Citadel alumnus earns sports business honor
Brig. Gen. Harvey W. Schiller, USAF (Ret.), is among the elite 2013 class of “The Champions: Pioneers & Innovators in Sports Business.” The award, presented by SportsBusiness Journal/SportsBusiness Daily, recognizes leaders in the sports world who have shaped the future of the industry. Schiller joins other industry leaders in this honor such as Bill Rassmussen, founder of ESPN, and Val Ackerman, the inaugural WNBA president.
“We are very proud of Harvey Schiller,” said Lt. Gen. John Rosa, president of The Citadel. “Harvey’s impact on sports business has been both enduring and powerful. He deserves this important recognition for his many achievements, and we’re deeply honored that a Citadel graduate has received this distinction.”
Schiller has been the president of Turner Sports, the CEO of YankeeNets and the executive director and secretary general of the Unites States Olympic Committee. As the president of the International Baseball Federation, Schiller tried to get the sport reinstated into the Olympics. Schiller is currently chairman of the board and CEO of GlobalOptions, a multidisciplinary international risk management and business solutions company. Schiller’s achievements are all the more impressive because he had realized a very rewarding career before dedicating himself to sports management. After Schiller received his bachelor’s degree from The Citadel, he earned his master’s degree and doctorate in chemistry from the University of Michigan. Schiller is a 24-year veteran of the Air Force with combat service in Vietnam. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed Schiller a permanent professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Six years later, he accepted a position as commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, having served as the academy’s faculty athletic representative. Schiller is a member of The Citadel’s Athletic Hall of Fame and Business Hall of Fame and is a recipient of the college’s Palmetto Award. He is also one of only two people to have two honorary degrees from The Citadel.
Following is a Q&A with the Office of External Affairs conducted with Schiller after he won his award.
Q. You earned a doctorate in chemistry. How did you end up in sports business?
A. There were two separate paths. When I returned from Vietnam, the Air Force sent me back and sponsored me to finish my doctorate in chemistry. That eventually led to a permanent assignment at the Air Force Academy as a permanent professor. I became the academy’s representative to the NCAA as well as the various conferences and became a member of the NCAA Executive Committee. At the same time, the U.S. Olympic committee moved from New York City to its headquarters in Colorado Springs. I started volunteering and became a member of a number of committees and started to get involved on this dual track — one in the college world and one in athletics. Eventually I retired from the Air Force and took over as commissioner of the Southeastern Conference.
Q. What drew you to sports?
A. I’ve always had a significant interest in sports at every level, especially at the amateur and collegiate level. That interest just moved itself into the opportunities to serve in the jobs that I’ve had. I’ve always felt that it was in the country’s best interest to have the best Olympic Committee possible. The other side is just creating opportunities for people. I’ve always felt that sports are an important part of education and it leads to a better understanding of team work and individual performance, competition and success. I still have a great love for football, especially at the college level. I presently serve on the athletic board at the Air Force Academy even though I’m not assigned there anymore.
Q. What did you learn at The Citadel that you still use today?
A. Besides Chemistry? (laughs) I don’t think you can ever put your finger on a single element that is part of the process from The Citadel. A lot of people will speak about discipline. There’s also the experience you get in different leadership opportunities when you are a student. Also there is a great bit of mentoring. There are individuals who you spend time with and that become part of the process in a very informal kind of way — on the military side and also the academic side. Those people inspire you and give you great opportunities. Leadership is a complex thing. It’s a combination of what you see in yourself and what other people see in you. I think the greatest gift The Citadel gave to me was what people saw in me.
Q. What leadership quality do you have that is central to your success?
A. A thread through everything is the issue of honesty and integrity. They lead to trust. People — not just me but others — who are given something to protect and to grow are given it because people trusted you can do it. All the experiences at The Citadel led to what I see as the common theme among the graduates. They are trusted to take something that is important — it could be a business or something personal — to a better place.
Q. You once said that people seek you out when facing a tragedy. Why do people hire you in dire times?
A. They trust that you can take on that challenge for individuals, groups or companies. It always gets back to the kind of qualities that people see in you. It’s more about what people see in you than anything else. People call on Citadel graduates when things are not easy but need to get better. I see that among my classmates and among the graduates. I think that’s the most important thing that we all carry forward is that ability to take those kind of challenging duties that a lot of other people don’t want to deal with. I look at Gen. Rosa as a great example. He was non-Air Force Academy graduate and got to be superintendent of the academy because the Defense Department felt he could do the best job of fixing the problems they had. They didn’t put him there to manage the academy. They put him there to fix the academy.
Q. You came from humble beginnings. Was there ever a moment when you thought, “I made it”?
A. People like me always think that the most important things you are going to do are always in front of you, not behind you. My dad was a truck driver in New York City. I grew up in what most people call a tenement. My mom worked just about every day of the week. I always knew that I was not going to spend the rest of my life in those surroundings. The opportunity to attend The Citadel and other educational institutions was a Godsend for me. I was not only the first person in my family to graduate from college but also the first person to graduate from high school. That’s a big, big difference when you think about it.
Q. What are you most proud of?
A. I am proud of my family. I’ve been married to the same woman for 50 years. We have children and grandchildren. I am proud to be a Citadel graduate and am proud to have served my country in peace and war. I’m proud of the research I was able to do in science. I’m proud of the organizations I’ve been a part of. I’m proud of marching out onto the field with the Olympic team in places like Barcelona. It’s a lot of things — it’s never a single thing.