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BY RACHEL STURTZ | April 23, 2012 | People
These seven dynamic duos define what makes Washington great through their boundless creativity and a desire to leave the world a better place.
Jake & Pum Lefebure
Buttoned-up Washington may not seem like the natural place to headquarter Design Army, Jake and Pum Lefebure's award-winning design firm known for its out-of-the-box flair. But there's also no better place to stand out. And with their Tim Burton–meets–Leave It to Beaver aesthetic, meticulous execution, powerful connections, and commanding presence, it becomes clear why Jake and Pum stand alone.
The Lefebures met in 1996 at another design group, when he was a new designer and she was a talented intern; they were married five years later. When the dot-com bubble burst, the two started Design Army, finding their first client with a well-designed yard-sale flyer. They began locally, creating websites for architecture firms and designing corporate annual reports and charity invites. There was no need to advertise; word of mouth spread quickly, and as their roster of clients grew, so did their reach.
Design Army's clean and bold designs carry an equal amount of wit and whimsy, taking visual cues from vintage typography, high fashion, and pop culture, but always in a way that is strikingly original. They have livened up everything from theater posters to invitations to corporate logos, and they handle more than 400 projects a year, with a focus on branding (or rebranding, as the case may be). The Washington Ballet, The Hay-Adams, Disney, GE, and Verizon all have recruited the duo for their impactful concepts—for example, their recast Les Misérables poster and their award-winning book cover design for This is NPR.
Two years ago, the couple produced the Washington Ballet's 10-year commemorative book, Wonderland, filling it with ethereal scenes of an elaborate, lush fantasy world. The firm has also designed the University of Virginia Library annual report for several years, turning it into an award-winning work of modern art; each project earned a gold National ADDY Award, the American Advertising Federation's equivalent of an Oscar. (Design Army has won nearly 500 awards since hanging out a shingle.)
In the past 10 years, Jake and Pum have added 10 staff members to their business, brought in international clients, and gone further into photographic art direction, eschewing the use of stock photos and instead shooting what they want, resulting in truly custom-designed projects. Pum oversees the day-to-day creative tasks, including model casting, makeup and fashion direction, location scouting, and, in the end, the shoot, all with an eye toward the artistic vision of a Vogue photo spread.
In between all the hard work, the Lefebures find creative ways of fitting in their family: Their seven-year-old daughter, Sophie, hangs around photo shoots and tags along on vintage shopping trips for props. Pum calls her a creative in the making. "She's in second grade and already has a very complex eye for color," she says. "It's never pink or green—it's pastel pale pink or aqua green."
Bret & Amy Baier
Everyone wants a voice in Washington. Luckily for Bret Baier, host of Special Report with Bret Baier on Fox News Channel, he is guaranteed an average audience of nearly two million viewers at 6 PM every night. Since taking over for Brit Hume in 2009, Baier has become the lead political anchor for FNC. Not bad for a guy who worked as a one-man Atlanta bureau for Roger Ailes's start-up in 1998. His share of FNC's sizeable audience is on par with Sean Hannity thanks to his nuanced and balanced reporting, plus his popularity as the moderator of five Republican primary debates this year. His no-nonsense approach and aggressive line of questioning has flustered both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney—and he's in no mood to let up.
"My goal was to always be in this chair, the anchor chair, covering politics when politics is at the front of everyone's mind," says Bret. "This election year is particularly exciting. Covering it is like drinking from a fire hose—it's constant, nonstop, and completely unpredictable."
Baier's podium has also allowed him to trumpet his passion for Children's National Medical Center. When his wife, Amy, gave birth to their first son, Paul, in 2007, the couple found out he had five congenital heart defects and needed surgery before he was 12 days old. Their son's continuing care brought the two to the medical center, where they are both foundation board members. Along with Amy's parents, Paul and Barbara Hills, the Baiers have donated $2 million to create the Paul Francis Baier Comprehensive Media Room, which gives physicians and nurses a place to review diagnostic images and tests, and funds research by Paul's surgeon, Dr. Richard Jonas. The Baiers also did several media interviews, chronicling their son's journey, to help publicize the surprising number of congenital heart defects in children. "His next surgery is tentatively scheduled in the fall," says Amy of her son, who at nearly five years old already has undergone two open-heart surgeries and five angioplasties.
"We tell him he has a special heart that's different from everyone else's in the world," says Bret. "Even though we should be old pros at this, it gets harder each time. There's no end in sight. Thankfully, we have Children's National in our backyard. They're transforming children's health care and are already showing us what it can be 10, 20 years down the line. We couldn't be more honored to be working with them."
