Speaking to the World
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Former Executive Director and then the President & Chief Executive Officer of the Boston Athletic Association | Boston Marathon (the B.A.A.)
Tom Grilk served as Executive Director and then the President & Chief Executive Officer of the Boston Athletic Association | Boston Marathon (the B.A.A.) during the deadly bombing attacks at the Boston Marathon finish line in 2013. Now, ten years on from that tragic day, Grilk is providing his unique perspective about leadership under fire, preparedness and decision making during the most stressful conditions imaginable. Grilk oversaw the world’s premier running event for more than a decade from January 2011 to April 2022. Each year, Grilk oversaw the preparation of 9,500 volunteers to serve 31,500 runners, including the world’s best marathoners, in front of a crowd that routinely swelled over 500,000 spectators. Each year brought major challenges, but on Monday, April 15, 2013 at 2:49 PM, Tom Grilk was faced with the most terrifying reality possible after two bombs exploded at the Finish Line, killing three people and injuring 260 more. As Executive Director of the B.A.A., Grilk had to mobilize and lead the B.A.A. through those tense hours and the chaotic aftermath when the eyes of the world focused on Boston. Read More >
Few people have led during traumatic events like the Boston Marathon Bombings. Tom Grilk is one of those few. Due in part to Grilk’s leadership in exercising responsibility for the training of his staff and their work with countless volunteers and public agencies, hundreds of bombing victims were given expert care and the resources they needed to stay alive. Grilk’s leadership and management helped to provide the essential coordination that enabled first responders to perform heroic, extraordinary feats that saved countless lives and gave meaning to the term: Boston Strong. An important learning of the period was that there can be heroism in preparedness.
At the same time, the principles and tactics that served the B.A.A. and Boston so well amidst those harrowing challenges apply well beyond matters of profound crisis. They are just as applicable in situations that arise in daily life to leaders of individuals and groups faced with less dramatic but nonetheless serious decisions that arise in leadership environments of all types.
Born in nearby Wakefield, Massachusetts, Tom currently resides in Lynnfield, Massachusetts, with his wife, Nancy Fredrick. He was for many years a corporate and business lawyer, both with the Boston law firm Hale and Dorr and serving as counsel and general counsel to Boston area technology companies. From 1984 to 1987, he and his wife lived in Tokyo, Japan. He is a graduate of Cornell University and received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School. In 2018 he was recognized by Boston Magazine as one of 100 Most Influential People in Boston.
Tom Grilk is a broadly experienced public speaker, domestically and internationally, often addressing matters involving leadership under stress and the engagement of multiple groups of employees, contractors, public officials and the public at large in being prepared for and responding to matters as challenging and calamitous as the marathon bombing in Boston.
In the year leading up to the pandemic he hosted a podcast focused on the Boston Marathon, interviewing champions and others who have played and still play a part in the race’s history and operation. It is entitled “The Boston Marathon Podcast”.
In addition, prior to his time with the B.A.A. Tom had a history of public speaking going back to the 1980s, both at legal conferences and in providing motivational and performance recognition talks to groups of employees at tech companies for whom he served as counsel. Read Less ^
“Tom is a man with great communication skills. I have witnessed him speaking to a range of people, from the local long-distance runner who barely qualified for the Boston Marathon to US senators and national business leaders. Tom is clear and concise. He speaks to everyone respectfully and thoughtfully. Tom's training as an attorney coupled with his decades of experience in successfully running an international sporting event has distinguished him locally. Moreover, his presentations in Washington and especially to the FBI are highly regarded. He is extremely interesting and has a story to tell that is unique and fascinating. His audience will be moved by his message and the humble endearing person that Tom is. In the aftermath of the cowardly attack on April 15, 2013 at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, I stood amidst the chaos on Boylston Street joining with other individuals who were mobilizing to protect our community. I needed leaders. And Tom Grilk was immediately standing by our side, ready to help lead and protect our community. His support on behalf of the BAA was immeasurable to investigators during that unforgettable week in Boston’s history.”
“Tom Grilk worked extensively with our research team in the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing, when my colleagues and I at the Kennedy School were trying to get a full understanding of the preparations for and the operations of the Boston Marathon that year and to understand all aspects of the response (including the role played by the BAA). Tom was a significant contributor to our research. We hosted an international conference with about 100 attendees to discuss our findings, and Tom spoke quite eloquently and movingly about the event to this very senior group of highly experienced crisis leaders. He also spoke at an event we hosted in the Kennedy School Forum for a wider audience of students and members of the public, and he was again eloquent and insightful. Tom Grilk has a great deal of insight, accumulated from a lifetime of experience, to offer about leadership, crisis management, and working rapidly under stress. He can address audiences ranging from the lay public to senior professionals – all with clarity, power, and perception.”
“I particularly think (Tom Grilk) is well suited to understand how a team works and leading with your heart. This resonates I think with leaders who have to work with people and things that matter to those people (like the marathon, like a transplant). I have thought back on his talk with [our group of physicians from around the world] recently as I was working through a challenging situation at work. I realized that my team was great, I needed to let them lead and empower them to make decisions. It is not a “traditional heavy handed, manage every detail way” of leadership. Instead, I let them lead and wow did my team rise to the occasion and we found ourselves a stronger and more engaged team.“
“Tom Grilk is a captivating and moving speaker whose successful experience preparing for, and navigating through the crucible of crisis leadership is not only inspiring but invaluably instructive to other leaders. He spoke at our event for association leaders and was so impressive that many of them sought him out afterwards to speak to their organizations.”
“Tom is a recognized thought leader in risk and insurance. His time at the Boston Athletic Association included the challenges of a terrorist event viewed through a worldwide lens, a severe weather event that nearly cancelled a flag ship event and the challenges of modernizing an institution that prides itself on its sense of history. In 2017 Tom was asked to be a speaker at Willis Towers Watson’s annual risk event attended by senior executives representing various industries operating internationally and globally. The room listened with rapt attention as Tom spoke to the challenges of a catastrophic event and more importantly, the culture and strategy that led to the successful outcome of what was a horrific event. The BAA and the bombing are a source of study amongst executive risk and insurance professionals on how to correctly handle a catastrophic event.”
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