Trustee Spotlight: Ted Leonsis, Georgetown University

By AGB    //    Volume 20,  Number 2   //    March/April 2012

The first in a series of articles about interesting board members and why they serve.

Ted Leonsis is the founder, chairman, majority owner and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns and operates the Washington Capitals, Washington Wizards, Washington Mystics, and the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. He retired in 2006 from AOL, where he held a number of top executive positions, including president of American Online Services Company and president of AOL Studios.

Leonsis is also the founder and chairman of SnagFilms, the Web’s leading online distribution channel for documentary and independent films. He serves on the board of Groupon, where he is vice chairman; Clearspring Technologies; American Express, where he heads the technology and innovation committee; Rosetta Stone; NutriSystem; and Alcatel-Lucent, where he is on the technology committee. In addition, he is a board member of DC CAP (District of Columbia College Access Program) and CSF – DC (College Success Foundation – District of Columbia).

Leonsis also serves on the board of directors of Georgetown University, his alma mater, and Trusteeship asked him about his service there.

What prompted your interest in board service at Georgetown University?

My Georgetown University undergraduate experience was eye-opening and provided me with a tremendous foundation from an educational, professional, and personal perspective. It was there, through my mentor, Fr. Joseph Durkin, that I developed critical-thinking skills, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a desire to live a life where I give more than I take. My close friend, Georgetown President Jack DeGioia, asked that I join the board of directors in 1998, and I was humbled by his suggestion and offer. Georgetown has guided my life’s work, and I want to display my gratitude as well as contribute to the future of one of the truly great educational and research institutions in the world.

What is most rewarding about board service?

The university is vibrant and iconic, and I want to help give back to the institution that continues to play such an important role in my life. Providing financial support felt good throughout the years, but I have found it much more rewarding to be involved in the decisions that help shape Georgetown, the community, and the lives of today’s as well as tomorrow’s students. It is an important responsibility that all of our board members take seriously. As decisions are made and plans are implemented, I become even more excited about what the future holds for this great university, the local community, and Washington, D.C.

What has board service taught you, and do those lessons apply to your professional life?

I’ve always known that ideas literally can come from anywhere, from anyone, and at any time, but while serving on the Georgetown board, I’ve become increasingly aware that those with differing backgrounds have such a unique and insightful look at the challenges that today’s universities face. I’ve attempted to be more inviting of feedback from those outside of our core business at Monumental Sports & Entertainment. I welcome and encourage dialogue from those outside the sports industry that helps us refocus our efforts on what is truly important to improve our business, satisfy our business partners, and, most importantly, serve our fans.

What makes a good board member?

The Georgetown board is composed of passionate alumni, from rectors to a former NFL commissioner to CEOs to curators. We all have unique experiences and perceptions to offer—all in the pursuit of improving Georgetown University. As in any leadership position, it is imperative to listen and to be open to new ideas. There must be a level of trust and respect to go along with a sense of vision and intellectual curiosity. We all have to be clear communicators, our thinking has to be strategic, our goals must be well defined, and our metrics in place. I try to take the optimist’s approach and contemplate ways we can make a suggestion work. Only after thorough thought and discussion do we make decisions.

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