Amy Hunt

Turning the Pages

Long before she was President of Landon IP, Inc., a global leader in professional patent-related support services, Amy Hunt was three years old, and she was already charting her own course.

“My sister Beth was six,” Amy recalls now, “and she was going into the first grade.  I announced to my mother that I, too, would be going to school.”

This was no idle request.  In order to pay for preschool, Amy’s mother would have to give up the life of the stay-at-home and get a job.   And so she did.

“Of course,” Amy continues, “when the bus arrived on the first day, I refused to get on it!”

But by day 2 she was on the bus and off to school, taking the first of several important leaps that would ultimately lead her to run an international patent firm with her husband.

Certainly one of those key moments came around in August of 1989.  Amy had graduated that spring with a degree in Marketing and Management Information Systems from the McIntire Commerce School at the University of Virginia, and was now a buyer at Woodward and Lothrop, Washington DC’s first department store that was still going strong prior to the recession of the early 1990s.  Each Thursday night, a group of “Woodies” employees would go to happy hour at T.G.I.  Friday’s.  For some time, one of Amy’s coworkers had extended a standing invitation to her roommate, hoping that he and Amy might hit it off.  On this particular Thursday in late August, he showed up with some friends. “I was on the far end of the table,” Amy recalls, “and he walked over next to me.  He pulled up a chair, sat down, and never left.”  Inseparable ever since, Amy says now it was as if they had been married that night.  Dave Hunt had graduated from William and Mary two years prior, and before long he returned for graduate school.  After earning an MBA there, he took a job in Houston at American General, a large insurance company with many subsidiaries.  Meanwhile, Amy realized that she had no interest in resuming a career in retail and decided to tap the information systems side of her degree instead.  Thus, she also took a position with American General, training employees on early spreadsheet and word processing software such as Lotus 123 and Word Perfect.

“I fell in love with training,” Amy says.  “But Dave hated his job.  It wasn’t what he thought it would be.”  It seemed to her that if there wasn’t a potential career keeping them in Houston, they should return to Virginia, where her family was.  On top of that, she was able to find work there training medical transcriptionists during their transition from typewriters to PC-based software.  Starting there in 1994 in Bethesda, Amy deployed her already-established training skills, and her management style began to emerge and develop.

“You take a woman who is in her sixties,” Amy says, “who has been working on a typewriter for most of her lifetime.  She can type over one hundred words a minute on that machine.  Then her boss comes in and tells her that they’re moving her to a computer.  How would you feel? She’s scared to death.”

But Amy would sit down with these trainees patiently and was able to show them that, in just five minutes, they could start to use the computer without too much trouble.  She found that experience to be immensely rewarding, and it wasn’t long before she was a Vice President of the company, managing the department where she herself had begun as a trainer.

Around the same time, Dave was dreaming big.  “He was always looking to own his own business,” Amy says.  “He had done it in the past, and for ten years after that he was looking to do it again.”

One Sunday, now in the late 1990s, Dave and Amy were spending time at her parents’ house, and Dave was reading the Washington Post.  Amy vividly recalls hearing Dave exclaim very suddenly from the other room, I’ve found it!  “I rolled my eyes a little,” Amy laughs now, “and thought, here we go…”

Dave had found an ad in the Post advertising that the owners of a patent research firm, Landon & Stark, were retiring and looking for a buyer for their company.  The ad required that the buyer have both experience and access to significant capital, and Amy and Dave had neither.  Still, the couple was undeterred.  “When you’re married to an entrepreneur,” Amy says, “things like that don’t dissuade you.”

Dave called the broker that very Sunday, and he answered.  The following day, Amy and Dave were sitting in the broker’s office discussing the business.  Dave was able to sell himself to the owners as someone who could take care of this business that they had worked so hard to build.  In June of 1998, the Hunts bought the company.  At first, Dave ran the company himself, managing what was at the time only six to eight employees.  It was two years before Amy joined him.

“I am not the visionary,” she says.  “I am not a dreamer by any stretch.  Dave and I are complete opposites in that way.”  Indeed, it was Dave who saw the opportunities, and Amy who provided the counterbalance by seeing the potential pitfalls.  Amy always assumed that she would work for someone else.  Though she had always wanted to be her own boss ever since she was three, the opportunity had not yet come—until Landon & Stark launched the couple into a perfect working relationship that was as symbiotic as that of their personal lives.

Dave didn’t want to deal with the 8 AM phone call that some employee’s car had broken down and she wasn’t coming in.  He wanted to stick to the big picture.  “He wants to be in the clouds,” Amy says, “thinking of how we can grow and be that engine.  I, on the other hand, like to be the rudder, to keep us going in the right direction, growing our creative people.”