OUT AND ABOUT
Wesley Combs & Greg Albright
Wesley Combs and Greg Albright have devoted their lives to fostering positive change within the LGBT community (Wes was the brains behind the Human Rights Campaign's National Coming Out Project) and volunteerism in their own neighborhood. For both men, their passion to serve others is rooted in a deeply personal space. "There are two core values we live by: opportunity and equality," says Greg. "Wes and I, and other gay men, figured out that giving back matters because we were forced to; we were forced to create institutions to save the lives of our friends when the AIDS epidemic broke out."
In 1989, Wes became a Human Rights Campaign volunteer. Through his work at HRC, he met Bob Witeck, who would become his business partner in 1993 when the two cofounded Witeck and Combs Communications, a marketing communications and public relations firm. Wes continued to work with HRC as well: from 1993 to 1996 as the project director for the National Coming Out Project, lecturing to businesses about the profitability of diversity, and since 2000 on its Business Council. "Inclusion is all about ensuring everyone has a chance to offer their perspective, which may make the solution better, more effective, and more on target," says Wes. "We're all raised with a lens of what our parents taught us. The more we can understand people who are different, the more we'll change our perspective." In 2006 he coauthored Business Inside Out: Capturing the Millions of Brand Loyal Gay Consumers, one of the first books to dive into marketing to the LGBT market. And in 2012 he moved to Accenture Management Consulting, which promotes equality globally by helping clients leverage inclusion and diversity to attract and retain talent.
Greg's day job, as the principal of direct-mail fundraising firm Production Solutions, combines two of his loves: charity and the intersection of entrepreneurism and innovation. He has helped several notable nonprofits, such as Habitat for Humanity, African Wildlife Foundation, and HRC, get their message out to the public.
In 1998, when the couple moved to rapidly gentrifying Adams Morgan, the marked divide between the haves and have-nots prompted Greg to find ways to help their neighbors. "We wanted our community to be a place that's safe, and for everyone around us to be successful and happy," says Wes. To that end, Greg became involved with Sitar Arts Center, a multidisciplinary afterschool arts program located three blocks from their home. His first fundraiser raised $35,000 for the center in one night. Greg and Wes's further support and financial contributions have helped guarantee that the center can sustain its low-cost arts programming for local, low-income children. "What you give is what you get back," says Greg. "And often, it's better."
KEEPING MEMORIES ALIVE
George & Trish Vradenburg
For George Vradenburg, the difficulty is not in finding causes to support, but rather in learning how to balance his work schedule with said charities. His Vradenburg Foundation gives $1.2 million in grants each year, and he is the chairman of the board for The Phillips Collection and the Geoffrey Beene Gives Back Alzheimer's Initiative, vice chairman of the Chesapeake Crescent Initiative, and a board member for the Greater Washington Board of Trade, DC Children First, and, last year, the University of the District of Columbia. "Each of the things I'm doing touches my life," says George, who, after a career that included senior positions at Fox, CBS, AOL, and AOL Time Warner, retired in 2003 to devote himself to civic activism. In 2004 he and Trish founded and began chairing the National Alzheimer's Gala, raising more than $9 million for the Alzheimer's Association; they also started the Alzheimer's Action PAC and, in 2010, USAgainstAlzheimer's, an independent nonprofit with a goal of curing the disease by 2020.
"We're determined to get rid of Alzheimer's," says Trish, an author and a TV writer who wrote two plays about her mother's struggle with the illness, one of which played at the Kennedy Center before moving into an off-Broadway run. Trish took a detour into politics before starting her writing career, crafting speeches for Senator Harrison Williams after graduating from Boston University. She went on to work for The Boston Globe and New York's Daily News, penned a novel about a woman who discovers her husband is cheating on her ("A steamy novel," she laughs, "to humiliate my children with its tawdriness"), and wrote for sitcoms such as Kate & Allie, Designing Women, and Family Ties.
When the couple first met, George's mother was not a big fan of feisty Trish, she says. In fact, their two mothers had plans to meet for lunch at The Plaza in New York with the express purpose of planning how to break them up. "George said to his mother, ‘You two generals can make all the plans you want, but in the end it'll be us privates who will decide the outcome of this war,'" Trish recalls. Flash-forward a few decades, and the Vradenburgs are still going strong. "We have the same values; it wouldn't work if we didn't," says Trish. "Our goal is to leave the world better than we found it. George's only failure so far is retirement."
