Whenever an out-of-towner moves to take over a long-standing hometown company, residents contemplate what it will mean to the philanthropic, cultural and business communities. With budgets tight, the introduction of a new corporation, especially one that won’t be headquartered locally, provokes angst among those who have benefited from the established entity’s commitment.
So it is with Exelon’s purchase of Pepco. Fret less. Recent experience presents a strong case that the change will be a net gain, but it is not incumbent upon only Exelon to make it that way. The beneficiaries of corporate activism also have an important role to play in determining the level of commitment of any newcomer — if they rise to the challenge.
Consider Riggs Bank. In this region, the name Riggs conjures up yesteryear, when Pennsylvania Avenue was open in front of the White House and the windows of the Reeves bakery were lined with strawberry pies. Then, in 2004, PNC Financial Services Group bought Riggs with a flourish.
Philanthropic and arts groups worried then, too, but PNC’s regional president led an effort to gain visibility through community leadership. PNC’s executives took on challenges related to education, the arts, poverty and more. They joined business organizations and set out to make a real difference. Funds flowed, and employees donned PNC T-shirts while cleaning up parks, building things, supporting the arts and improving schools. This out-of-town company even stepped in as the biggest sponsor of our then-brand-new baseball franchise — and the Nationals play in the same league as PNC’s hometown team in Pittsburgh.
Instead of lamenting the demise of Riggs, the Washington region has celebrated PNC’s commitment — but it wasn’t all the company’s doing. Forward-looking groups reached out to PNC. The company brought greater scrutiny to its philanthropic recipients through the application of corporate social-responsibility metrics, and all across town people responded by stepping up their game. Other companies took notice. Soon after PNC arrived, it became clear that this out-of-towner was making the region better.
This isn’t a new story. Sorry about Woodies and Hecht’s, Garfinckel’s and Britches. They are missed. Yet Macy’s and Nordstrom quietly support so much in this community, even though they are “not from here.”
Last year, The Post attracted one of the top tech names in the world to buy it. The Post is staying put and so is its former parent, the newly renamed Graham Holdings. The region ended up with more clout and an even stronger technological imprimatur, and Graham Holdings Chief Executive Don Graham got to keep focusing his attention on what he does so well: making greater Washington better.
Change is constant, and it seems that greater Washington is experiencing record levels these days: Maryland moved to the Big 10, Georgetown wants Metrorail service and the Wizards are in the playoffs. Change is also constant in business, with growth, mergers or acquisitions recalibrating the corporate landscape. Expectations are growing among community organizations, be they theaters, schools, charities, chambers of commerce and other community organizations.
Appropriately, all of these groups expect to be asked to demonstrate real value and metrics-based management to continue receiving funds and other support. It is the responsibility of the organization to prove its value every day. In return, charities, arts organizations and business organizations are finding a growing base of support and the discipline to bring about efficiencies. Remember, these newcomers have chosen to be here; it is only natural for them to want to make the region stronger through whatever resources, expertise and funding they can provide.
Greater Washington has had no better corporate citizen than Pepco. From sponsorship of the ZooLights festival to providing playgrounds for homeless kids, Pepco has been a longtime leader in corporate giving. The United Way, Boys and Girls Clubs and the Greater Washington Board of Trade are all much better off because of Pepco’s involvement and support. Yes, that level of support could be altered in time, as Chicago-based Exelon becomes more familiar with the area, but that’s always been the case. What is beyond question is that Washington stands to gain because a leading national energy company chose here as the place to grow its business.
Except for the irreplaceable strawberry pies, change has been very good for the D.C. region. Groups will have to justify their contributions in new ways, but that’s a good thing. Fresh eyes are healthy for taking a new look at how things are done here. We have much to gain — and the naming rights are still available for Nationals Park.
The writer is president and chief executive of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.