Leaving SO2014

Antwerp, June 7th 2013. Yves Vekemans, President and CEO of Herculean cvba, has decided to end his contract as CMO and member of the executive committee of Special Olympics 2014.

“I learned a lot on this worldwide movement in the past 1.5 years. I worked in many different sectors during my career, but never experienced the very specific culture of non-profit organizations. It’s amazing to meet so many authentic and engaged people who give all their energy on a daily basis. I’m glad I could help build a great team and a vision for Special Olympics 2014. We managed to get a lot of new believers on board. The project is now getting into execution mode and that would require too much of my time to do it right. With the international expansion of Hercules Trophy, that’s impossible to do”, says Vekemans.

Vekemans adds: “I’m convinced that the current team holds all the cards to make a big success of SO2014. Not a simple job in these difficult economical conditions in a country where sport or charity is not part of the culture. It was heartwarming to see that there are still companies and people with a good heart. People who really care about Special Olympics.”

“The board of SO2014 understands and respects the choice of Yves and wants to thank him for his input, ideas and positive energy. The team will take over and focus on the success of the games. The board whishes Yves a lot of success in the future expansion of Hercules Trophy”, says Catalina Daniels CEO van Special Olympics Europe Eurasia Summergames 2014.

“I will always remain a supporter of Special Olympics and the organization can always count on my support. Now it’s time to focus on the growth of Hercules Trophy in the Middle East, USA, Africa, Europe and Australia. Implementing such a massive growth in 3 years time was a true Herculean effort!”

SO2014 under the high protection of Princess Astrid

HRH Princess Astrid of Belgium has a very warm heart for Special Olympics in Belgium for all the right reasons. The athletes and volunteers are very proud of that. HRH also decided to support the Special Olympics 2014 Europe-Eurasia Games in Antwerp.

A few days ago, HRH gave a highly unusually interview for prime time TV. Very unlike her, very unlike our royals, as she only decided this the day before during the Opening Ceremony of the National Games! An opening ceremony that she attends every year for many hours by the way.

She took a huge risk in doing so as the Flemish media is not a big fan of the Royals. She didn’t get any questions in advance. Respect! Another milestone for Special Olympics.

(The interview is in Dutch.)

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How about putting People First in 2013?

Running a company is about creating stakeholder value. All the CEO’s in the world know that. But there are many stakeholders and is there any order? I believe in the following order:

  1. Happy employees believing in the company
  2. Produce awesome customer experiences, through great suppliers, that generate profit
  3. Of which part should be given back to society
  4. And all this will eventually create shareholder value in the long run

O yeah, before the Unions become fans of my blog post or you think I’m some kind of anti-globalist: YOU NEED ALL 4, not only the happy employees…

I’ve been in many businesses, profit and non-profit, in many sectors and I can’t find examples where the order should be different. If you do, let me know!

I’m even convinced that changing the order won’t create ANY value.

  1. Customers first? Of course listening to customers is crucial, but they are not always right and they definitely don’t have all the info at hand to give the right feedback. It needs to be interpreted by employees. Customers come second, because without them, it’s impossible to make any money.
  2. Society first? Without profit, you shouldn’t give back. It would be ridiculous and very short-term. 
  3. Shareholders first? I guess we all saw the effect of that in the past years. However, shareholders are crucial. I’ve been in business with good ones and bad ones. The good ones invest for the long run and help to push the company forward. The good ones believe in the order above.

Through my work at Special Olympics I’m even more convinced that people and volunteers come first. You first need a great team that believes in the project, you then need “customers” buying into the project and then you can start giving back to people with an Intellectual Disability. And that’s what will make the Board very happy.

Here’s an inspiring video on the volunteers, the employees, of the Olympic Games 2012 in London.

Every company will probably say they put their people first. But do they actually? We have a great barometer for you: the Hercules Trophy. It’s all about Employer Branding and if you don’t understand that, you probably don’t understand the order above. On one day we can easily tell which ones care and which ones don’t.

