Thursday, June 25, 2009

Admirals, Billionaires and Charlemagne!

Guest blogger: Dr. Jeremy Howell

I've been asked to chat about the most recent fiction and non-fiction books I've been reading. Usually a tough task but not this time as I am in the middle of one and just finished the other. I must admit I am a bit of a political thriller junkie. How much so? Well, I have a stationary bike in my house connected to a laptop and right now I am in the middle of watching an amazing political drama called "The State Within". Great stuff as the British Ambassador to the United States uncovers a political conspiracy to change the balance of power in the Western world. Intrigue, danger, double-crossing, greed, sex and geo-politics. I mean, what isn't there to like? If you are a fan of BBC drama series like "Sleeper Cell" or the "House of Cards" trilogy, then this is for you. Plus, it's six episodes so you can get a great workout in ... and bang out dozens of Perfect Pushups in between.
But, I digress. I'm supposed to be talking about books. Again, if you like political thrillers then I have to recommend Steve Berry's new book, "The Charlemagne Pursuit". I am about 2/3rds of the way in and I guess I can best describe it as Tom Clancy meets the Da Vinci Code. A military man learns that his father died in a top secret mini submarine accident under the Antarctic in the early 1970s. He makes it his mission to find the truth behind the inevitable cover up that is largely controlled by a Navy Admiral vying to become the newest member of the Joint Chief of Staffs. It seems that the former Joint Chief died in a rather oddly normal manner ... loosely translated as murder and mayhem. Oh, and the sub to the Antarctic? Well, those on board, including the loathsome Admiral (in his younger days), were looking for a strange seafaring civilization that were the first inhabitants of planet earth. Throw in international travel, dueling twin sisters, an overbearing mother with an assassin-like family servant, Nazis, ancient manuscripts, scientific puzzles, strange historical artifacts and ... you get the gist!
As for non-fiction, I have to absolutely recommend a book that has an admittedly personal story to it. The book is Conor O''Clery's "The Billionaire Who Wasn't" and it has the greatest subtitle: "How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made AND Gave Away A Fortune." This a wonderful biography of the man that made a fortune as co-founder of Duty Free Shoppers, the world's largest duty free retail chain. Basically, if you have flown you have seen the omnipresent DFS logo in airports. What makes Feeney so special is that while the likes of Forbes Magazines once listed him as one of the wealthiest, few realized that he had ANONOMOUSLY given it all away through his foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies. And we are talking big monies. By the end of 2007 Atlantic had given away about $4.4 billion. And in a somewhat unprecedented move, Feeney decided to spend down the rest of the endowment by 2020. Feeney calls it 'Giving While Living" and it means granting another staggering $3.3 billion.

Now I say this book has a personal story to it because as part of its portfolio, Atlantic Philanthropies also owned interests in hotels, resorts, health clubs and retailers through General Atlantic Group Limited (GAGL), a subsidiary. From 1990 to 2008 one such interest was Western Athletic Clubs (WAC), owners of a number of urban health clubs and sport resorts in the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California. While teaching at the University of San Francisco, from 2003-2008 I also had the opportunity of developing and directing WAC's philanthropic initiatives. Basically, we would take 5% of the net operating income and allocate it to non-profits associated with exercise and disease prevention, healthy aging, and disenfranchised children. Approximately twice a year, and even on a visit to Australia, I would get to present and discuss the corporate giving program with Chuck. Each time was a lesson in humility and humor. "The Billionaire Who Wasn't" is a fascinating tale of one's man journey to a place where few can ever imagine. It is worth the read.
"Jeremy Howell's the Chair of the Exercise and Sports Science Department at the University of San Francisco – he’s passionate about teaching the next generation about how to take control of their bodies (and have fun doing it – he’ll tell you – that’s the KEY – having fun!) – he volunteers – literally – around the world to educate and motivate young (and old) minds alike on getting fit and staying fit – truly a one of a kind. Please enjoy and savor his thoughts…and like all of our bloggers – he’s willing to answer questions – so Get Fired UP to learn from one of the best in the business – Professor Jeremy Howell!" ... worth repeating, Alden's March 2009 introduction of Jeremy Howell to the CHARLIE MIKE Teammates!

Teammates, stay tuned for Summer Reading Recommendations from Mark Friedman, Sean Glass, Julie Erickson, Dr. Karin Anderson and Coach Marty Heilman!

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