|Photo by Sam Hurd|
Ted Leonsis, in his official portrait.
By Ted Leonsis
WASHINGTON, D.C. - When Maria Shriver and I were classmates at Georgetown, she introduced me to her brothers and I developed an unbelievable, unfathomable amount of respect for the Shriver family and most especially for Eunice, who I considered a Saint, and one of the 10 most important women in our country's history. Her work touched more lives than just about anyone imaginable, and as a role model, she was a giant.
|Photo by Press Box Pics |
Washington Wizards Owners Ted Leonsis.
So through Best Buddies I got to know her and the entire family well, and we honestly do need some kind of more permanent memorial for her in the city. Right across the street from The Verizon Center is the National Portrait Gallery, and they have a beautiful portrait of Mrs. Shriver and unlike some of the other portraits, her portrait is of her with some children with intellectual disabilities. I think that captures her spirit and what the family is all about.
My 10-year E-Buddy relationship with Big Ken Holden is how I see the next generation pof philanthropists, and what philanthropy is about.
We all want to help, and there are many ways to help. You can volunteer your time, you can write checks, you can mentor and help start-up charities, you can put on a tuxedo and buy a table and go to a black-tie event.
What I’ve tried to do is run my philanthropy and my family’s activities like I would run business. Where, I do a lot of due diligence, and then I “use the product.” Best Buddies seems like a very noble cause. Connecting people with intellectual disabilities with people who are “normal” and having them create friendships and working relationships and to be honest, I didn’t have any friends with intellectual disabilities.
|Photo by John Arundel |
"Big Ken" Holden
I saw people with intellectual disabilities, frankly, aside from the mainstream. And shame on me. So I got involved with the charity because it seemed like a good cause. I didn’t have a deep understanding of the issues around the cause, I didn’t understand how many people were affected by it.
And so as vice chairman of America Online and president of the key part of the operating units, in 1997 I encouraged Anthony Kennedy Shriver to start electronic digital coupling, if you will, where we could create friendships online through email and instant messaging and that would be a way to scale the charity. That you could have lots of people conversing with lots of people.
So I funded this segment, if you will, of Best Buddies called E-Buddies, and I wrote a check, helped develop the plan and provided the real estate for the staff led by Lisa Derx so they could launch it
I volunteered to be part of the first coupling. And so they located a young man, Ken Holden, who lived in Tampa, Florida and I reached out to him through his mom. They were highly skeptical that this would work. They didn’t think Ken would be able to use a computer, or type emails and be thoughtful enough to respond to emails or initiate conversation.
And they also were concerned that I would abandon the relationship. That we’d have a couple of email sessions and then we would have a broken relationship because I would be too busy and that we really wouldn’t become friends. And so there was a lot of risk in it. And I said, the only way we’ll know is if we try, and I’ll be committed, and we’ll see. And so we started that relationship via email and then we met and now it’s a dozen years later.
Ken and I had never met before I sent that first email. Now I can honestly say, Ken is one of my best friends. There is not a single day that has gone by in a dozen years where we haven’t had some kind of connection. I take that responsibility very seriously, and now I’ve forgotten that Ken is intellectually disabled.
He’s just a buddy that you would text with or email with or send instant messages to and I see him probably two, three times a year and we talk on the phone, and its shown me that, shame on me for never having embraced that community, to think that I could be friends with them.
Already this morning I’ve exchanged two emails with Ken, and I’ll probably send another one to him after our interview. He’ll respond and my bet is that we’ve exchanged 10,000 or 12,000 emails since we’ve met, and I’ve become a piece of consistency in his life. My bet is that I’ll be friends with Ken for my entire life.
I think for me it is a part of my social responsibility to be an activist and be authentic and do the work. So I think that’s how it started, that if I was going to be involved with Best Buddies and ask people for money and write checks of my own and encourage people to also get involved.
As an aside, I’m on the board of directors for Rosetta Stone, a fine young firm here in town, and we got them involved with Best Buddies and their CEO Tom Adams is a great guy. So I was at a board meeting the other morning. I walked into the office and the receptionist was a member of Best Buddies, and she said, “Good morning to you, the board meeting is over there!”
|Photo by John Arundel |
Best Buddies Founder and Chairman
Anthony K. Shriver honored his sponsors,
including Johan de Nysshen, President of
Audi of America, Washington Capitals
Owner Ted Leonsis, Best Buddies
Ambassador Ken Holden, and Glee
actress Lauren Potter.