Me and my hero

You know Nelson Mandela is my number one hero, but Count Jacques Rogge, the eight President of the IOC, is definitely in the top 5. Yesterday I had the chance to meet him briefly in person. He spoke on a Congress about Sport and Diplomacy. Did you know he’s going to be the President of the Honorary Committee of Special Olympics 2014? So proud I will actually get a chance to work with him on the “Games of the Heart”!

Sorry for the bad quality picture. My Samsung Galaxy needs urgent replacement…

Do good, do well and have fun doing it: the new sexy

You can do good and well at the same time. You can even have fun while doing it! It’s the new sexy (although becoming 40 is pretty sexy too).

A few months ago I did a speech for a crowd of executives about Special Olympics 2014, together with Evy, one of the athletes who inspired us for the new logo of the games. Special Olympics is one of those examples where we try to do good by doing well. We support the games with fundraising and with Herculean people helping them out.

During my speech I said something along the line like: “Come on guys, we all know we have been doing the wrong things in the past 10 years, time to change that right? Time to show our hearts and engage in good things! Special Olympics is ideal!” Magically they all stood up and started applauding!?! I didn’t anticipate that at all and I had a very hard time not to become very emotional on stage.

A few weeks ago we held the inaugural Hercules Trophy in Johannesburg at International Nelson Mandela Day (and Richard Branson’s birthday Smile). As you know, Madiba is our hero. The efforts of the SA Olympic Team and the Herculean efforts of the participating companies to do good were just mind-blowing. Everybody at that day new: we have started an amazing journey here. There was a lot of crying involved.

About 2 years ago I met a business leader who explained the concept of coops to me. I immediately new: this is the way forward. We started Herculean – the holding company of all Hercules Trophies – as a coop who wants to inspire fans all over the world to do good and well. No we are not going to go IPO – sorry Facebook, you really did the wrong thing – we are going to allow our fans to join the coop, think long term and change the world with us!

A few months ago Inge and her 2 sisters decided to start the Herculix Foundation as separate initiative to inspire our fans to bring social change through sports. They recently closed a partnership with Ammado to organise fundraisers through the Hercules Trophy teams. They support Randall’s Island Sport Foundation, Special Olympics 2014, International Nelson Mandela Day, Laureus Foundation The Netherlands and many many more to come in the next months.

We all have the power to bring change. We can all do good AND well. We are doing everything we can. Join us? Just do it.

Sports for all

Last week one of the Hercules Trophy contestants told me what she liked the most: “I was so scared before the Trophy, but after half an hour I experienced that anybody could compete! I didn’t need to be scared at all! I joined the competition with people I work with on a daily basis, not a team of top athletes. And you know what: we had a blast and ended higher than expected. However, it was all about having fun! The party and the connection with other contestants was amazing! It was more important to participate than to win.

I love to hear that, because that’s the whole point!

So now you understand why I’m such a fan of Special Olympics? Because they do exactly the same thing. Sports for all people with an intellectual disability, regardless of “level”. It’s not about cheating. It’s not about egos. It’s about the love for sports. The love for people. It’s about uniting people through sports. It’s about fun. It’s about making people better through sports.

UnifiedLast Saturday we did a great experiment: a Special Olympics Unified Team competed for the first time in the Hercules Trophy. They had a blast and did the most crazy sports!!! And you know what? They never trained with the “partners” who played with them: some fabulous MBA’s from the Antwerp Management School.

Hercules Trophy supports Special Olympics through the Herculix Foundation. On Christmas Evening, we will anounce “The Kindest Team”. That’s the team who raised the most funds through their teampage. Thanks Ammado for the great support!

The best Games ever

Yesterday, we launched the Special Olympics 2014 Summer Games. What a night! Thank you Nike for hosting us. Thank you Special Olympics Europe and Belgium. Thank you organizing committee. Thank you volunteers. Thank you President Herman Van Rompuy for all your support and a great speech! Thank you talented people who made this possible. Thank you partners who are already in. But most of all: THANK YOU ATHLETES for inspiring me in the past 6 months. It has been a great journey and it’s getting even better every day. I’m so proud I can be the CMO for this amazing project.

Here’s a fabulous video of Chairman and CEO, Tim Shriver, explaining what’ it’s all about.