shriverGreg Kesler
People & Strategy, 2011

Peter Drucker argued more than 20 years ago that businesses and non-profit organizations could learn a a great deal from each other. As today’s businesses seek globel relevance and more sustainable roles in communities around the world, Drucker’s insights are even more compelling.

Tim Shriver, CEO and chairman of Special Olympics International (SOI), believes the next wave for the Special Olympics “movement” will require a skillful blend of the best that nonprofits and business organizations have to offer. With a long legacy of social change already accomplished, Shriver and his colleagues are demanding more of themselves, and they seek to marry deep passion for their global cause with the discipline and organization skills that great businesses demonstrate. Business would do well to pay attention to Shriver’s message.

We spoke with him at the Special Olympics International headquarters in Washington, D.C., where Shriver and Kennedy memorabilia and photos never fail to capture the attention of guests.

GK: Your mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, of course, was the founder of Special Olympics back in 1968. When did you begin to play a role in the organization?

TS: As a child, I grew up in summer camps horseback riding and swimming with children with intellectual disabilities. These kids represented a varierty of challenges – some were easily integrated into games, while others wore protective helmets and had more severe health issues. But they were all in my backyard, playing sports, rope climbing and working on arts and crafts. In addition to my three brothers and sister, they were like an extension of our family. Years later, I remember my mother coming as a guest speaker to my high school around 1975 talking about what had become Special Olympics and thinking how impressive it was.

Later a friend and I set up a high school club to organize a local Special Olympics track meet for about 60 athletes. It was very difficult – more than I expected. Then shortly out of college, while I was working in high schools in New Haven and pursuing my graduate work, I was invited to join the Special Olympics Connecticut Board of Directors. I liked sports, so during my time on the board, I decided to get involved. I joined a Special Olympics unified softball team ( a league made up of players with and without special needs.)

GK: How did you become CEO?

TS: I was asked in 1996 to join SOI and I declined because I didn’t want to be in the family business. But later, I finally agreed and rook on the role of CEO while my father, who was serving as CEO at the time, moved to the role of chairman. Later, in 2003, when my father retired, I was encouraged to take the chairman’s role. I really didn’t think I was ready, but Don Keough (Coca-Cola’s charismatic COO at the time) and other senior directors encouraged me to take the role. We managed through a power-sharing model (chairman/CEO roles) for a while until I assumed the CEO role full time in 2007.

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