Hal Pittman took over as the president and CEO of Special Olympics Iowa on April 1. Pittman spent more than 20 years in the U.S. Navy, working his way up to the highest rank in his career field, rear admiral. He most recently spent a year in Afghanistan as deputy chief of staff for communication for the NATO International Security Assistance Force. Pittman has no Iowa ties, but said he fell in love with the position with Special Olympics. Special Olympics Iowa is holding its State Summer Games at Iowa State University this weekend.

What interested you in this job?

When I was transitioning from the military, I spent probably much of my free time over the last five years or so focused on sports management type things, and coaching and being an athlete advocate, things like that. So when the opportunity came up to work with Special Olympics, that was a tremendous added value. It put me not only in the lane I wanted to be in, which was sports management, but also going from one organization where I was serving a higher calling to another organization where I was serving a higher calling. And it was a perfect transition. I knew it immediately – that was the job I needed to focus on.

What are your goals?

We are looking towards the future and our strategic plan. 2018 is the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics, both the international Special Olympics organization and Special Olympics in Iowa. What’s the vision of the future? And that will be a collaborative planning process for the entire staff that will have all the members of our team involved, and will be informed by opinions from the board members, athletes and their families, and our sponsors, donors and partners across the state. And then, there’s always the challenge of providing the year-round sports opportunities and year-round healthy lifestyle opportunities for our constituency, our athlete base.

What do business leaders need to know?

First of all, Special Olympics Iowa serves 11,000 Iowans with intellectual disabilities. We have a number of corporate sponsors and partners across the state, that are heavily involved in Special Olympics. There’s always opportunities for businesses to get involved with Special Olympics, whether it’s having their employees volunteer to support a particular event or to provide in-kind donations of some sort that would be beneficial to one of our 80 different sports events during the year. We look forward to reaching out to the Des Moines business community, the Central Iowa business community, and look forward to meeting with some businesses that we haven’t been involved with already.

What are your first impressions of Iowa?

I just love the sincerity of the people. The real feel of the people. I’ve lived all over the world. It’s not always what you see is what you get. But Iowans are pure salt of the earth. They are honest to goodness real people, and that’s what I like about them.

How has your military background prepared you for this role?

I think probably that the most direct application was training preparation. All of the management tools that senior leaders from any Fortune 500 companies get, those are the same management tools that people in the U.S. military get. You learn to develop employees. You learn to be collaborative. I consider myself a servant leader, and my goal is to empower my people and ask them “What can I do for you? How can I make your job easier so that I can get to that goal down the road?”

What do you like to do for fun?

For the past five years, I’ve done tons of coaching. I’ve been involved in sports. I had a two-week leave when I was in Afghanistan for a year. I came home and I took my son to the Junior Olympic games and the State Games of America – back-to-back national sports festivals. That’s what we do in my family. While my hobbies have kind of now become my career, I still am very active in youth coaching and I like to work out. And I spend a lot of time reading and with the family.