As the chairman, president, CEO and co-founder of Medical Properties Trust, Ed Aldag reportedly has amassed wealth in the tens of millions. This is not a secret in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala., and Aldag and his wife, Melinda, have been active philanthropists in the community.
Of the fundraisers who have knocked on Aldag’s door with an eye on a slice of his fortune, though, one stands out. While J Batt represented a non-profit with a slightly different mission than others that Aldag has made financial gifts to – a humble entity called the Crimson Tide Foundation, the fundraising arm for Alabama athletics – Aldag called him the best development officer he has encountered. And not only in athletics or within higher education, Aldag clarified, but at any charitable or non-profit venture anywhere.
While Batt will bring other talents to his new position as Georgia Tech athletic director – an office he officially took Monday – his ability to secure impactful gifts for the athletic association perhaps is foremost.
“He is a super guy, and he will do a fantastic job at Georgia Tech,” Aldag said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Batt has an approach, Aldag said, that is built on warmth and genuine relationship and that seeks benefit for both donor and recipient. Aldag, Batt and their families grew so close, Aldag said, that he considers him something of an adopted son. With Batt’s assistance, few donors to the Alabama athletics foundation have been as generous as Aldag.
“It was always more about, ‘Ed, what’s important to you?’” Aldag said. “‘What do you want to do for the university? What do you want to leave behind?’ It wasn’t a hard sell on the dollars – and I contributed a lot of dollars – but I never felt like it was that for him. I’m sure it was. I’m sure he had a quota, but he did it in such a way I never felt like I was being hard sold.”
Batt’s success in fundraising hasn’t been limited to receiving gifts from the wealthiest and biggest donors. When he was at Maryland from 2009-13, he made an impression on his supervisor with his unflagging effort. Cheryl Harrison, Maryland’s senior associate AD and chief development officer, described Batt as someone who was “always on a mission” and was willing to do whatever was asked.
Batt procured gifts from existing donors and came back to Harrison asking for new projects and assignments. While it’s not uncommon for administrators in athletics development to aspire to be athletic directors, Harrison had little doubt, given Batt’s effectiveness and drive, that that was where Batt was headed.
“He was truly a superstar,” Harrison said.
Stuart Bowers, a major donor at Maryland, used to tailgate with Batt and his family. He witnessed and experienced firsthand Batt’s fundraising touch.
“You become friends almost before you’re clients, really,” Bowers said of Batt. “But that’s part of sales, right? Meet ‘em, make ‘em a friend, introduce them to the product. Classic sales, right?”
Among other investments, Batt convinced Bowers and a close friend, Michael Freiman, to go in together on a football stadium suite, a proposition that Bowers said at first seemed daunting.
“He said, ‘Let’s do the math. You’ve got 24 seats. You get friends to help fill the suite,’” Bowers said. “It made perfect sense, and we’ve renewed it ever since.”
Freiman, who like Bowers got to know Batt through their working together on the Terrapin Club (the athletic department’s giving arm), likewise raved about Batt’s combination of relationship-building skill and business sense.
He is the rare development officer, for instance, who has kept in touch with him since moving on from Maryland. Freiman, the managing director of a wealth management group, has an office not far from the White House. When Batt visited there with the Alabama football team after its national championships, he made use of the trips to pay Freiman a visit.
“He had no reason to come by and see me, but it just kept our relationship going,” Freiman said. “He’s J. He’s a great guy.”
Alabama AD Greg Byrne hired Batt from East Carolina not having known him previously. Byrne found him by asking a couple of colleagues in the industry to name the best chief development officer in the country who was willing to take a new job. Both said Batt.
“He was as comfortable going out on a deer hunt as he was going and being at a nice golf club or going down to the factory and being around the local business community,” Byrne said. “And so he has just a great ability to adapt to whatever his situation requires him to be.”
At the same time, though, Batt’s prowess as a fundraiser extends beyond making friends and being willing to make the ask, though he can do both.
“He was not afraid to put our priorities and goals out there to say, ‘Hey, we need you,’” said Harrison, his supervisor at Maryland. “There are some fundraisers, believe it or not, who actually are afraid to ask for money. But he was not one.”
Beyond that, Freiman said, Batt “brought a business approach to the Terrapin Club from what I saw.” That mindset is evident in two framed quotes that Bowers gave him and that Batt took with him to East Carolina and Alabama.
One reads, “What gets measured gets done.” The other says, “The sun don’t shine on the same dog’s (hindquarters) every day.” It speaks to the approach of an administrator who tracks the number of calls he makes to donors and isn’t keen on taking it easy.
“He’s the best fundraiser I’ve ever been around,” said former East Carolina AD Jeff Compher, who worked with Batt from 2013-17, his stop before Alabama. “Hands down.”
What further distinguishes Batt as Tech’s 10th full-time athletic director is that his work portfolio has included far more than fancy lunches (or turkey hunts at Alabama) and finalizing gifts. At East Carolina, he was heavily involved in a renovation project for the football stadium that, along with fundraising work that he also led, required collaboration with school officials beyond the athletic department.
“He was so far ahead of the game,” Compher said. “He knew about financing; he knew about bonds. He was just so far ahead of the game. He was able to kind of allay a lot of the concerns that the university had early on and create the path so that everyone could see it happening.”
At Alabama, Batt was charged with oversight of the Crimson Standard, a 10-year, $600 million capital campaign that began in 2018 and is more than 85% of the way to completion.
“J has been as integral a part of our success as anybody when it comes to fundraising,” Byrne said.
But, beyond that, Byrne expanded Batt’s responsibilities upon the retirement of a longtime associate AD, making him chief operations officer and chief revenue officer. Besides the capital campaign, Batt oversaw facilities, game operations, human resources and was closely involved with all facets of revenue generation, whether that was the ticket office, multimedia rights or other revenue sources.
“He took the same hardworking, smart approach with managing a lot of our internal operations, as well,” Byrne said. “So he’s very balanced in his experience to become an AD.”
Further, he was involved in hiring coaches at East Carolina and Alabama. Byrne included Batt in every coaching search that he ran during Batt’s five years at Alabama. That experience is of no small consideration as Batt’s immediate priority is running the coaching search for Tech’s new football coach.
“Nobody will outwork him,” Byrne said. “He will care very much for the student-athletes and their experience. He and his family will be great representatives of the university. The fans and donors will very much enjoy being around and getting to know him. He’ll also be tough, and he won’t be afraid to make challenging decisions.”
The challenges are many at Tech. Batt soon will hire a football coach. He now oversees a department in desperate need of new revenue sources. He’ll have to work with coaches to find an optimal strategy for dealing with the transfer portal and athletes’ ability to be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness. And, while well-prepared for the job, he’ll be learning names, places, a new institution and a new conference.
But he arrives with the confidence and the well-wishes of many who have worked with him.
Said Aldag, the Alabama donor, “I hope y’all train him so well that timing works out, and we get him back.”
About the Author
Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution