Interview with Cathy Merrill Williams

President and Publisher Washingtonian Magazine Inc.


Surrounded by classic typewriters, Vernon Holleman III, CLU, sat down with Cathy, in her office at Washingtonian, which was her father’s before her. Roughly four years prior, Cathy had been busy running operations for ACS Transportation Solutions and thinking very little of the publishing business. Then, her father died unexpectedly. Philip Merrill borrowed money to get into the publishing business in his 30’s and had run the Capital Newspaper in Annapolis since then. He added Washingtonian Magazine in 1979 to his holdings, and had run that as well. What was next?

In this interview, Vernon and Cathy talk through the key events in her life, both before and after her dad’s death, that lead what can certainly be described as a successful transition. It was not, however, easy or certain. Cathy presents, with great honesty and clarity, the important components that led to her becoming President and Publisher of Washingtonian Magazine, Inc. The issues covered, include: dealing with a sudden tragedy, family fairness vs. equability, working with non-family partners, taxes and timing, and teaching children an early appreciation for money and hard work.

This interview has great insight into how succession can unfold after a death of a business owner, if proper dialogs have occurred. The listener will enhance their belief in, and understanding of, the importance of family communication from an early age and the teaching of the core values of gratitude and perspective. It is filled with excellent examples of how fundamental teachings lead to leadership and capability. It will help any family business person think more long-term about their mentoring, decisions, and planning.

Notable Discussion Topics:

Among other topics, Cathy discusses the following issues with Vernon Holleman III, CLU:

  • Dealing with a Sudden Tragedy / Grief
  • Family Fairness vs. Equability
  • Working with non-family Partners
  • Taxes and Timing
  • Teaching children an Appreciation for Money and Hard Work
  • Instilling Confidence in your Successors


Catherine Merrill Williams is President and Publisher of Washingtonian Magazine Inc. which publishes The Washingtonian – the leading city magazine for the Washington D.C. region.

From 2002 to 2007 Ms. Williams served as Director of Operations for ACS Transportation Solutions, a subsidiary of Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), a Fortune 500 provider of technology outsourcing where she helped manage and collect 60 percent of the nation’s tolls – $2.7 billion a year – including the majority of the E-ZPass network in the northeast. Prior to joining ACS, from 1995 to 2002 Ms. Merrill was a partner at Oliver Wyman, a world-wide management consulting firm.

She holds a B.A. from Cornell University and an M.Sc. from the London School of Economics.

Ms. Merrill resides in Washington, DC with her husband, Paul, and two young sons. She serves on the boards of the University of Maryland School of Journalism, Starlight Children’s Foundation Mid-Atlantic, and the Aspen Institute Socrates Society. She is a member and incoming chapter chair of YPO (Young President’s Organization); is on the executive committee of the Washington D.C. Federal City Council; serves on the Presidential Council of Cornell Women; and is a member of the Economics Club of Washington. She has appeared on CNN, CNN Headline News, FOX, MSNBC and other local stations. She enjoys sailing, skiing and travel.