Enterprising Women SPring 2019

COVER STORY A s the daughter of immigrants, the first in her family to graduate college, a high school civics teacher by training and the founder and executive chairman of a $120 million global communications firm, Margery Kraus has spent her life showing up where people least expected it, always bringing fierce determination to the table. Since founding APCO Worldwide 35 years ago, the company has grown from one small office in Washington, D.C. to more than 30 offices around the world and almost 800 employees. Through it all, Margery learned that for every time someone assumes she can’t make a dream a reality, there’s an extra power in proving them wrong. Never underestimate the power of being underestimated. Being a daring and strategic entrepreneur is more than educational credentials and jobs on a resume: it’s character. Margery’s natural curiosity allows her to witness the world in a way that makes daily reality more meaningful than the best thinking in award-winning textbooks. She learned the power of relationships from working at her family’s store in her small town, and her grit from being at her father’s side as he turned a local football team into the best semi-pro team in America. When things got tough, Margery relied on the lesson her mother ingrained in her: where there is a will, there is a way. At 16, deciding she had learned as much as she could from the local high school (K through 12 in one building), Margery left home and started her path back to the classroom as a civics teacher. She received her own high school diploma decades later—after her BA and Masters from college, in a special ceremony to award her the last diploma from the school before it closed. It was a year before her own daughter graduated from high school. The ceremony was part of the school’s participation in the Close Up Foundation. In 1971, more than a decade before dreaming up APCO, the launch of the Close Up Foundation proved that a high school teacher could become an impactful entrepreneur. The Foundation was started to help high school students and their teachers experience our government first hand by spending a week in Washington and participating in an intense learning experience about how government really works and how they could make a difference. Close Up started as an idea, without any funding or backing, but that didn’t stop Margery from joining the fight to make the program a reality. Today, almost 50 years later, Close Up is a multi-million-dollar educational foundation that has brought experiential civics programs to almost a million students. It is recognized as a premier educational experience for young people, with broad support and sponsorship, and Margery remains active on the Board. From participating at the World Economic Forum since the time when women only made up four percent of participants, to being honored as one of PR Week’s 20 most influential communicators over the past 20 years, Margery never wasted time wondering if she belonged in the same room as world leaders and corporate CEO’s; she just went in. As challenges arise, Margery keeps her personal mission simple: to think big, and have passion. Think Big. Have Passion APCO’s path to success required big ideas and the tenacity of a person on a mission. It has been on the forefront of a number of firsts as the company has grown. It was the first major affiliate of a law firm when it started; it was the first to recognize the power of communications as it linked to public policy concerns, clients problems or project development and to offer it up in an integrated package; it was the first to incorporate the power of the internet into its daily work; and one of the few start-ups of scale in the industry to be started and led by a woman. In 1984, Arnold & Porter, one of the largest DC law firms, approached Margery to launch a consulting affiliate in support of its unique practice of project development— relying on a multi-disciplinary approach to solving client problems. Even though she fully engaged in Close Up, which had now reached 50 states, Margery was intrigued with the idea of seeing if what she had learned being an entrepreneur in the not-for-profit sector was transferrable to business. So at 38, with three teenagers and her eldest about to head to college, she left the comfort of her corner office and staff of 200 to head to a law firm to establish a new kind of business as a sole practitioner with a borrowed secretary and no consulting experience. At first, it was a daunting task, especially being surrounded by professionals with pedigrees from every major Ivy League school. But she soon learned to rely on her instincts and her past experience—and her favorite quote—to push forward and follow her dream. That quote, “no one can make you feel inferior without your own consent” has been a guidepost throughout her career and one she has shared with other enterprising women as they have had self-doubts. Being a daring and strategic entrepreneur is more than educational credentials and jobs on a resume: it’s character. enterprising Women 27