Rosslyn is the largest urban market in the heart of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. As president of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, Mary-Claire Burick oversees an annual budget of $4 million and is charged with improving the area for the neighborhood’s businesses, residents, and visitors.
Early in her career, Mary-Claire was heavily involved in media operations and played an integral role in launching the Fox News Channel. After forming her own successful strategic communications and change management advisory firm, MC Strategies, she was recruited to her current position.
At the BID, Mary-Claire leads her team in creating a welcoming, distinct, and thriving environment for residents, retailers and workers in the Rosslyn neighborhood in Northern Virginia just across the Potomac River from our nation’s capital. Her purview includes urban design and placemaking, the multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces. She also works to organize community events, support the arts, and interface with county decision makers.
Through her work in Rosslyn, whose towers make up D.C.’s most prominent skyline, Mary-Claire has been transforming the neighborhood from a commercial district to a mixed-use urban center and, according to Redfin, the nation’s second-best zip code for educated millennials.
Mary-Claire is the co-creator of the Women in Technology (WIT) Leadership Foundary program to increase the number of women in the D.C. area who serve on corporate boards. She was named one of the “Women Who Mean Business” by the Washington Business Journal.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
I was actually recruited into my current role based on my past experience in strategic management, communications and engagement. Not having come from this field, I asked the recruiter why they were considering me for the position, and the response was what ultimately drove me to accept. The recruiter explained that the BID needed a leader who could help set a vision for the future, get people excited and engaged in helping to realize that vision and manage the change along the way. Bringing people together to reach a shared goal has been the connecting thread of my career so I was eager to take on this new role at the BID.
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
This career was an opportunity to bring all my passions and past experiences into one role on a larger, community-based scale.
I really enjoy bringing the right people together, and ensuring they have what they need to reach a shared goal. There is such a diverse group of stakeholders within the Rosslyn community and many have strong, and at times differing, opinions. Although it can be challenging at times, it makes my job more interesting.
Every day this job brings new challenges and a seemingly endless range of obstacles that may initially prevent a task from being accomplished, but that’s what I love about it: I must work with and through others to achieve goals, which is something I enjoy. It really keeps me on my toes since there’s always another challenge to overcome, but the rewards when I help affect progress make it all worthwhile.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
Through my prior work with my management consulting company, MC Strategy, I had the privilege of working with a wide range of companies including government agencies and non-profit organizations of all sizes and industries. I worked hand in hand with seasoned leaders and saw firsthand the business success that could be created when you pay attention to efficient communication, building high-performing teams and effectively leading change.
I am fortunate to have a strong network of board members, colleagues and friends who I have turned to in learning more about commercial real estate, economic development and placemaking. And I’m a life-long learner, so I keep myself fresh in organizational effectiveness techniques that I initially learned through my certificate in Organizational Consulting and Change Leadership from Georgetown University a few years ago. I can’t stress enough the importance of admitting what you don’t know and taking the steps to change that.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
I have been really lucky. I have always found people who were willing to be supportive of me. I would not have been able to come up to speed in this industry, which I knew little about before entering it, without my network and the BID board. They have been rooting for me, connecting me with the right people, and respectfully making any needed course corrections. So I’d tell others, it’s so important to surround yourself with positive and knowledgeable people who are willing to help. Make sure you are open to those suggestions, and then pay that forward by acting the same with others when you can.
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
Of course! If anyone ever tells you otherwise, they’re probably lying. For the first six months at the BID, I definitely experienced a honeymoon phase. I was so busy getting up to speed, meeting hundreds of key stakeholders, and putting in place a foundation for the future. Then the reality hit me: There’s so much about this industry that I don’t know, there are many people relying on me and there’s a lot at stake. I absolutely had my doubts, and often wondered if I was the right person for the job.
But in order to be successful, whether it is at one’s profession, hobby, or life itself, you have to be able to take risks. You have to be able to put your head down and keep going when you are in an unfamiliar place. Any risk worth taking is going to naturally put you out of your comfort zone, but that’s also when you learn the most about yourself. So yes, I definitely had doubts, but I believe that’s normal. Any risk or career choice that has the potential to be an incredible learning experience and that could possibly sky-rocket your career is going to be scary.
When did your career reach a tipping point?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that my career has reached a “tipping point” so to speak, but it was incredibly satisfying and rewarding when I realized that I was doing work that had a tangible impact on a large community of people.
After being at the BID for almost three years, I am just starting to see some of my initial efforts paying off. Obviously I’ve had victories and successes here and there, but a vast majority of the work of a BID requires years of planning, and sustained effort before it comes to fruition.
Just recently, we unveiled the first installment of our Streetscape Elements Master Plan. It started two years ago as an idea to make the sidewalks safer, more pedestrian-friendly and more beautiful. From solar-powered trash compactors to bike racks, parklets and benches, our custom streetscape elements make the streets of Rosslyn more inviting and reflective of our urban, contemporary identity. So well worth the effort!
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
I think one of the greatest challenges I’ve had to overcome throughout my career has been self-doubt. I’ve followed my passion and been very willing to take risks to go into unfamiliar territory. Each time, there was worry and wondering if I’d made a mistake. And each time, instead of allowing thoughts like, “Can I really do this?” derail my career, I decided to take the time to learn and research what I didn’t know. Each time it was a slog, but making that extra effort to learn something new and then applying it turned the quicksand of self-doubt into a successful career that I enjoy immensely.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
I have found that knowing how to engage with people and bring out the best in others is one of the most useful skills I’ve ever developed. They key is to truly listen to others and try to understand where they’re coming from and what they need. You also need to talk about what you want and need and then try to find common ground.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
I am definitely proud that I helped launch the Fox News Channel. It was nerve-racking because I left a secure job to help with what was then a start-up, and it was my first time as a manager.
That experience allowed such rich learning, as I had to build organizational processes and structures from scratch. I took it upon myself to help implement efficient and practical procedures that everyone could agree on, and then make sure I was developing and training employees. And that became the basis for a core strength, and passion of mine: organizational effectiveness and employee engagement.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
For someone to be able to enter the economic development and community-building fields, it is imperative to have the ability to multi-task and remain flexible. You have to have the ability to get things done quickly and effectively, but also have the patience and perseverance to allow projects to develop over time through multiple approval levels. And you really ought to love dealing with and working with others. It’s a must in this field!