Despite being the leader of a nonprofit university, President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg has been named Business Leader of the Year by the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.
Trachtenberg will receive the award on Oct. 29 at the annual Chamber’s Choice Awards, a gala where the chamber recognizes a business leader in several categories. GW’s president served as the chair of the organization last year and still remains active as a member of the chamber’s board of directors.
Trachtenberg said he was surprised to hear he was the award’s recipient and said he will receive it with honor.
“Obviously I was a little puzzled because I never think of myself as a businessman,” he said. “But I was honored, I was flattered, and I was pleased.”
Barbara Lang, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, said Trachtenberg was unanimously selected by the group’s nominating committee.
“Steve was unanimously selected for his entrepreneurial skills, economic development he has brought to The George Washington University and his commitment to not only education, but just all of the great things GW has done to move forward the economic renaissance this city is experiencing,” she said.
Past recipients of the award include Franklin Raines, former CEO and president of Fannie Mae, and Marie Johns, president of Verizon for Washington, D.C. Lang said Trachtenberg, despite not running a corporation, was worthy of the award.
“We do consider him a businessman,” she said. “You can’t separate education from the business community. All university presidents would tell you that a university is a business and you have to run it that way.”
In the past, neighborhood groups have negatively branded Trachtenberg a businessman, accusing him of manipulating the University’s nonprofit status to take over more of the Foggy Bottom community.
“The neighborhood has been making the point for years that the University behaves as a nonprofit only when it wants to,” Foggy Bottom Association member Ron Cocome said. “It’s a corporation, a business. They have a corporate-type of relationship with the city, and I wish them both well.”
Cocome added that he is not surprised Trachtenberg received the award because of the partnership the University has with the city.
“Maybe I’m old, but in my day this would not have been appropriate for a president of a university to receive,” he said. “But things have changed.”
Trachtenberg said that while the University was not created to generate revenue, most nonprofit organizations have to operate similarly to a corporation in today’s market.
“Even if you are a church or a hospital, you are presumably a business and have to act in a business-like manner,” he said.
GW is the largest private employer in D.C., and Lang said its large campus and student base helps pour money back into the District economy, ultimately aiding economic development.
Trachtenberg also said that in addition to being a personal honor, the award is important to the University as a whole.