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In the Washington business community, John Tydings is legend. For 24 years, starting at age 36 in 1977, John was president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, making him virtually king of local business, and the youngest chamber president in America. He was immensely popular, and his energy was that of men half his age. He brought together divergent downtown and suburban factions, nearly doubled membership, and grew revenues from under $1M to over $14M.

But looking back today, John harbors a surprising thought: He now thinks he stayed too long.

Former BOT president (and member of the Clean Plate Association) John Tydings with us at lunch this week at Equinox.

John doesn’t believe trade associations should allow that. "I don't care how fresh you believe you are: The environment changes so much and so quickly, it’s hard to adjust after a while. Some people can, some can’t.” Boards, he thinks, shouldn’t leave that to chance. What’s the ideal term? Maybe 10 to 15 years, John says, not the quarter century he served.

But John's also made a very positive discovery: There’s a commercial afterlife in the for-profit world for non-profit veterans. John says skills in the non-profit world have “more transferability and value than many realize.” Why is it, he asks, that people who come out of the for-profit world typically assume they can go into non-profits, but not the reverse?

John showing the diorama he was given at his Washington Hilton retirement party—a display of miniaturized pictures, buttons, flags, even hiker clamps.

He says his own transition “was a test of self-esteem: As a trade association head, I saw individuals and companies doing quite well, and I wanted to see if I had value as John Tydings and not just a representative of other people.” He didn’t want to lobby or fundraise, but instead “just let the market figure out what I can do best.” 

He joined up with three friends from the for-profit sector and together they founded McLean-based Human Capital Advisors, which keeps an office in the District through one of its clients, PNC Bank. They focus on three areas of consulting: executive development, organizational development, and talent search, primarily for accounting, finance, and HR-type positions. They have been successful and already reeled in 65 clients. He loves it and only wishes he’d started sooner.

With a picture of his four grandchildren. No doubt he tells them "association stories" around the campfire.

John’s always been enterprising. His first job was washing windows, and he also recalls working in an ice house, bagging 7.5-pound bags of ice cubes and delivering them to vending machines. He’s also a runner, who’s done marathons in Big Sur and DC, but more recently has settled on 10-milers and 10Ks. He was also bitten by the hiking bug during a 1993 climb of Mt. Rainier with adventure pal Cris Collie, CEO of Worldwide ERC.

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