Lyndon Boozer & Karen Anderson
The only constant in Washington is change. Overseeing it and being fluid enough to adapt to it is an art honed by Lyndon Boozer and Karen Anderson, who work hard to create a stronger nation through better, more dynamic economic policies and technological advancements. Lyndon is a veteran Democratic lobbyist for AT&T, who through a range of advocacy and telecommunications initiatives is shaping the way we communicate—how fast it is, the ease of access, and more. As the managing director of The Hamilton Project, Karen assembles the country's brightest captains of thought to distill broad ideas into workable policies that will help America bounce back from the recession and ensure that the economy keeps growing.
In 2008, when Karen was asked to be part of the Obama transition team, as chief of staff to Council of Economic Advisors chair designee Christina Romer, she understood the weight of the invitation. "It was daunting," she says. "It felt like the bottom was falling out of the economy and there was a sense we could go over a cliff." She worked 15-hour days at the White House while pregnant with her second son, leaving the position only two days before he was born. "Tyler's a very Zen toddler," says Karen of her two-year-old, one of the couple's two children, along with nine-year-old Kyle. "I'm convinced it's because he got so much excitement in utero."
Since that time, Karen's involvement with The Hamilton Project has sustained her love for policy work. "When you're working in government, there's a limit to how much time you can discuss issues and bring in different perspectives. As outsiders we have the luxury of time. In 2007 one of our goals was to explore universal health care and how to lower costs. We commissioned four papers to show different ways of getting there. It was a home run, and some of that thinking informed later policy discussions."
Lyndon, meanwhile, has been entwined in politics and public service ever since his mother's boss, President Lyndon B. Johnson, discovered that she had named her baby, Kyle Lyndon Boozer, in his honor. Legend has it Johnson told her that if she switched his first and middle names, he would extend her maternity leave. It was an easy decision, Lyndon says. (In 2007, to give back to his namesake and honor the Johnson family legacy and its loyalty to his family, he spearheaded the effort, alongside members of Congress, to name the Department of Education building after the 36th president.) Lyndon worked at the US Telecom Association and the Federal Communications Commission early in his career, during the rise of the cable industry, wireless communications, the Internet, and, subsequently, social networking. "Communications is an extraordinary and revolutionary area to be working in," says
Lyndon, whose advocacy at AT&T has contributed to broadband expansion and closed the digital divide, making new products and services more affordable ("Smartphones are now two-for-one," he says). Currently, he is working on spectrum issues to meet consumer demand for innovative products.
LAW & ORDER
Gina & Gene Adams
Inside the Beltway, the private and public sectors often have competing agendas. But in the case of Gina and Gene Adams, mingling the two creates one powerful combination.
Gina is a lawyer and top lobbyist for FedEx, overseeing one of the largest PACs in the US for a company that serves more than 220 countries and territories and delivers eight million packages worldwide. Gene is Washington's chief deputy attorney general, the city government's number-two lawyer, in charge of keeping a city of more than 600,000 people running smoothly. Together the jobs sound like organizational nightmares, but the Adamses have thrived despite the demands of their positions.
Gina spent nine years in the Office of General Counsel at the US Department of Transportation until FedEx called and offered her a job in 1992. Soon after, President Clinton appointed her to the National Commission to Ensure a Strong Competitive Airline Industry, and in 2001 she became senior vice president of government affairs for FedEx. She earned two FedEx Five Star Awards, the highest achievement at the company, for juggling tax, labor, and security issues. She has also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Women of Color, as well as honors from the Black Women's Agenda. And in 2008, The Network Journal named Gina one of its 25 Influential Black Women in Business.
Gene's work deals with everything from civil and criminal litigation to real estate, municipal bonds, and economic development. His assignments are dictated by the city's mayor. "Policies change from administration to administration, which means my job constantly changes, keeping me on my toes," says Gene. "I'm never bored." Both say the constant evolution of their jobs keeps them motivated. "I love walking in the door with an agenda and then watching it be completely swept away," says Gina.
The flexibility of their combined schedules gives them time to cart around their 13-year-old son, Spenser—"We put in long hours, but we pace them; if one day is shorter, the next day is longer. We do that as well as we can around other obligations. One will pick up the slack if the other can't be there because of the work," admits Gina—and a weekend house in Leesburg gives them a chance to unwind away from the city. But they wouldn't give up the District for the world. "Washington is perfect. It has all the trappings of a big city without the anonymity," says Gina.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIP DAWKINS