Walt Townshend has never been a butcher, a baker or a bail bondsman. But if you know him, you know that he's aligned, almost intuitively, with people in virtually every profession. The president and CEO of the Laurel-based Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber operates with open arms, open mind, open heart.
Since coming aboard 25 years ago, Townshend has watched membership in the organization jump from 350 to 500. "In the first round," he recalled, "we were in a little house on the corner of Marshall Avenue and Fourth Street, made available by Berman Enterprises as a support for the business community."
He made due with a staff of four, which has since inched up to six, not including, he noted, "several independent contractors who fill particular niches."
Townshend, an Annapolis native, has roots that run deep in the Free State. He attended a small Episcopal prep school, one of 11 in his graduating class. During his senior year at Wake Forest, Townshend ran the Challenge Program, which prompted him to write a letter to actor Carroll O'Connor. "I ended up in his autobiography," he said. After college, he came back to Maryland to teach at a prep school, before working for his father in the insurance business. Later he took a job with Berman Enterprises, developers of Laurel Shopping Center. From there, it was on to a job at the chamber. Are you dizzy yet?
Townshend said he has clocked numerous achievements he is proud of. "I think we have been serial entrepreneurs," he said of the BWCC. "We became the only chamber in America to conceive, develop and manage a regional transit system," Townshend said, referring to Corridor Transportation Corporation, now Central Maryland Rapid Transit. "It became a $14 million affiliated enterprise transporting nearly 2 million passengers, 70 percent of whom were going to and from the workplace."
The bus system has grown to 27 employees and has offices in the same building as the chamber; Townshend serves on the board.
You can call him Townshend, the man who brought the spy in from the cold. In a move that would send smoke billowing from Edward Snowden's ears, Townshend, in his stoic, statesmanlike way, convinced the National Security Agency to join the chamber. "We were the first chamber NSA joined. The relationship has now transformed into an alliance with the Maryland Council of Teachers of Mathematics."
You can also call him Townshend the ecologist. During his tenure, he got a call from the director of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Russia had requested the center send two sandhill cranes for their use in saving the endangered Siberian crane, and there was no money in the budget. "And, by the way,'" he said, 'I don't have any money in my budget to do this.' "At the time, KLM was flying out of Baltimore. We made the connection, got Congressman [Steny] Hoyer's support in gaining an export license for the birds," Townshend said. Later that year, Townshend said, the director of the PWRC showed up at the chamber's annual gala "with pictures of how we helped save the endangered Siberian crane."
Now in his 60s and, recently, a first-time grandpa, Townshend shows no signs of slowing down. "I've done a tandem jump with the Golden Knights, driven an Abrams tank, done a leg press competition with Smokin' Joe Frazier, flown on Air Force II twice," he said.
Through the years, Townshend confided in me, there is one job on his bucket list that he is determined to try: loading dock guy. You can bet that before strapping on his goggles and firing up the forklift, he will have already made the company the chamber's newest member.
"Whenever I meet with someone," he said, "they cannot believe the connections and opportunities we can provide them. No matter how big or small the business, we have served them well."