Power 2008: The Elements of Influence

The 50 most powerful people in town, as ranked by the most powerful people in town.

TASTEMAKER POWER

Case Study: Jill Medvedow, director, Institute of Contemporary Art

THE FAR-REACHING waterfront view from Jill Medvedow’s third-floor office at the ICA is a remarkably poignant reminder of the endless possibilities and serious longshots that marked seven years of her life. In 1999, when the newly named museum director began her campaign to move the ailing institution out of its sad-sack Back Bay space and into a modern, architecturally groundbreaking structure, everyone said it couldn’t be done. With $50 million to raise, a city of skeptical old Brahmins who never really liked or understood contemporary art, and the desolate Fan Pier (Fan Pier?) as her targeted promised land, she was branded a crazy optimist at best.

In the end, Medvedow blew past the fundraising goal by $15 million. And now former naysayers call her something else: the velvet hammer. “When they sense someone’s coming to ask for money, most people run in the other direction,” says ICA overseer and Back Bay gallery owner Barbara Krakow. “Jill had to go out and engage the visibly reluctant. But then she was like the Pied Piper.” The new building drew upward of 300,000 visitors its first year, 272,000 more than the average at the ICA’s old digs. Membership has increased sevenfold. And seldom does a day pass when someone isn’t touting the ICA building as the jewel of the waterfront, the very essence of all that’s possible for a once stodgy city. (Everyone wants to take credit for the fact that Boston’s a-changing — with that change adopting the form of everything from big-name retail outposts to risk-taking chefs — but let’s be clear: Out-of-towners don’t come here for Barneys.)

“In a word,” longtime museum trustee Steve Corkin says of Medvedow, “she’s a force.” —Alyssa Giacobbe
CONNORS-ESQUE* POWER

*A dizzyingly multifaceted approach to influence, as popularized by Jack Connors.

Case Study: John Fish, CEO, Suffolk Construction

 

TIME WAS, JOHN FISH was just a hard-nosed construction brute whose pursuit of cheap labor meant pissing off unions and slapping around subcontractors. Then he got wise to a much better way to get ahead in this town — not merely with hard work, but also with equally relentless pleasantries. “To me, everybody’s a client,” he tells a reporter, sitting in his Roxbury office. “What can we do to exceed people’s expectation? My hope today is to exceed your expectation — what did you expect when you came to see John Fish?”

The answer: a man diligently following the playbook of his mentor, Jack Connors, the preternaturally involved Hill, Holliday founder who now serves as chairman of Partners HealthCare and all-around éminence grise. Fish is on the board of 11 nonprofit community groups, and is known for giving his time and money zealously. And like any smart Boston operator, he uses relationships developed through those efforts to fatten his bottom line. While he talks about his charity work with conviction, he admits it’s part of a strategic plan. “There are three circles of influence: political, business, and nonprofit. We try to make sure we have a very good handle on the three.”

Ask developers where they first met Fish, and it’s likely to have been at a board meeting or philanthropic event. That’s how he connected with real estate titan Steve Samuels, who was originally reluctant to go with Fish. The two sat down, and Fish, showing flashes of Connors-grade salesmanship, admitted it all: He’d made mistakes early on, and built his company on the lessons learned. “It was such an honest approach that I totally related to it,” Samuels says. He’s since given Fish more than $350 million in business — some of which is part of the nearly $1.25 billion worth of projects Fish now has in motion in Boston alone. —Jason Feifer

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