Creating a Double Bottom Line with Ted Leonsis
By Dena Levitz
Washington Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis, naturally, wants his team to be the NHL’s scoring leader. But more than goals and championship records, he says there’s a higher calling at play.
“I don’t want to just win a Stanley Cup,” he told a packed audience at the Lohrfink Auditorium of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business in March. “I want to create everlasting memories between fathers and sons, and immortality for our players… We sell out every single game. But we also measure how much our players give back to the community.”
Leonsis, an Internet pioneer who helped build AOL, articulated his vision of “doing well by doing good” during a panel discussion moderated by Georgetown President John J. DeGioia. The talk came on the heels of the release of the serial entrepreneur’s new book The Business of Happiness, in which Leonsis explains the need to achieve a double bottom line, through fiscal and social responsibility, and how doing what makes you happy will bring you success — not the other way around.
The other panelists who took part in the 90-minute discussion — Tom Adams, CEO of Rosetta Stone; Donald E. Graham, CEO and chairman of the Washington Post Company; Sheila C. Johnson, BET co-founder and CEO of Salamander Hospitality; and Joseph E. Robert Jr., chairman of the J.E. Robert Company — embody the spirit of giving back exemplified in the book, Leonsis noted.
Johnson told students and community members in attendance that from an early age she associated the notion of living well with helping others, having been raised by a mother who “always took in neighborhood kids” and a father who couldn’t practice neurosurgery in white hospitals due to his race yet practiced medicine at every veterans hospital that would take him.
“Because of that, I was able to acclimate to different environments very easily,” she said. “Even though it was not a fortunate situation for my father, I got to know and reach out to a lot of different people.”
Starting out, Johnson was a gifted violinist who formed an orchestra in Washington. The second phase of her career was when she co-founded BET and gained prominence for creating “Teen Summit,” an award-winning program featuring dialogues with teens about social issues. Currently Johnson is president of the Washington Mystics basketball team, serves as a global ambassador for CARE, and oversees a growing portfolio of luxury properties as CEO of Salamander Hospitality LLC.
“What really gets me out of bed in the morning, though, is to know that someday I can turn this hospitality business around and give every penny away to help others,” she explained.
For Robert, who is chairman of Fight for Children, an organization that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for area youth, his day job essentially makes him money that he can funnel to charity.
“Each of us should feel a responsibility to be an intellectual or a financial asset to the communities we live and work in,” he told the audience. “It starts now. It doesn’t start when you’ve made enough money and you’ve made it.”
Leonsis pointed out that even though Robert was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor a year ago his philanthropic pursuits have not lagged. “He actually doubled down on charitable giving,” Leonsis said. “There was no ‘Woah is me.’”
The youngest panelist, Adams, spoke of the passion he possesses for languages. Moving from France to England during his childhood forced him to understand the loneliness suffered by those with a language barrier. Rosetta Stone, which offers instruction in more than 30 languages, is a vehicle to bridge this gap, he noted.
“We’re able to teach kids in schools throughout the United States and to enable soldiers to understand the languages of countries they go into,” he said. “There’s so much goodness packed into the core mission of what we are up to.”
Graham, when asked who inspired him to success in the newspaper world, cited legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee for teaching him about the need for decisiveness. He also praised Leonsis and the messages embedded in The Business of Happiness.
“There’s not an equation in it,” he said. “But what it is, is an unusual point of view that anyone can understand. It’s the idea that organizations, like human beings, can be constructed in a way that promotes happiness. It isn’t that an organization starts one way and stays that way. You have to think about all the constituencies you’re serving.”