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Revitalizing from the ground up

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in Leaders & Managers,Profiles in Leadership

Joe Englert, a developer of nightspots in Washington, D.C., became bored with what the city had to offer in the 1980s, so he leased an old pub and created a weekend joint called The Random Club.

Next, he leased a room with an old-time cafeteria, running a weird hybrid of “groovy space” plus a cafeteria selling institutional potatoes, meatloaf and short ribs.

But the lease being short-term, he looked for other spaces and over time acquired quite a few—15 Minutes, Crowbar, Insect Club, Andalusian Dog, Zig Zag Café and State of the Union—ultimately driving the revitalization of a run-down corridor of the city. He gained an interest in 12 clubs.

Englert’s experience goes to show that leaders must be willing to:

• Explore unusual opportunities. “There were always people who were willing to talk with me—the Greek restaurant guys always helped me out—so I’m willing to talk to people,” he says. “The most successful people I’ve met always helped me, be it in real estate, restaurants, whatever. A successful person has enough time and energy to give to other people. And that’s part of their success, to be giving.”

• Recharge. “Sometimes you get burned out, but then you get reinvigorated by going to a really good place,” Englert says. “I like to search out great bars, great personalities in great bars. We go to Baltimore, Richmond, New York and Montreal just to check everything out.”

• Keep your mitts off. That’s the hardest thing for Englert “because there are just so many details. It’s hard for me to go to one of my places. The light’s either too low or too high. It’s the wrong music. The server doesn’t know the soup of the day. The busboy is carrying an empty glass through the room with his hand in the glass. But at some point, you have to be satisfied with what is going on at your place. You just have to let it go or you lose your mind.”

— Adapted from “All the places to go,” K.K. Ottesen, The Washington Post Magazine, January 2010. Photo by Blair Zervos used with permission.   

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