10 years of profiling sacrifice, sadness, and success

From left, Bernhardt Wealth Management President & CEO Gordon Bernhardt, retired Col. Greg Gadson, and Gordon's Executive Assistant Ben Madtes, who organized the 6th annual Profiles in Success dinner.

A decade ago, America was crawling out of the worst recession in 75 years. Unemployment was near historical highs, corporate scandals had sunk the world’s economy, and the Tea Party and Occupy movements were rocking the nation.

Many people despaired. Bernhardt Wealth Management CEO Gordon Bernhardt decided to act, and Profiles in Success was born. 

“I wanted to share inspirational stories of leaders in the DMV area,” said Bernhardt in an interview. “It was my hope that at least one profile would be relatable to current leaders, future leaders, and young people, and help them think of doing something they previously considered impossible.”

Bernhardt’s dream has grown far beyond hoping that one person might read one profile. He has interviewed over 600 corporate and non-profit leaders, including 2019 Profiles in Success award winner retired Navy Admiral Terence McKnight. Bernhardt’s recent 6th annual Profiles in Success Celebration included a keynote address from double-amputee and former Army Colonel Greg Gadson, whose speech on overcoming obstacles was met with a standing ovation. 

“These are inspirational stories behind the success,” said Bernhardt. “The value is immeasurable to so many people. Children will see that a bright future does exist for them, whether they are abandoned by their mother like Lynda Ellis or an immigrant like Francisca Alonso. Young professionals may see themselves in Brian Roberts, who was unemployed after the dot-com crash and after the Great Recession but is now leading CEOs to greater success. And those who despair after disaster may relate to Colonel Gadson’s story of losing both legs but choosing to not give in to hopelessness.”

The Profiles have also served as “a priceless gift” to family members and important “heart and soul” background for potential employees and clients of companies whose CEOs have been profiled, said Bernhardt. “Each Profiled person is required to bring a story or item of personal significance when I interview them,” he explained. “I really want people to know that even the most successful and wealthy businesspeople are people first, with real inspirations, struggles, and sacrifices to which we can all relate.” 

“I hope that my Profile in Success shows that it’s not about me,” said McKnight. “It’s about my oldest sister, to whom I donated bone marrow and who is the only patient from her hospital floor still alive. It’s about my younger sister, who thanks to Divine Intervention and the kindness of strangers survived an aneurysm while out on a run. It’s about the thousands of Seaman whom I was lucky enough to lead and be inspired by. And, mostly, it’s about God, without whom none of this would have been possible.”

“We’re all pilgrims in this world,” said Bernhardt. “Each of us faces overwhelming challenges throughout our lives. My heart changed at the age of 58 when I walked over 600 miles on the Camino de Santiago in 2018, and so did my personal Profile. I hope that as we embark on another 600 Profiles, the DMV business community will see that each of us is more than our money and our position. We all have our own Profile which can inspire one, 100, or 1,000 people to have a better and richer life.”

Dustin Siggins is CEO of the publicity firm Proven Media Solutions and a business columnist.

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