christopher is proud to share that our president, Bill Zink, PE has successfully completed the Leadership Greater Washington (LGW) 2020 Signature Program. Over sixty leaders around the region are competitively selected to participate in an intensive 10-month program. The purpose of the program is to discuss and mobilize change on hard-hitting issues such as diversity, equity and inclusion, education, human needs, public safety and more. Bill joined leaders from a variety of sectors including public, private, nonprofit, and small- and large-business enterprises. After graduating from the Signature Program, Bill joined LGW as a Lifetime Member and continues to stay involved. We sat down with Bill to learn more about the program and exactly what it means to him.
What inspired you to join Leadership Greater Washington (LGW)?
Alex Orfinger (Washington Business Journal) and Cal Bowie (Bowie Gridley Architects) strong armed me. Just kidding. However, after spending an evening with them, Alex proposed the idea to me. He felt like I was uniquely positioned as a leader in the region to tell my family’s story. In hindsight, given the events of 2020, he could NOT have been more correct.
Tell us about your family’s story that played a part in joining LGW.
In 2006, my wife, Natalie, and I felt called to do more. We agreed to pursue adopting two children from the District of Columbia. After a short training program, Natalie and I adopted Steven and James, then ages 12 and 6, growing our family to eight.
Even with the diversity of Northern Virginia, we brought two young Black boys into a very white community. With everything going on in our household, skin color was not even on our radar. Today, I have four grandchildren, only one of whom is white. I have Black, Mexican and Central American sons- and daughters-in-law. I have witnessed racism with my children in the last places you would expect. All of my children have been attuned to it and have experienced it through their husbands, wives, siblings and their extended families. White privilege, male privilege, financial privilege – they are real. My life experiences have helped prepare me for what is happening in the world today. We as Americans, we as leaders, need to not look solely to the government to solve this problem, but to ourselves. We must lead by example and change things one person and one day at a time.
What were some of the highlights from your LGW experience?
The entire program was enlightening. There were two particular events in addition to the opening retreat that really tugged at my heart: a session that focused on poverty, hunger and public safety, and the opportunity to spend an evening riding with law enforcement officers in Southeast DC. These two events helped me appreciate the issues from both sides.
Additionally, the sincerity by which others in the program shared their own stories was empowering. It was a humbling reminder that no matter how much you are doing, someone is always doing more. We were also put in small groups called MindTrusts where we spent time together sharing our experiences. This allowed us to be more real and share intimate feelings with each other. The sharing was both authentic and intense. Lifelong friendships were formed from the MindTrusts, making it an extra special part of the program for me.
Describe what you saw on your law enforcement ride along and how it transformed you.
The LGW session the week before the ride along focused on hunger and homelessness. We learned about food deserts, an area that has limited access to grocery stores and affordable and nutritious food. We performed an experiential exercise on what it would be like to support a family of four on $20 a day. While on my ride along in Southeast DC, I observed food deserts, homelessness and poverty. The residents of this community appear to be “just getting by” at best. I experienced an incredible sense of loss, hopelessness and despair. As difficult as it was, I am thankful to have had the opportunity. Hope was restored after talking through the experience with my LGW group. I realized how much the LGW community cares and how much they are doing to mitigate the problems! Many from this year’s LGW class run non-profit organizations that focus on these issues. This group of professionals are addressing these issues head-on in very real and tangible ways. They are devoting their personal and professional lives to work on them.
How will your LGW experience impact the way you lead christopher into the future?
LGW helped me understand how to have difficult conversations around race, inclusion and many other tough issues, and that there is something we can all do to positively evoke change. It has motivated me to share my story, and more importantly, listen to other people’s stories. It taught me that in order to have real relationships in the working world, you need to be vulnerable and willing to help. I learned that all business leaders have a responsibility to have a bigger impact on their communities.
What efforts are you and the christopher team employing to positively impact communities?
We have created an internal Diversity and Inclusion Task Force with a three-fold mission: Outreach, Education and Internal Training. The program will allow staff to dedicate their time and expertise in the form of mentorship, tutoring, life skills workshops and internships for students. We are working with a local high school in western Manassas to implement this program. My experience with LGW allowed me to easily adopt Juneteenth as an additional paid holiday for our christopher team. We have encouraged our staff to use this day each year to celebrate the history of the day and to give back to the community. We believe that christopher has more to offer than just our professional skills. We want the community to know that people care.
** Photos taken before onset of COVID-19