Susan Gustafson, president of Ratner Cos., speaks at the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Jeffrey MacMillan )
May it please the court: Lawyers face off in app competition

Georgetown Law held its annual Iron Tech Lawyer competition last week, where six teams of law students pitched apps they created to help solve a legal problem. Each team’s “client” was a public agency, public interest group or nonprofit. The winning app was the Unemployment Benefits Hearing Coach, developed by Zachary Hutchinson, Stephany Fan and Antonella Montagna for the D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings. The app helps people who are appealing decisions on their unemployment claims. Most people going through the process act as their own lawyers, and need guidance on understanding their rights, how to prepare for a hearing and what kind of evidence they need to make their case before the judge. The app is designed to be used by both former employees who have been denied benefits, and employers that are contesting the benefits.

Each team made an eight-minute pitch before to a panel of judges — Jane Aiken, associate dean for experiential education and Georgetown law professor; Peter Gronvall, managing director at risk management firm Huron Consulting; Karen Lash, senior counsel for Access to Justice at the Justice Department; and Tammy McCutchen, a partner at labor and employment law firm Littler Mendelson.

— Catherine Ho

Solar home recycling:
Pepco dedicates center

Pepco Holdings celebrated Earth Day last week with the dedication of its newly opened WaterShed Sustainability Center in Rockville.

The center may look familiar to local environmental enthusiasts: The 5,000-square-foot facility was originally a home built by University of Maryland students for the 2011 Solar Decathlon held by the Energy Department. It took first place in the annual competition.

Pepco bought the house from the university for $200,000 the following year, and moved it to a lot near the utility’s Rockville Service Center on West Gude Drive.

The WaterShed Sustainability Center, which is open to the public, contains interactive displays to educate visitors on ways they can conserve energy in the home. It also features eco-conscious technologies such as smart thermostats, electric vehicle charging stations, smart meters and solar panels that mount to the ground or roof.

“Designed to mimic Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, the center draws energy from the sun, nourishment from rain and purification from native plant species — all in a setting that is comfortable, attractive and cost-effective for inhabitants,” a Pepco spokeswoman said via e-mail.

— Steven Overly

Leaning in: Don’t give everything ‘150 percent’

Susan Gustafson, president of the Ratner Cos., can clearly pinpoint the moment that made her have more regard for work/life balance: She ended up unconscious in her hotel room during a business trip and was hospitalized.

She soon learned that she had contracted meningitis and had been forcing herself to work through it — to do one more presentation, to get through one more conference call. “I didn’t listen to my body,” she recalls. “I kept pushing.”

Gustafson recounted this experience and others from her professional and personal journey to the top of the hair salon chain company during a speech at the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce last week.

Gustafson, 58, understands well the challenges of being a mother who also wants to climb the corporate ladder. She has relocated 19 times — many of those moves made as part of a work promotion — and she and her husband have often had what she calls “a commuter marriage,” in which they’ve worked in different cities. Last week, she shared some of the most important lessons she learned along the way, including, “Not everyone and not everything deserves 150 percent. Invest your talent and your time and your resources wisely.”

Gustafson also talked about Ratner’s strategic direction. She said the company is in “conservative growth mode,” and is instead focusing heavily in remodeling its existing hair salons. The company is also investing in training for its staff of about 10,000 hair stylists and working to recruit top talent to join their ranks. Gustafson said she does not see the company expanding its Hair Cuttery, Bubbles, Salon Cielo and other brands outside of its current territory, which includes the East Coast as well as Chicago and Indiana. She said the company is instead aiming to have better penetration in the areas it already serves.

— Sarah Halzack

Going to work: Final training at Marriott

More than 500 new hires arrived at the Marriott Marquis, Washington D.C. recently to begin two weeks of training before the hotel’s May 1 opening. The employees, many of whom were District residents, met with Marriott executives before beginning the program. David Marriott, regional chief operations officer, gave the welcome address.

“From housekeepers to servers to engineers, our entire team will learn both the logistics of hosting at the Marriott Marquis Washington, D.C., as well as the culture and standards of our company,” Kathryn Lambert, the hotel’s director of human resources, said in an e-mail.

Employees will get off to a speedy start. The hotel will host its first major conference May 4, when 10,000 conference-goers arrive to attend the annual meeting of the American Society of Training and Development.

— Abha Bhattarai