Goodwill CEO Jim Gibbons says his family and Roncalli roots set the foundation for his lifelong success
As CEO of Goodwill Industries International, Jim Gibbons says his life today is a role of service: leading the global organization which serves local communities by providing jobs, education opportunities and a hand up through difficult times.
Though he now resides in Virginia, the Perry Township native has never forgotten his roots, often returning to the Southside of Indianapolis to visit family and old friends.
“If I can relate my life and my Southside experience to my Goodwill experience, it’s that my family, friends and the community I grew up with had high expectations of me and surrounded me with the tools, support and love for me to find my way to success,” Gibbons said. “That’s what Goodwill really stands for, is high expectations of a team member and people who serve and surrounding them with the tools and love to find them success in their journey.”
Gibbons grew up on St. Jude Drive, a block away from Roncalli High School. The youngest of eight siblings, he attended St. Jude Catholic Church and School as a child before going to Roncalli. He was always active in sports, playing baseball at Edgewood Little League. In high school, he played football his freshman year, wrestled through his junior year, did track and field, shot put and was involved in school plays and musicals. By living so close, he said he was able to walk to every practice.
“It was a pretty brilliant move on my mom and dad’s part to live so close to both schools,” he said. “I have older kids now and remember those days of getting them everywhere.”
Gibbons began losing his eyesight in third grade. He was completely blind by the halfway through his undergraduate program at Purdue University.
“It certainly had its obstacles but my classmates, teachers, parents, everybody was pretty awesome,” he said. “As you lose your vision, you want to be treated ‘normal’ and people treated me pretty normally. They busted my chops when I needed my chops busted. They held me accountable when I needed to be accountable. They offered support when I needed support.”
Gibbons graduated from Roncalli in 1981.
“He got a standing ovation when he walked across the stage at our high school because he was an inspiration,” said Bart Brown, Gibbons’ classmate and friend since first grade. “He was always outgoing and positive.We always thought Jim would do something big. We thought it would be an engineer, an attorney, someone that worked in an office. Jim was always in plays and never shy about speaking. He just kept amazing us. He went to Harvard and got his MBA. It almost puts us to shame for not achieving more. When we get together, we don’t talk about that stuff. We just talk about growing up together and being friends. He’s the same person.”
Gibbons met his wife, Tami, while attending Purdue, where he graduated with a B.S. in industrial engineering. He then became the first blind person to graduate with a Master’s in Business Administration from Harvard Graduate School. Before coming to Goodwill, Gibbons was the president and CEO of Campus Wide Access Solutions, a subsidiary of AT&T and was later CEO of National Industries for the Blind. He became CEO of Goodwill in 2008.
“I joined Goodwill right at the start of the Great Recession,” he said. “During the downturn of the economy, Goodwills get called to the needs of their communities. The social enterprise, or the thrift stores that people are familiar with, really continued to grow. … That continued to fuel great programming and incremental opportunities throughout the Great Recession. For me, it was an honor to be a part of an organization that was having such an impact through a tough time.”
With his mother residing in Beech Grove, Gibbons returns to Indianapolis for family as well as work. This past spring, he attended Goodwill’s national conference in Indianapolis.
“Goodwill of Central Indiana is really a role model organization,” he said. “We’re fortunate to host a lot of national meetings. They not only get the benefits of the conference but can see the Goodwill in Indianapolis. Kent Kramer is the CEO here; I’m really excited about his vision and the work he’s doing.”
When he looks back at his hometown, Gibbons said can’t forget the time with good
friends, a great community and incredible teachers.
“I think the foundation that my parents gave me in terms of a Catholic education, especially the Roncalli experience, has been critical to my life, both from a faith perspective and from always striving to overcome obstacles perspective,” Gibbons said. “It was not only a strong academic and educational foundation but a set of values to fall back on and a faith to rely on – all of which as you journey through life get challenged and all of which those foundations play a key role in whether you fall down and get back up again, stumble or get lifted up. All of those were key through my entire life.”
Getting to know Jim Gibbons…
– My wife and I are big Nationals fans. Baseball is our pastime and our passion, so go Nats.
– Right now, my three kids are at a great age. They’re all young adults, 18 to 22. My favorite thing to do now is steal as much time from them to be with them, as they are shaping their lives and spring-boarding into their independent lives.
– If there’s something in the Goodwill area in Indianapolis I’m most excited about, it is that Goodwill launched the Excel center, an adult high school. The social entrepreneurs in Indiana are creating things all of the time. This is one of the things I’m excited about a national expansion with. Now the Excel Center is in multiple states. As a Hoosier, it’s one of those things that I’m excited to say the program has it’s roots right here in my own home state. (On the Southside, there is an Excel Center at 3919 Madison Ave., Indianapolis)
– During your school-age years, who had a big impact on your life? The Southsiders that influenced me most were my mom and dad. Certainly from a high school growth years, there were certain teachers and admin at Roncallli that always were there – Sister Charles Ellen was an admin that was a real believer in me. Mrs Cox was my teacher at St. Jude and went to Roncallli the same year I did, becoming principal. The math teachers at Roncalli were always incredible. If not for them, I don’t feel I’d be prepared to go through Purdue’s engineering program. I grew up with a good crowd of guys that I am still close with today, lifelong friends were my classmates from St. Jude and Roncalli.