And I though, isn’t this a perfect network, where Rosetta Stone gets involved, Tom Adams believes, and they help to raise money, raise awareness of this cause to their employee base, and here’s a Best Buddy who is now a part-time receptionist. She’s getting a job, she’s integrated, and she’s pointing people to the board meeting.
And so for Ken and I, it started out as a responsibility, and now it's turned into an honest friendship. I can't imagine a day going by without having some kind of touch-point with Ken.
The emails are bursty, they tend to be first thing in the morning, or you know later at night, and we talk about sports, or ‘How was your day’ kind of thing. We talk about something that's bothering you, and he’ll tell me something’s going on with his sister.
I’ve introduced his sister Kendra to my daughter Ellie and now they’ve become E-Buddies. My son has been very involved with Best Buddies, my wife is involved with Best Buddies, so you know, it’s becoming a family endeavor.
One of the companies that I helped to create is called Revolution Money, which we sold to American Express, where I sit on the Board of Directors. They are headquartered in Tampa, so I would always go down to Revolution Money for board meetings, or just staff meetings and I would see Ken and his family. So that was a good touch point. And then American Express was very supportive of Best Buddies as well. So the keiretsu and the network effect continues.
It's hard to say "No" to a Shriver. They’re very persuasive, influential and it’s a family that wants to do the right things the right way. They live life with fun and passion and they’re very charismatic, but at their heart they’re really about being in service to others.
|Photo by John Arundel |
The Ambassador of Peru and Mrs. Harold
W. Forsyth hosted a sponsors kickoff for
the Audi Best Buddies Challenge and VIP
reception for Best Buddies International
at their Residence on Oct. 21, 2011.
Once you get involved with this charity and you meet some of the men and women who are Best Buddies, it’s hard to say no. It’s been enlightening to me, as a country and as an economy, that there’s millions of people who can be productive in relationships, in work environments, in educational concerns, that we turn our back to.
Even Ken’s parents didn’t think he was capable of using his computer, or using an iPod. So I bought him an iPod for Christmas and I program it for him, once a year with new music and the like, and Ken’s become an avid fan of the Washington Capitols and the Washington Wizards and we talk a lot about sports and so, now he’s just a buddy.
That's one of the big goals of Best Buddies, to say there is a normalcy in an integration, its almost a civil rights issue, to not shun, but to embrace people with intellectual disabilities, and I can serve as kind of a living proxy, that I’d never had a friend with intellectual disabilities and now one of my best friends, and as an aside, he’s intellectually disabled.
I understand pain and angst and the movement of Occupy Wall Street and Occupy DC and there is a true frustration that there is a pyramid in our country of a class that has accumulated a lot of wealth, and a class that is unemployed. And then there is poverty and homelessness.
And so whenever you have that dynamic, there is deep anger and distrust and we as a country have to be cognizant of that and work to solve those issues. That’s incumbent on us.
|Photo by John Arundel |
Johan de Nysshen, President of Audi of
America, one of the biggest corporate
supporters of Best Buddies.
At the same time, I do think that more companies are internalizing, that they are in a double bottom-line business. That if they do the right things the right way, and they activate through their resources and employees and customers and sponsors, the volunteerism and charitable giving, and a sensibility that we’re in it together, that their companies actually get enhanced in value.
The new consumer can smell greed and avarice a mile away. The companies that are genuine and the leadership that’s genuine and understanding how to show gratitude and a belief in giving back; those are the companies that the best people want to go work for, those are the companies that customers want to work for, and so to me, what my belief is, is that being in pursuit of a double bottom line is ultimately the best thing that you can do to grow your business and build value.
It’s not the opposite, where if you’re greedy and selfish and you’re all about your bottom line and then you’ll do well. In the book I wrote, The Business of Happiness, the main theorem of the book was that, if you’re happy and you’re in pursuit of a higher calling, you can be successful.
Because we know that there are organizations and individuals who you could metric as being successful who are miserably unhappy. And so as a nation, as an economy, I’m starting to see that the greatest companies are self-actualizing by being in pursuit of a double bottom line.
A real life example would be my hockey team, the Washington Capitols. When we start every year, we have three income statements, three sheets of goals. The first goal is around the team. We want to win the most games and have the most points and be able to compete for a championship, and have players that can have the most goals and the most points and we want team success and we set out those goals.
And then we have a sheet around our business. We want to sell the most tickets and generate the most revenues and have the best TV ratings and sell the most merchandise and have the best brand affinity scores. There is nothing to be embarrassed about saying you want to win, and you want to grow your revenues and build a strong business.
But then we have a third sheet. Which is, how do we turn our 23 millionaire players into philanthropists, how do we support our 15,000+ season ticket holders and their charitable efforts, how do we as an organization organize to raise money and tap into the resources of the ownership group to give back to the community?
