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Zients Is at the Top of His Game

Then there was the added wrinkle that the founder was cashing out. "Jeff had to convince investors the company could be successful without Bradley," said John Fox Sullivan, president and group publisher of Atlantic Media, which Bradley formed after he bought the Atlantic Monthly in 1999.

Having never handled an IPO before, Zients said he and his small team of executives applied the Advisory Board business model of collecting best practices to themselves. "We studied IPOs and developed our own best practices," said Zients.

David Bradley, who hired Jeffrey Zients at the Advisory Board, says he rose to the top by helping others. (Tyler Mallory For The Washington Post)

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In February 1999, the Corporate Executive Board went public, raising a whopping $155 million.

Only afterward, Bradley said, did he and his management team discover that the remaining health care consulting business, still operating under the Advisory Board name, was in trouble. "Revenue was flattening; profits were shrinking," Bradley said. Bradley and Zients sat down to brainstorm again. Instead of cutting costs, they overhauled the business's operations and product offerings, reversing the company's decline. In 2001, Advisory Board's public offering generated $90 million.

In the immediate aftermath of the two IPOs, Zients found himself on Fortune's list of the richest Americans younger than 40. Fortune magazine estimated that his net worth was $132 million.

His new wealth allowed him and his wife to set up a foundation, which gives money to several nonprofit groups in the District and humanitarian projects abroad. They were also able to trade in their pleasant two-story colonial in Spring Valley for a castle-like manse off Foxhall Road.

Zients said he disliked the attention that came with making the Fortune list.

He is still adjusting to being a spokesman for the baseball club. He's already in demand. At the Wednesday announcement, after veteran sportscaster George Michael spotted several men huddled around Malek, he demanded to know, "Which one is Jeff Zients?"

Afterward, Zients was besieged by supporters of various team names and one man hawking an idea for a team logo.

The understated Zients is more in his element around the office.

Current and former colleagues at the Advisory Board describe Zients as "rarely" disparaging.

Former underlings said Zients is a boss who can be direct when he is not happy with you, but never disparaging.

Several of Zients's colleagues said underneath his approachable exterior is a shrewd strategic thinker and tough negotiator who is both driven and disciplined.

Bradley said Zients is "tough enough for the job" but has never really had to develop sharp elbows at the Advisory Board. "My companies aren't investment banking firms. You don't have to be tough and mean-spirited," Bradley said.

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