Angela Fox found her way to her current role as President and CEO for the Crystal City Business Improvment District after a series of influential jobs throughout her career. Straight out of college Angela landed a job working for Bell Atlantic, where she stayed for nine years, moving through the ranks working in engineering standards, IT, consumer services, new product development, and negotiations. From there she worked at an internet start-up, then ran her own consulting firm, and later led the team at Cultural Tourism DC before being offered her current position. Never one to follow a five-year plan, Angela made all of these career moves by trusting her instincts and knowing when to let go. And that approach has certainly paid off.
Another trait that’s helped Angela over the years is that she’s not the type of person to let a challenge bring her down. Case in point? She spent her pregnancy traveling back and forth to Asia as part of her work for her consulting firm, despite 16 weeks of nausea along the way. As Angela put it, “I figured that I could be ill at home on the couch or trekking on an elephant in Thailand. I chose the latter.” This sense of adventure has guided Angela throughout her life and career—and it’s definitely something to which we ourselves aspire.
Read on to learn more about Angela’s career, her insights on the importance of listening to your instincts, and advice she has for others.
Full Name: Angela Fox
Current Title/Company: President / CEO of Crystal City Business Improvement District
Educational Background: Graduated with Highest Honors from Georgia Tech
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
I have always loved math and science and studied biomedical engineering at Georgia Tech. I became interested in fiber optics through my studies, which made me apply for a job at Bell Atlantic.
I went to the Student Success Center at Georgia Tech and put my resume in the Bell Atlantic folder. I was told they were coming to campus to interview for their Executive Development Program (headquartered in Washington, DC), and I really wanted to be in DC, where the company is located. They scheduled the interview with me, and the woman interviewing said that they would definitely be following up. The next round was a “plant trip” to DC…the rest is history.
You worked at Bell Atlantic for a total of nine years. While there, you moved through the ranks working in engineering standards, IT, consumer services, new product development, and negotiations. What lessons did you learn while at Bell Atlantic? When and why did you ultimately decide to leave the company?
While I was at Bell Atlantic I learned how to work with people of all different mindsets with different experiences to get things done and make the impossible possible, or as I like to say, “I learned to turn elephants in closets.” When you work with a large group of people who think in different ways and have different motivations and histories, you have to get creative to create a win-win path (of least resistance) for everyone involved. These are lessons that I continue to carry with me.
I went for a coffee meeting with the head of an internet start-up who wanted to recruit me to work for his company. I was very happy and hadn’t been thinking about leaving Bell Atlantic when I met with him, but he had a position open that combined all of my experiences in something that seemed 100% tailored to me. At Bell Atlantic, I had several different roles including product development, re-engineering, launching Bell Atlantic Internet, and also working in the wireless market. All of these roles were very different, but the job at the internet startup combined my experience from each. I knew immediately that I was going to join him and challenge myself with the next thing.
Following your time at Bell Atlantic, you joined an internet start-up, and then had your own consulting firm providing business strategy, marketing and executive coaching services to individuals, corporations and non-profits. How did you go about starting your own business? What skills and lessons did you learn from this experience?
I didn’t set out to start my own business at first—it kind of just happened! I was on the board of Women In Technology and volunteered to organize an event. During the event, someone came up to me and said the event was awesome and asked if I freelanced. He had a client in Japan that needed someone like me. Just like my job at the internet start-up, I made the decision on the spot and followed the opportunity. This really taught me that you never know who is watching or where your next opportunity is going to come from. Just get involved and do what you love and people will notice—you really never know what opportunities are just around the corner.
While I was consulting and traveling back and forth to Asia, I got pregnant and had my son. I was nauseated for 16 weeks and still running. I figured that I could be ill at home on the couch or trekking on an elephant in Thailand. I chose the latter and hope my son carries the same sense of adventure. This really changed my perspective in terms of what matters, what sorts of limitations I place on myself, and how I prioritize my time.
After having your own consulting firm, you served as Executive Director and CEO for Cultural Tourism DC. What led you to take this position? What were your job responsibilities?
My position at Cultural Tourism DC came through a recruiter. It was another opportunity that combined a lot of my passions—I’m a foodie, I love the arts, and I love exploring all that DC has to offer. I couldn’t believe that I could get paid to immerse myself in all of these passions!
While there, I was responsible for fundraising, creating and developing programs to promote Cultural Tourism DC, and just running the day-to-day operations of the organization. What I walked away with is what it’s like to have a board of volunteers and how to make sure that boundaries are clean and clear.