So we develop plans on all three of those and, at the end of the year, metric and manage all of them. And if we’re doing really well in the business front and don’t do well on the team front or the charitable front, we failed. We need to do well and score high on all three of those fronts.
And I think you’ll see more businesses measuring, metric-ing, how they give back, applying the kinds of business-disciplines to giving back and getting ten times return on their investment in that front. And I think that that is a modern way of managing your enterprises.
Ken and I have shared a lot, whether it would be what was going on at AOL or what was going on with the sports teams or what was going on with his family and while the big things are important, it's little moments, ‘Geez, my son is going off to college,’ ‘Wow, Ted, I remember meeting Zach when he was in Junior High School,’ ‘Wow, Zach graduated from college,’ or Ellie’s in college now, and Ken and Kendra, we’ve been through a lot together, and I remember once there was a set of emails that brings a lot home.
There are words that really hurt people. And there is a movement to stamp out the R-word. And Ken was volunteering and doing work at a school, and as he was walking to school, a car full of kids came by and stopped and started teasing Ken, and then they shouted the R-word at him. And, that stung. That hurt him a lot. And he shared that pain with me, and we talked a lot about it. About how uninformed people are and how it’s just words.
I’ve heard people and Hollywood and movies and rappers and they think nothing of dropping that term. And now that I have a friend with intellectual disabilities, I’m deeply offended by that. In fact, sometimes I get emails from angry fans sometimes if we lose a game, and I usually don’t respond, but on occasion someone will call me the R-word in an email and that really gets my goat now.
Someone once said that civil rights extends much more broadly and deeply than just a ethnic or color. The tent is really big. And protecting and enhancing the civil rights of people with disabilities I think is something that we need to be hyper-aware of, because that word stings as much as other words that are highly racially charged, but yet as a culture, we don’t sense that.
And so that’s another thing that we should all be cognizant of, that words matter, and they carry a lot of weight. And so the emails that I send to Ken, I don’t talk down to him. I talk to him like he’s a friend. And he responds as best he can. He has a very subtle nuanced sense of humor, and I get him now and he gets me and that’s why we’ve become best friends.
Online there’s a campaign that people signed a petition, and we ran some PSAs in our arena and it’s true. It’s something that we have to have sensitivity and empathy around, because it is a big swath of our population that has intellectual disabilities and we should be embracing and bear-hugging and bringing in, not pushing away.
I’m very proud that there a sensitivity with my players. Ken Holden has come and met Alex Ovechkin on numerous occasions. I know once we were in Tampa, we were playing Tampa, and I brought Ken down to the locker room, and as he walked in, Alex looked at him and hadn’t seen him obviously in a couple years and goes, “Hey Ken, how’s it goin’?” and I was really, really thankful and grateful and impressed, but it showed the kind of character that someone like Alex Ovechkin has, and that he knew Ken and I were friends, he remembered that, and then he went out of his way to give Ken acknowledgement and little gestures like that make Ken, and would make anybody feel 100 feet tall, and so I was very proud of Alex Ovechkin.
I think we want to create culturally and environment that celebrates doing the right things the right way and active participants in our communities, and I think the best way to do that is to role model and to have all of the front office people and all of the ownership doing the right things the right way, and try to mentor and help and support the players. I’ve been very, very pleased. The Caps have a young team, and we’re very socially active, the Wizards now have a very young team, and the players are socially active and I would like us to be a model franchise, where owners and players really internalize that they have a huge platform to create social responsibility programs and that we’re in it together and we work closely with our fans and our sponsors and we try to make for an environment that is positive.
Now...Ken Holden would like to say a word or two...
I met Ted on line from the Best Buddies Ball in 1999. He emailed me from the ball and everyone attending the ball got to see me reply to him. It was very exciting and I was very nervous because I had never emailed anyone before. We just wrote a short message saying hello and how we were doing. We were the first ebuddies in the world and that is awesome.
Anthony Shriver, the founder of Best Buddies, established the program which pairs a person with an intellectual disability and a person without that disability. I was involved with Best Buddies through the University of South Florida program that my younger brother helped found when he was a student there. I had met Anthony earlier when I went down to West Palm Beach with that USF group for a Best Buddy event.
My parents did not think this program was going to work cause had lots of steps.
