Hall of Fame - Page 18 - Sandy Hillman

Hall of Fame
- Page 18
Sandy Hillman
Early in her career she changed how the world saw Baltimore and Baltimore saw itself


Age: 78

Born: Chester, Pa.

Education: Chester High School, Penn State University

Career: Assistant beauty and fashion editor for McFadden/Bartell Publications; communications/lobbying post in President Lyndon Johnson’s Office of Education; public information officer for the Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development; director of Baltimore’s Downtown Marketing Office (later the Baltimore Office of Promotion and Tourism); vice chairman and CEO of Trahan, Burden & Charles; founder of Sandy Hillman Communications.

Civic engagement: Leadership positions on various nonprofit boards and commissions, including the Living Classrooms Foundation and Greater Baltimore Committee

Family: Married to Bob Hillman; two daughters, Pamela Loeb and Allison Buchalter; four grandchildren

When Sandy Hillman’s husband told her theywould be moving to Baltimore, she thought her life was over.

After graduating from Penn State, she had moved to New York and got a job in publishing. A couple of years later, she and her husband, attorney Robert Hillman, moved to Washington, where she got a job in education policy for the Johnson administration. But about all she knew about Baltimore came from doing some door knocking the year before for a law school friend of her husband’swhowas running for City Council, another Bob, last name Embry.

By the time she and her Bob got to Baltimore, the other Bob was running the city’s housing and community development department, and he got her a job that introduced her to every part of the city. It was a lucky break for her—and for Baltimore. Over the next decade and a half, she would do as much as anyone to change how the world saw Baltimore and how Baltimore sawitself.

Her boss during most of that time, William Donald Schaefer, deservedly gets the credit for laying out the vision that took Baltimore from its low point after the 1968 riots to a new period of optimism and rebirth. But it was Sandy Hillman’s genius for selling that vision, here and around the world, that made Baltimore’s resurgence possible.

“Shewas instrumental inHarborplace, promoting it across the country,” says Lainey Lebow-Sachs, whom Ms. Hillman recruited into the Schaefer administration while the two were watching their kids at the Mt. Washington pool. “At that time, it was unbelievable. Press from every city in the country wanted to see what he created in Harborplace” because of Ms. Hillman’s efforts.

Schaefer saw tourism as the quickest way to generate jobs to offset those lost when so many of Baltimore’s factories closed, and that put Ms. Hillman, who headed Baltimore’s tourism and promotion office for 13 years, right at the center of so much of what we consider his legacy. It wasn’t just Harborplace but also the National Aquarium, Pier 6, the City Fair, the Baltimore Farmers’Market and on and on.

“Sandy was our go-to person for everything,” says Marion Pines, who worked with Ms. Hillman in a variety of roles in the Schaefer administration. “When she finally said she was leaving, Schaefer stood in the corner and cried.

“We were doing important, serious work for the city, and yet we always had such a wonderful time doing it,” Ms. Pines says. “That was the secret.”

To this day, Ms. Hillman says she sees those years as the most meaningful personally and professionally of her life. But she has had another entire professional life since then that’s just as notable.

After leaving City Hall in 1984, Ms. Hillman spent 23 years at the public relations and advertising firm Trahan, Burden & Charles, becoming vice chairman and CEO. Then, a dozen years ago, she decided to open her own firm, Sandy Hillman Communications. What she has accomplished is impressive — she has represented big-name clients from Wal-Mart to Caesars Entertainment to theWorld Series of Poker—but those who have worked with her say the way she has done it is even more so.

Ms. Hillman’s leadership style stems from lessons learned during the Schaefer years, she says. He found the best people and gave them autonomy. He instilled a do-it-until-it’s-right, exceed-expectations work ethic. He took risks.

Ms. Hillman has emulated that kind of leadership and instilled it in others.

“She’s somebody who makes things happen,” says Liz Feldman, a senior vice president at Hillman Communications who has worked with Ms. Hillman for more than 20 years, starting at TBC. “She gets things done, she’s resourceful, and it’s all done in a thoughtful, appropriate, compassionate way.”

Jayme Wood, who got her first job out of college with Ms. Hillman, says whatwas incredible aboutworking for herwas the knowledge, context and creativity she brought to the business combinedwith utter inclusiveness.

“I remember on day one, I sat at my desk for two seconds before I was called into a client meeting,” Ms. Wood says. “She brought you into the fold. You got to see howthings began.”

Ms. Hillman hasn’t been wrong about a lot of things in her career, but she certainly was about her life being over when she moved to Baltimore, and we can all be thankful for that.