An overflow crowd packed the ballroom of the Holiday Inn and Suites on First Street last Saturday night to honor Alexandria Chamber of Commerce's 2006 Business Leader of the Year — John McEnearney, founder, president and CEO, McEnearney Associates, Inc., Realtors.
After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1949, McEnearney spent 27 years on active duty serving in such diverse areas as Korea, Antarctica, Vietnam, Hawaii and Washington, D.C. He first moved to this area in 1965 when assigned to the Pentagon.
Following his Vietnam service he returned to a posting in Crystal City, then to New York and Hawaii. All the while, he and his wife Virginia maintained their home in Springfield.
During his last tour of duty at the Pentagon in 1976, Captain John McEnearney decided to retire from active duty and enter the field of real estate. As he has often said, "I retired on Friday. Started in real estate on Sunday. Sold my first house on Monday, and never looked back."
That was 30 years ago. After working for another firm for four years, he received his broker's license and opened McEnearney Associates in Alexandria. He had enough confidence in his abilities that he signed a 10-year lease on an office in Old Town that was still under construction.
His confidence has proven correct. The firm now has three Northern Virginia offices with a personnel complement of 350 and a gross income last year of $1.6 billion. McEnearney Associates also has a property management division, a relocation division and their own mortgage company.
Handling both residential and commercial properties, McEnearney Associates has been Alexandria's leading real estate firm for the past two decades and at the top of the Northern Virginia real estate sales market for nearly one of those decades.
In a recent interview he noted, "It's not about quantity, its about quality. If you are the best, you will, by default, be the biggest. This has been a labor of love for me."
Starting in business at age 54, McEnearney will celebrate his 80th birthday Nov. 8 and is not interested in retiring. "I may have to consider complying with our firm's mandatory retirement age of 90," he said jokingly during his acceptance speech as the Chamber's 12th Business Leader of The Year. "But, then I am the CEO so I could also extend that."
SERVING AS MASTER OF CEREMONIES for the event was J. Glenn Hopkins, president, Hopkins House. McEnearney Associates has long organized and sponsored a Christmas party for children at Hopkins House.
John has always believed in being involved in activities important to the community — and giving back to the communities his firm serves, according to the Chamber's program recognition. That is true not only in Alexandria but also for his offices in McLean and Arlington.
Kicking off the speakers honoring and roasting McEnearney was his oldest son Sean, one of three of their six children not in the firm. "An event like this comes once in a lifetime," he told the audience.
"People think McEnearney Associates has been here forever but its only been 26 years. You should be very proud," he said looking at his father.
"I'm proud of you for the business you have created. But, more than that, I'm just plain proud of you," Sean told his father seated with his wife in the audience.
Dave Hawkins, managing broker, Old Town Office, initiated the roast sequence by presenting McEnearney with a pair of gym shorts from Old Navy with McEnearney printed on the seat as is the tradition at the Naval Academy. He then read off a David Letterman format of five reasons why the name is on the back. The number one reason was, according to Hawkins, "If the shorts are lost while your in them they'll be able to identify you."
He was followed by Brig. General David E.K. Cooper, USA (Ret), president and CEO, the Hana Group in Honolulu, who recalled some of McEnearney's military experiences. Then came the real roaster, Mort Langstaff of Langstaff Musical Services who had the audience laughing and clapping with his punch lines about McEnearney.
Referring to John's service in Korea, Langstaff said, "For eight months a Korean family hid John in their basement --- it was in Chicago." That was followed by several stories referencing McEnearney's passion for golf and his belonging to a golf group known as The Junkyard Dogs.
When it came his turn to speak McEnearney recognized the efforts his staff and praised his competitors in real estate. "I consider them the best in the business," he said of his staff. "We are in a very competitive business yet we can be real friends," he acknowledged to his competitors among the audience.
McEnearney saved his greatest accolades for his wife Virginia and for those who chose him for the annual award. "Ginny and I have been married for 57 years and it has gone in a flash. This award I have received will be the capstone of my career. I'm a very fortunate guy," he said as the audience gave him a standing ovation.
In addition to presenting McEnearney with his award, the Chamber also named its Small Business Award winners for 2006. Receiving the highest award, Overall Small Business of the Year, was the firm Your Dog's Best Friends, a dog training and day care facility in Del Ray.
Other 2006 recipient were:
Professional Service Business of the Year: Total Environmental Concepts, Inc., which provides consulting services to help clients comply with governmental environmental rules and regulations.
New Business of the Year: Parlez Vous, a foreign language and culture center based in Old Town.
Retail Business of the Year: Barkley Square Gourmet Dog Bakery & Boutique, an Old Town pet boutique specializing in quality treats, gifts and furnishings for dogs and cats.
Hospitality Business of the Year: Bittersweet Catering Company, a full-service catering, cafe and in-house bakery serving Alexandria and the metropolitan Washington area.