Both Dave’s high-altitude perspective and Amy’s steady hand would be essential in driving the growth of what became Landon IP, Inc.  The Landon IP of today consists of four unique business units, but when they first acquired the company, document retrieval and research was its only core component.  This meant a range of services from retrieving patent files or documents related to patents, to taking documents to embassies to be certified by their legal office so that they can be filed in another country.

The next piece, which Amy and Dave developed in the early 2000s in response to the growing significance of the Internet and its ease of access, was the patent search business.  Dave and Amy hired scientists and engineers across the entire spectrum of technical areas related to patents—individuals who held advanced degrees in areas like chemistry and engineering.  With this expertise, Landon IP’s platform of experts and specialists investigate patent, literature, and foreign language databases to report on related patents and prior art.  A significant portion of this business is performed as part of a contract with the US Patent Office, which outsourced some of its patent sourcing to Landon IP in 2005.

The third of the four components of Landon IP’s business is their analysis group.  This is similar to the patent search work but is conceived of and directed at a larger, more macro scale.  Instead of determining the prospects for a single patent, the analysis group will survey the landscape of certain areas of patent activity.  This service is utilized by companies making important decisions regarding the deployment of their research and development budget.  “They want to know, for example, what the patenting activity is like relating to semi-conductors,” Amy explains.  “What’s going on in that space? Where is the hot patenting activity?  That’s where we come in.”

The final area is training.  In 2005, a company called Patent Resources Group contacted Landon IP.  Patent Resources Group was a training company launched by Irving Kayton, the founder of the IP law departments at George Washington University and George Mason.  The company was started in 1969 as a bar review course for would-be patent attorneys.  By 2005, Mr. Kayton was ready to retire, and Landon IP acquired the company in January of 2006.  “We now do patent training all over the world,” Amy says.  “We do advanced law for attorneys who have been practicing for a long time, as well as a workshop for newer attorneys and a bar review for people who want to practice before the patent office.”

After starting with one business line, eight employees, and $1.2 million in revenue in June of 1998, Landon IP has since grown to 160 employees across four divisions and will bring in $25 million in revenue in 2011.  It has experienced constant growth with the Hunts’ leadership, with the devastating exception of 2009, when the company entered an unstable time in the wake of the financial crisis that began in 2008.  This instability culminated in a total of 55 layoffs by March of 2009, which Amy reports as the hardest thing that she has ever had to do.

When Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail in September of 2008, Dave, always looking at the big picture, knew at once that this event was ominous, and could indeed signal an imminent economic catastrophe.  “We had grown so much in 2008 and had hired so many people to handle that growth, that when January of 2009 came along and we took a tremendous hit, we were immediately in the hole by several hundred thousand dollars over the course of just a couple months,” Amy details.

Today, though, she calls 2009 their “blessing in disguise” year.  Until the traumatic experience of having to lay off 50 of her employees whom she had trained and helped grow, she had considered hers a charmed life.  This optimistic perspective is a testament to Amy’s character in that many might view her childhood quite differently, considering the fact that her biological father began to distance himself from her family when she was in elementary school.  Instead of capitulating to a victim mentality, however, she instead took matters into her own hands, gaining an inner locus of control and a spirited attitude toward life that have led her toward success since that time.  She also leaned on her very supportive PE teacher, Mr. Flanagan, who helped keep her strong and directed—so much so that in a 5th grade race, she outpaced even the fastest boys.  By the time her parents divorced when she was 12, she had developed a belief in herself that defined both her leadership skills and her success.  Her life was a book that was unfolding, and she only had to keep turning the pages.

Those pages were also certainly augmented by Amy’s stepfather, who welcomed her into his heart and taught her how to truly manage and lead people—a skill that proves invaluable in her work today.  Through his influence, she also realized the strong appreciation for technology that has contributed greatly to the nuanced understanding and intuitive sense of the the industry that keeps their business so competitive.

Since March of 2009, Amy is still determined to make her husband Dave’s vision a reality, but they are both keeping a tighter hold on the finer details of the company’s financial health.  “We watch it like a hawk,” Amy says.  “We were perhaps a little loose at the time.  We were experiencing such growth that we felt we were fine to hire people in anticipation of the increased business.  Now we’re experiencing that growth again, and looking at candidates, but we’re going to be absolutely certain before we pull that trigger.”

As Amy and Dave continue to turn the pages with the wisdom and foresight that can only come from experience, what will the story hold next?  Dave envisions global expansion for Landon IP, beginning with Japan.  Amy marvels at her husband’s determination to make their company the best in the world, and she is certain that he will be successful.  As Dave continues to write the plotline and Amy spins it into reality, anyone would agree that this is one story worth reading.

Amy Hunt

Gordon J Bernhardt


President and founder of Bernhardt Wealth Management and author of Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area. Gordon provides financial planning and wealth management services to affluent individuals, families and business owners throughout the Washington, DC area. Since establishing his firm in 1994, he and his team have been focused on providing high quality service and independent financial advice to help clients make informed decisions about their money.

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