Ted knew lots about emailing cause he worked for AOL and he taught me about stuff like those symbols and short ways to say things. He helped Anthony with getting the program going cause he is really smart and wanted to help people like me that never had chance to use computers. So lucky me got to be friends with a business man miles away in Virginia and I live in Tampa, Florida. We both love sports so we always had lots to talk about. I had never been to a hockey game but had watched a little hockey on tv. Course Ted knew lots about hockey and he got me interested in that sport quick. Most other sports I knew lots about so we have fun making fake billion dollar bets and I win lots of those too. We always chatting about players doing well or the officials making bad calls, challenge each other to lose weight, share our health problems, and just talk about what going on in our lives.
We have instant messaged each other and talked on the phone , especially at holidays. My dream was to go to a super bowl one day and Ted made that dream come true. He called me and told me he had tickets for the super bowl game in Jacksonville, Fl for me and my family.
Patriots and Eagles were playing . We were thrilled but during the game I heard someone yelling hey Big Ken Holden and looked behind me a few rows up was Jack, one of Ted’s business partners. He had Ted on the phone and passed his phone to me so I could chat with Ted and tell him about the game. How about that?
Ted has taken me to Caps games and Wizards games. He has been down to Tampa when the Caps play the Tampa Bay Lightning here and me and my family sit in his suite with him. He gets me and my family tickets to all of the Caps games when they play the Lightning here. We got to meet John Wall the number one draft pick from Kentucky that Ted picked for the Wizards last year. We sat with him in Ted’s suite in DC last year at a Cap’s game. Ted has taken me to the Caps’ locker room where I met Jagr and Ovechkin. I have autographed photos and jerseys from them.
I am an insulin dependent diabetic so my parents usually travel with me to help me with my injections and monitoring my glucose levels. Ted knows I have to watch that I not have a low sugar count. He always encouraging me about watching what I eat and being healthy. We both work out and walk lots.
Ted invited me and my family up for the WNBA ALL Star game in DC and I met lots of players and coaches. I even met Bill Lambeir, who was coaching one of the ALL Star teams. You may remember him as one of the meaner guys in the NBA, but he was real nice in person. I got to go with Ted to a luncheon for WNBA stars that honored Condolezza Rice, the Secretary of State. And almost every time I go to DC I get to see Carl Lewis. He walked with Ted and me in the recent Best Buddies Challenge. Ted took me to see a Nationals Baseball game and I met the owner of the team. Ted’s friend Chris Wallace sat near us at the game. We had dinner at that really nice restaurant at the National’s Stadium too.
In 2000, after we had emailed each other for a year, I went to the Best Buddies Ball at the Shriver Estate and gave Ted an award and then Ted and I gave Mohammed Ali an award. That was big thrill for me cause I got to meet Ted for first time in person and also got to meet Ali too. I was big fan of boxing. Since then I have been to all of the DC Best Buddy Balls with Ted. I always have a wonderful visit with Ted then and we usually get to see a DC Caps game together too.
Last year I got to attend a reception for Best Buddies at Vice-President Biden’s home. That was really exciting to get to meet the Vice-President and he and his family so nice. Another honor Ted and me got to co-chair first Eunice Kennedy Shriver Challenge in DC last year. Mrs. Shriver was a champion for all people with intellectual disabilities and she made lots of changes in the world for us.
We have visited Ted and his family at his home in Virginia and enjoyed dinner at a Greek restaurant with them. I had never eaten Greek food so Ted ordered us all kinds of food to try including Lamb. That was lots of fun eating stuff we had never tried. Ted is Greek you know.
I volunteer daily at Hunters Green Elementary School in Tampa, Fl and help with the physically impaired early learning program. I graduated from Coral Springs High School in Coral Springs, Fl and then my family moved to Tampa, FL. I am 48 years old so Ted is just a little older than me. I love Elvis Presley’s music and Ted was born on the same day as Elvis. But Ted does not like Elvis’ music. He not a country music fan. Ted took me and my family to a U2 concert in DC and my Dad thought he was the oldest man there. The music was different from the kind my Dad likes cause he likes elevator music. We actually got to say hello to Bono. That was the first big concert I had ever been to and me and Ted had so much fun jumping to the beat.
Over 10,000 emails have zipped between Ted and me over the years. We always email daily and many times during the NBA and NHL season we email more than twice a day. We email lots during NFL and MLB seasons too. I know I have an amazing friendship because not many friends chat every single day and we have lots to talk about too. And did you know that Ted wrote a book called “The Business of Happiness” and me and my sister are mentioned in that book. He talks about our friendship and sent me an autographed copy. That is definitely proof of how great a friend Ted is.
My involvement in Best Buddies changed my life because I have the greatest friendship in the world and that is something that many people can’t say. I know Ted likes me just like I am and he makes me very happy. H e changed my life.
I count my blessings everyday.