The year was 1991. Diane Devaney tightened her grip on the steering wheel of her Toyota Corolla, waiting for the light to turn green. In 20 minutes, the FedEx office at BWI airport would close, meaning the artwork resting on her backseat would not make it in time to her client the following day. Finally, the light turned green and she floored it, the city of Baltimore disappearing in her rearview mirror.
One year before, Diane had sat at a table at Dalesio’s of Little Italy with her husband and another couple, Fritz and Beth Stratan. The Stratans, who owned a student travel agency, AESU, were one of Diane’s biggest clients. When the coffee came, the Stratans reluctantly announced that, while they loved working with Diane, the agency she currently worked for was charging too much. They were taking their business elsewhere.
That announcement sparked a very important conversation: “What if Diane started her own agency with their help?”
As reluctantly as the Stratans broached the subject, Diane accepted their offer. The Stratans gave her $10,000, plus enough to cover her salary for 10 months, and allowed her to work out of the AESU office, which covered most of her overhead. Devaney & Associates, Inc., was born.
Among the agency’s first clients were Health Care for the Homeless, St. Vincent de Paul (a leading provider of community services to people suffering from the effects of hunger, homelessness, and poverty in Baltimore), the Maryland Department of Agriculture, and, of course, AESU.
“It’s always been about what works for the client,” says Diane, looking back on that time period, which defined the agency’s ethos. “Putting the client first is putting yourself first.”
Diane’s other priority? Hiring good people. Hard workers who worked well together were her key to success. Right off the bat, Diane hired a graphic designer so she could spend more time tracking down leads and generating new business. This paid off when, after a year in business, Devaney & Associates turned a profit and was able to move into an unassuming office building in The Village of Cross Keys, where Diane’s golden retriever, Chardonnay, maintained a permanent residence.
Diane knew then that Devaney & Associates was going places. But on that cold November day in 1991, she only had her belief in herself to guide her. The front door of FedEx was locked, so she drove around back to the loading dock and parked, grabbing the artwork and hoisting herself onto the dock. She ducked under the overhead door, which had been left partially open. A FedEx worker she knew saw her and took the package. She thanked him and climbed down to her car, driving home with a loose grip on the steering wheel.
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