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Our Founder's Story

Early Beginnings

Mark French founded French and Associates in 1990 following more than a decade of achievement in banking and association management, including key positions at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Trucking Association.

Originally intended to be a consultancy for Washington associations, banking groups, and corporations, French quickly noticed a need for subject matter experts at company events—and that he could be a connection point between meeting planners and these “leading authorities.” French and Associates soon become “Leading Authorities Under $5,000,” a speakers bureau providing affordable talent to groups in Washington.

Two of French’s earliest hires, Marina (Mimi) Hair and Tony Berardo, still work for the firm and are now Senior Vice Presidents.

Growth and Expansion Into New Business Arenas

As Leading Authorities grew, so did Mark’s determination to make the company a leader in the events space. A firm that once primarily booked local talent grew to represent high-profile thought leaders and world-class talent, including former presidents and prime ministers, broadcast journalists, best-selling authors, renowned CEOs, and acclaimed figures from popular cultures.

One such notable figure, the television host Ed McMahon, began working with LAI. One day, he asked us if we could edit together a short video featuring several “Tonight Show” appearances to include in his presentations. Mark’s default answer to those sorts of questions was always yes, and just like that, LAI Video was born. Today, LAI Video is a full-service video agency that specializes in delivering powerful, video-driven campaigns for a variety of corporations, associations, non-profits, and academic institutions across the country.

Similarly, we began working on booking talent for a client who told us they could use help producing their live event. Of course, Mark said yes and soon, LAI Live, a full-scale live event production company that designs, produces, and manages live events across the country, was launched. Both LAI Video and LAI Live are thriving, creative businesses that perfectly complement the Leading Authorities portfolio.

In 2005, Leading Authorities acquired the publication CEO Update, a careers, compensation, and best practices community for association executives. Today, it is a well-known, membership-based resource for business leaders in Washington, with a suite of events and services that complement the publication.

In 2016, Leading Authorities launched LAI Literary, Leading Authorities’ resource for talent seeking to write and publish works of non-fiction. A collaboration between Leading Authorities, Inc. and Washington, DC-based literary agency, Ross Yoon, LAI Literary fields proposals and assists our talented roster of speakers in conceiving, developing, and licensing future best-selling books.

Always eager to grow the firm and find new ways to make an impact on not just the Washington, DC community but also the world, French continued to push the limits of what Leading Authorities could be. Today, the firm’s roster of clients includes major Fortune 500 companies, associations, and colleges, with LAI offices in DC, Chicago, and London.

An Inspiring Legacy For Generations To Come

French was a creative force and an insatiable intellect in his pursuit to innovate in his field. “He was a mainstay in Washington,” said renowned pollster and leading public policy expert Peter Hart. “The business he built and the devotion, pride, and humanitarian way he ran his business … he set an example of what it means to be a friend in a town where friends are hard to find.”

After suffering a stroke in 2015, French had great courage in his recovery; his comeback journey is legendary. He became an advocate for stroke awareness and prevention, and produced the documentary “A Teachable Moment,” which was an intimate and compelling work on the prevention, awareness, and treatment for stroke victims. He also served on the board of the National Rehabilitation Hospital.

French was a devoted husband, father, grandfather, brother, and colleague. He was a board member of Bright Beginnings, a nationally accredited child and family development center that offers hope and services for underprivileged children and their families.

An avid traveler, French spent his free time exploring the world with his family, skiing, and enjoying life with his two grandchildren. Above all, Mark’s passion for this industry and business was apparent to anyone who met him.

The entire Leading Authorities team remains inspired by Mark’s vision, work ethic, positivity, and enthusiasm for life. His memory lives on as we continue to push for greater impact locally and globally—fueling game-changing, inspiring events; doing good in our communities; and always striving to go just a bit further than the day before.