Season 5 | Episode 6


“If we don't learn about the past, we really can't understand the present or make a better future. Theodore Roosevelt is an established figure. His legacy is well enshrined. This project really isn't about him. It's about you. It's about kids. It's about people coming to the TR library and being reminded that they can take action in the world; that they can be the change that they want to see.”


Matt talks to Ed O’Keefe, CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation. The pair dive into everything from how a president, whose face is carved on Mount Rushmore,
doesn’t already have a library, to how one goes about starting and fundraising for, such a massive project. 


Additionally, they explore the conservation movement that TR started and the bipartisan support he, and the library named in his honor, have garnered in a divided Congress; the importance of
knowing when it’s time to walk away (and, conversely, when it’s important to stay)

Ed also sheds light on working for the Emmy-winning Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and discusses his newly published book, “The Loves of Theodore Roosevelt: the Women who Created a President”


 

CONVERSATION HIGHLIGHT:

Matt:  I'm sorry, Ed, but you wrote a book like that to me is like crazy. It is a big book! I'm always so impressed by folks that I interview on this show. And all the things that people are doing in
the world, in this country to make everything better. And, yeah. I am telling you this as a nonprofit guy, like I've always been a nonprofit guy, through and through.

Thank you, from the nonprofit world anyway, thank you for doing what you're doing. We could not do what we do without people like you, and I appreciate that.

ED:  You know, my name's on the front of the book, but it's everybody who's in the acknowledgments who's responsible for the book. I get the credit, once again. But you will never accomplish all that you can if you think you have to do it alone.

I didn't. And that's not humility. That's actually advice, right? If you don't rely on your parents, your brothers, your sisters, your colleagues, your friends, your teammates, your editors, whoever it is. If you can't say, I need help. I don't know how to do this. Here's what I said when we started fundraising.


I don't know how to fundraise. You help me. Can you teach me? What do you know that I don't know? I need to learn it. And then you know what people do? They tell you. They love telling you. When you say, I don't know how to do something, and you let somebody share their knowledge with you? They feel great and you learn.

And so don't ever think that you have to do it alone. That's the surest way to fail.

MATT: A hundred percent. That's another question I like to ask in interviews is what is the learning curve and how are you going to rely on your board to help you in those areas that you don't
know?


And that's so important. So I appreciate it. So my last question that I want to end on this end is, I don't look at you as a founder, but somewhat you're a little bit of a founder, right?

And so. At some point, you're going to step away and do whatever it is that the next thing in your life that you're going to do. So you've raised this money, you are building this building, you're
creating the programs, you're growing the board, you're doing all the things, right? At what point are you going to know that you are successful in whatever it was that brought you here that you
will be ready to move on to the next project?


ED: That's a great question, Matt. I think in every job I've ever had, I've always paid a lot of attention to succession. I've never been or never wanted to be the person who hung on to the role so long
that no one down the line ever got the chance to advance.

I remember I was at ABC News and I was an executive producer of ABC News Digital. It's a great position. It was a powerful position. And that's when I took the leap and left to know this,
and there were people that I was crazy.

I mean, that's just insane. Well, you climbed that ladder, you got to executive producer and now you're going to jump. And I remember thinking that the people that would have the opportunity, my assistant managing editor, becoming the managing editor, the, you know, assistant to the managing that they're becoming the assistant managing editor, right.

It had a whole transformative effect of all of these people getting new opportunities because I got out of the way. I do think that you can stay up. At a place too long. And, I've always thought I thrive on the diversity of new opportunities. Sometimes I've left projects because it was my choice, and sometimes I've left projects because it wasn't my choice, right?

And it's no fun to leave before you're ready to leave. But oftentimes, even if those circumstances have Turned out to be fulcrums or turning points in the journey, I want to get this institution open. I want to get the best people we possibly can to run it. I'm not equipped to run a museum. I'm not a curator. I don't have that experience. I'm not a fundraiser either.

But I feel in my heart that my job was to get this organization off the ground, give it a stable operating budget, and an exceptional management team, and pass the baton in an orderly transition
to a successor who can take it somewhere I could have never imagined. A CEO has to know when to exit as well as when to stick around and make sure they get through the tough times.
Nonprofits, see this all the time. The great man theory, and the great woman theory, become so dependent upon one particular personality, that they can't find an identity outside of themselves.

And that means the organization is going to be in trouble. I think the hallmark of a successful nonprofit CEO is to have a succession plan and to talk about it openly and honestly with their
board. So the organization can thrive beyond an individual.

MATT:
100%. And by the way, when you're ready, and you're ready to move on, I will place you anywhere in the world, Ed O'Keefe.

LINKS:
The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library
The Loves of Theodore Roosevelt: The Women Who Created a President