COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Just after he was named publisher of Fortune magazine in 1987, Jim Hayes was ready to cut off the publication's substantial annual donations to Junior Achievement Inc.
"Many of the managers didn't understand why we were involved and why it cost us so much money," Mr. Hayes said. "But I decided we needed to look at them once before we discounted the entire relationship."
Mr. Hayes went to the group's annual Business Hall of Fame dinner to get a taste of what Junior Achievement was all about.
"I was so impressed that I decided to expand, rather than discount, the relationship," Mr. Hayes said.
Eight years later, the reluctant convert is leading the growing Junior Achievement flock.
"What was a troubled partnership . . . is now a mutually successful and enthusiastic relationship," he said.
Mr. Hayes, 57, took over Wednesday as president and chief executive of the Colorado Springs-based economics education organization. He replaces Kathy Whitmire, who resigned in May.
After his initial contact with the group, Mr. Hayes quickly expanded his involvement. He served eight years on its board of directors and two years as its chairman. And he has even taught in classrooms as a Junior Achievement volunteer.
Mr. Hayes' mission during the next four years is to expand student participation by nearly 75 percent to more than 3 million, bring in nearly $20 million more in donations and recruit 30,000 volunteers.
Mr. Hayes plans to accomplish those goals much the same way he became involved in Junior Achievement: by getting corporate executives and their employees involved in the organization.
"I would like to see JA much better understood in the broader population," Mr. Hayes said in an interview during his first day as the group's president. "There is still the perception, and lack of understanding, that JA is in the classroom teaching about free enterprise. A lot of people still think of us only as an after-school program."
Junior Achievement has grown rapidly during the past five years moving into classrooms. Economics lessons for elementary, middle and high school students now account for 98 percent of its student participation. Just last year, it expanded its elementary school program nationwide to serve 830,000 students.
The lessons are designed to help students, beginning in kindergarten, learn more about their roles as individuals, workers and consumers. The program first focuses on the individual, then gradually expands each school year to cover families, communities, cities, regions, nations and the world by the time students reach sixth grade.
Junior Achievement is rewriting its middle and high school programs to fit into the same sequential model, but it will continue to stress the importance of staying in school, career choices and personal financial planning. The high school program already includes computer-based simulations in which students run companies and give economic advice to a mythical country.
"A lot of what we are trying to do is just market our programs more aggressively," Mr. Hayes said. "This organization has enormous potential. As we expand and move into other parts of the country and broaden our curriculum, we will have more and more appeal to kids. For many children, we are the only way they are exposed to the business world."
A key to the group's aggressive expansion strategy is expanding its reach domestically and worldwide.
Junior Achievement won a $13 million grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to expand its program into rural areas.
The group has spun off its international programs into a separate affiliate, also based here, that serves 500,000 students in 85 countries.
"As the world moves to free market-driven economies, there is great opportunity for JA and its programs," Mr. Hayes said. "Four years ago, when we were invited to expand into Russia, we found that everybody was talking about capitalism, but nobody knew how it works. There is a great opportunity to teach kids in those countries about free enterprise."
Junior Achievement and its focus on educating children about economics are just the latest way Mr. Hayes has tried to connect businesses with children. Last year, after retiring as Fortune's publisher, he founded an organization called the New American Revolution to help the nation's businesses become more involved in children's programs.
Mr. Hayes said staff members from both groups will meet later this month to determine if they can form an alliance to use Junior Achievement's nationwide network of more than 200 local affiliates and New American Revolution's commitments from 40 major U.S. corporations to bring together business volunteers and children.
"Both organizations focus on kids and work through the business community," Mr. Hayes said. "While JA is a program targeted to economic education, New American Revolution is a movement with a broader purpose."
Junior Achievement had been trying to hire Mr. Hayes as its president for at least a year. But a year ago, the group was forced into a quick search for a successor when its longtime chief executive, Karl Flemke, died six months before he was to retire. At that time, Mr. Hayes was planning a national tour to promote New American Revolution.
Junior Achievement instead turned to Ms. Whitmire, the former five-term Houston mayor, as its first female chief executive. That relationship lasted slightly more than eight months, when Ms. Whitmire negotiated her resignation with the board "mutually," Mr. Hayes said. He declined to say why, and other board members refuse to comment on it.
But sources who asked to remain anonymous said Ms. Whitmire never really fit in with Junior Achievement's highly decentralized structure, in which the group's local affiliates have much autonomy. They say she failed to explain fully to affiliates and board members changes she planned in the organization, including restructuring the group's 100-person headquarters staff.
Two board members -- Tova Borgnine, who heads a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based cosmetics company, and Josie Natori, who heads a New York-based lingerie design firm -- confirm that Ms. Whitmire and Junior Achievement never fit well together.
"It is an immense task to bring together people of varying political viewpoints as well as business people to volunteer their time," Ms. Borgnine said. "With Kathy that was somewhere she didn't seem to fit, both to her and the board. It just didn't appear to meet with her area of growth, so she and the board came to this decision together."
Ms. Whitmire will remain with the organization until September to help Mr. Hayes with the transition.
Mr. Hayes said he does not plan major changes in the way Junior Achievement is run or organized. Ms. Whitmire also said she plans to remain active in the group as a volunteer as she explores opportunities in private business, which could include staying in Colorado Springs.