After working at Cultural Tourism DC, you began your current position as President and CEO of the Crystal City BID in November of 2006. Tell us how you landed this position! What are your primarily responsibilities as President and CEO?
I landed my current job through one of my personal passions—theater and performing arts. I have always been inspired by the theater and would go frequently as an escape from the hectic hours and long commute around the DC Beltway from Arlington, VA to Silver Spring, MD. I began donating to Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, DC and in just six months I was asked to lead the board as chair. In this role I guided the building of a new theater facility and oversaw the fundraising of $9 million.
A property owner in Crystal City, VA (just outside of Washington, DC) admired my leadership in guiding Woolly Mammoth’s success and asked if I would consider leading the Crystal City Business Improvement District, which was just being formed. As a resident of Crystal City, I saw the potential there and was excited at the prospect of transforming the community. I took the position and have been transforming Crystal City since 2006.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I love being with my team—we are really more like family—and walking around Crystal City just to see how much it has transformed over the years since I started at the BID. We’ve turned underground walkways into studio space for up and coming artists, created a workspace for tech start-ups and even turned a parking garage into a bike race venue. It’s great to see so many people participate in our events, and to hear how people’s perceptions of Crystal City have changed. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t thank us for all that we’ve brought and continue to bring to the area.
What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in your career and how were you able to overcome them?
When you start something new, you don’t know all of the history and experiences or information about how people view or are connected to an area. Key challenges are figuring out the hot buttons and politics of the community and learning how to build trust around your work and vision. I tend to think and move very, very fast and most people weren’t used to that pace when I first started. But it’s wonderful to see them get excited and start to help clear the path ahead as we are running toward the next goal.
From working in a corporate environment to running your own business to working in the non-profit sector, your career background is very diverse. What advice can you give to women seeking employment in either corporate or non-profit positions?
Look for opportunities to get leadership training. I once attended an Executive Women’s Workshop at the Center for Creative Leadership. I wasn’t quite an executive then, though I was on the way. The women in the class were phenomenal and so open to helping me gain insight.
Also, take time to get to know yourself—figure out what you’re good at and what you’re not good at (and be ok with it!). Find out what you really like and follow it. I never had a five-year plan; I just followed my passions and things have unfolded naturally. I could have never planned this path, and it has been one amazing ride.
You believe in the importance of having a mentor and credit your early successes at Bell Atlantic to choosing a great mentor. Tell us how your mentor at Bell Atlantic influenced your career. What advice do you have for other women looking to find a mentor?
My mentor at Bell Atlantic dragged me along with him wherever he got promoted within the company. He would throw me in the middle of all kinds of crazy mixed up projects and say, “I need you to fix this.” So I did. He advocated for me and gave me opportunities to be a leader and realize my potential. I am forever grateful to him.
If you’re looking for a mentor, find someone who inspires you. Most people are happy to sit down and talk to you about their experiences, so ask someone to grab coffee with you.
Take time to get to know yourself…find out what you really like and follow it. I never had a five-year plan; I just followed my passions and things have unfolded naturally.
What is a typical workday like for you?
I’m not even sure what that is! The only constant for me from day-to-day is that everything is pretty non-stop. One day recently, I biked to work for Bike To Work Week, which the Crystal City BID promoted, did yoga during one of the BID’s free community yoga classes, had lunch with a business partner, went through contracts, closed a deal, started preparing materials for our annual meeting, picked up my son from school, did homework, walked to a reception, and then sang my son to sleep. On any given day, I could have 3-4 outfit changes! I coined the phrase “ball gown in a bag.”
You live in Arlington, VA, just outside of Washington, DC. What do you love most about living there? What are your favorite things to do in the area?
I love living in this area because there is just so much to see and do and things are constantly changing. I love the many yummy restaurants, the safety of the neighborhoods, and great schools for my son. It’s also wonderful to be just a couple minutes away from Washington, DC with its wealth of history and culture.
My favorite things to do are bike and hike around on the trails, do yoga, go out to eat, and just be outside with my son.
Best moment of your career so far?
There have been so many great moments that have led me to where I am today. I really can’t pick one thing, because they’ve all had a cumulative effect. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Don’t over-plan, trust your instincts and know when to let go.
Angela Fox is The Everygirl…
Best advice you’ve ever received?
My first boss told me there was no job in the company that I couldn’t do and that nothing is ever too hard. He was right.
Morning or night?
Favorite way to unwind?
Yoga, hanging with my son and friends, and going to the theater.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
I would go to lunch with my mom, because I don’t get to see her enough. I would order something vegetarian, preferably with a lot of mushrooms!