to them in the spring of 1998.
In 2001 I started a second firm, The McGinn Group, and the pattern repeated itself. I started the firm with a small staff and a core group of clients and built it rapidly over the next few years. This time the knock on the door came from a French communications conglomerate, Publicis. I sold the firm to them in 2007. As I mark my 40th year in Washington and my 25th year in business, I am off on yet another new adventure. In October of 2011, I bought back The McGinn Group from Publicis. I've rechristened the firm as McGinn and Company, and I am enthusiastically engaged in building the next version of my consulting practice.
I am as excited as ever about the new enterprise. In 25 years of consulting I have had nearly 500 clients, including government agencies, universities, non-profits, law firms, trade associations and scores of Fortune 500 Companies. I've been blessed to work with great people on issues of importance. And I'm proud that so many of my clients have become dear friends. I'm pretty sure I don't have another 40 years in me, but I honestly believe the best and most productive years are ahead.