George Shinn

Class of 1975

  • Former Owner New Orleans Hornets

I really didn't have any idea of what I wanted to be. I just had a burning desire to be somebody. I just wanted to be successful.

George Shinn was born in 1941 in Kannapolis, North Carolina. His father died when he was eight, and his mother had to work several jobs just to keep him in hand-me-down clothes. In fifth grade, Shinn was humiliated when a classmate in charge of collecting cafeteria money announced that Shinn was one of two students receiving free school lunches. "From that point on, I decided that I would never be embarrassed again and that I would follow every principle and all the right rules to get ahead and succeed," he says.

Shinn struggled through high school, but he enjoyed playing baseball and football. He credits sports with keeping him in school, along with a promise he made to his mother to graduate. He fulfilled that promise, but barely; Shinn graduated last in his class of 232 students. For the next three years, he worked in a textile mill. Then he began working part time as a janitor to pay his way through a small business college. "I really didn't have any idea what I wanted to be," he says. "I just had a burning desire to be somebody. I just wanted to be successful."

After reading Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking, Shinn began believing more strongly in himself and his abilities. He became a salesman and recruiter for his business school. By the age of 23, he was running the school and then became a partner. He started acquiring other privately owned schools, building a chain of 30 schools into Rutledge Education System, Inc. When Vietnam veterans began coming home, enrollment at Shinn's schools increased dramatically. He began expanding his financial interests into auto dealerships, land development, and a syndicated radio network that reports traffic.

Shinn's early love for sports spurred him into bidding for a professional basketball franchise in 1985. In 1987, the NBA awarded Charlotte, North Carolina, and Shinn an expansion franchise, the Charlotte Hornets. Shinn later brought a Triple A baseball team and a 15,000-seat baseball stadium to the Charlotte area.

When Shinn was inducted into the Horatio Alger Association in 1975, he was the youngest person ever to be presented with the Horatio Alger Award. He later served as a president of the Association. Shinn credits his mother with teaching him the "Triangle to Success," which he often shares with young audiences.

"On one side is health," he says. "Take care of yourself because if you are not healthy, everything else becomes secondary. On the other side is positive attitude. You have to have a positive attitude about yourself and your dreams. The foundation of the triangle is faith. You have to have faith, primarily in God, but also in yourself and others."