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J. Richard Knop, JD ’69, senior managing director and co-head of defense and government services of BB&T Capital Markets/Windsor Group at his office in Reston, Va.
Julie Woodford

By Laura Ewald

Listening to J. Richard Knop, JD ’69, tell the story of his career, it sounds pretty simple: Indiana boy makes good in Washington through decades of hard work and forging relationships. But it is Knop’s dedication and calm demeanor that have made him so successful—“slow and steady” put him ahead of the pack.

Knop is co-founder of Windsor Group, a prominent middle-market mergers and acquisitions firm that in January of 2005 was purchased by BB&T Capital Markets. Knop now serves as senior managing director of the unified entity and is co-head of its government/defense group. For 20 years, Knop has combined his skills as an investment banker with his legal expertise—a formula that has proven highly effective. He has personally closed more than 75 defense and government contractor mergers ranging from $10 million to $1.2 billion.

While mainstream M&A firms were courting the tech and telecom companies that were in vogue during the 1990s, Knop and his partner, Jack Boles, stayed focused on serving government and defense contractors. After the tech bubble burst and the defense industry swelled, Knop emerged an experienced leader in a fast-growing field. Most of the deals Knop and his associates at Windsor Group handled involved large contractors, such as SRA International, CACI, and Raytheon acquiring small and medium-sized firms.

“We had our specialization and we kept at it during the tech boom. We dealt with a lot of technology in the government contracting industry and had a commercial IT practice and a telecom practice as well, but we focused on companies that were profitable—no start-ups, no venture capital,” Knop says. “I never got involved in terms of investment banking with the Internet. We dealt with larger companies and larger transactions. We kept to our knitting and were very focused, and in middle market investment banking in particular, that is the key.”

Knop’s interest in government affairs developed early on. He hails from Huntington, Ind., a small town in the northeastern region of the state. His father, John, served two terms as mayor. Knop majored in political science and international relations at Indiana University and was active in student government. Those Midwestern roots include ties to the East Coast—his mother’s family is from Washington and Virginia and his maternal grandfather and great-grandfather graduated from National Law Center, which today is GW Law.

The move to Washington was a natural one for Knop. “I wanted to be involved with public policy and GW was a great venue for me to get a law degree and get involved in the Washington scene,” he says. During his first year, he was selected to serve as a clerk for Marjorie Whiteman, then the counselor of international law at the Department of State. Working for the counselor was an honor given every year to a GW Law student. Knop successfully balanced education, a full-time job, and a growing family during that time, and capitalized on a unique opportunity.

“Every 25 years, the counselor writes the definitive treatise on international law. She was doing that at the time I was working, so for two-plus years, I was doing all the fundamental research for a chapter on international trade law for The Whiteman Digest of International Law. It was invaluable practical experience and led me to focus on international law in my studies,” Knop says.

During his GW Law days, Knop enjoyed Professor David Robinson’s criminal law and evidence classes. He also forged a friendship with Warren Miller, JD ’69, now Knop’s next-door neighbor in McLean, Va.

After graduation, Knop reconnected with Rep. E. Ross Adair (R.-Ind.), LLB ’33, who at the time was on the foreign affairs committee and for whom Knop interned as an undergraduate. After serving in the Army Reserves as a 1st lieutenant and going through basic training, Knop served as a legislative assistant for two and a half years until Adair retired. He then was a legislative assistant for Rep. Lou Frey Jr. (R.-Fla.), who was a member of the communications committee.

“Both of these congressmen were ranking members, and both ‘gave me my head,’ as they say. It was a very exciting time to be crafting legislation, writing speeches, and gaining support,” Knop says. “I was in effect synthesizing complex issues, and I was beginning to see myself as an effective intermediary—I got my first taste of that on Capitol Hill.”

Knop and his family moved to Florida to help Frey run for governor in 1978, and Knop began his practice, focusing on corporate law and public policy. After Frey decided not to run, Knop found he missed the Washington scene and returned as a partner in a small international corporate law firm. His practice eventually shifted from international corporate law to handling business transactions and negotiations.

By the mid-1980s, he had formed his own investment bank and was focusing more and more on mergers and acquisitions. “I decided I wanted to be the catalyst in some of these bigger business transactions,” he says. What started as Boles Knop & Co. became Windsor Group in 1992. Knop recognizes that, to some extent, he was in the right place at the right time as the tech boom gave way to the defense industry. But his position was far from accidental.

“One of the things I’ve learned and put into practice at Windsor Group is that industry focus and what I call ‘domain knowledge,’ coupled with deal skills is a powerful combination,” Knop says.

Legal expertise also gives him—and his associates—an edge. “What we did was develop expertise in all areas of government contracting. I could not have done what I did without my degree from GW Law,” Knop says. “We have 23 investment bankers working for us now, most of whom have MBAs. No one in my office has a law degree besides myself, but what I’ve done is imparted to the members of the firm and our shared culture is that we have to be involved in all aspects of these transactions. We have to know all of the elements of the deal, so we work hand in glove with lawyers on the transactions we handle.

BB&T was attracted to Windsor Group because of its track record and reputation in government/defense M&A, Knop says, and Knop saw an opportunity for growth. “I wanted to create a full-service investment bank for the government contracting industry. I wanted to take companies public and make us a one-stop shopping entity for all investment and corporate banking services for the industry. BB&T had the same vision.”

Knop now enjoys the new opportunities and challenges his career presents and shares his experience inside and outside the office. In June, he took office as president of the National Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth. He has served on the board of several charitable organizations, including ServiceSource, which provides training and support services to individuals with disabilities.

He also is a member of the Law School’s advisory board and has worked with Professor Christopher Yukins and Bill Mutryn, JD ’75, on seminars on government procurement law. Knop also has committed $100,000 toward a campaign at the Law School to establish the Nash-Cibinic Professorship, an endowed fund honoring the creators of the Law School’s government contracts law program. The program was founded in the 1960s by Emeritus Professors Ralph Nash and the late John Cibinic, who passed away in August of 2005.

“I enjoy mentoring and appreciate my legal education. I think the Law School has come a long way in the past few years—it would probably be hard for me to get in today,” he says. “I’m very impressed with Dean Lawrence, with his sense of leadership and enthusiasm, especially with regard to the alumni. A lot of us have stayed around Washington in interesting careers, and the Law School has reached out and re-involved us.

I’m so impressed with what I’ve learned about the Law School’s growth and stature, as far as applications, variety of courses, and improvements to the physical plant, and the quality of the faculty and student body. We’ve become quite an institution. Some of the best government contract lawyers in the country graduated from GW Law, and I’ve worked with many of them professionally.”

Knop also works closely with his son, Clark, an analyst with BB&T/Windsor. Knop’s wife, Robin, is a former print journalist who now is an actress, writer, producer, and playwright. Her musical play Agatha Sings has received critical acclaim in the Washington area. They spend time with Knop’s three children and grandchildren at their vacation home on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia. Knop enjoys water skiing, snow skiing, tennis, quiet time with his wife, and visiting his grandchildren. In some ways, the family man hasn’t gone too far from his roots.