James Postl, the American Heart Association’s new chairman, spoke at the 2017 Gold Heart banquet on June 20 in Dallas. (Photo by Tim Sharp)

James Postl, the American Heart Association’s new chairman, spoke at the 2017 Gold Heart banquet on June 20 in Dallas. (Photo by Tim Sharp)

In philanthropy, as in business, James Postl is used to coming out on top.

Coming out on top is a big assignment in his newest role as the American Heart Association’s chairman, but Postl is ready to do his part in fight against heart disease and stroke — the two leading causes of death in the world. The retired president and CEO of Pennzoil-Quaker State Company also knows the AHA is up to the task.

“The American Heart Association is going through a very interesting time. It has truly ramped up innovations. There are so many things on the burner that are exciting and have the potential to deliver breakout results,” said Postl, who takes over as chairman July 1. “How do we take advantage of all those things? How do we further and let loose the entrepreneurial spirit of the AHA?”

As chairman, Postl will be working with the organization’s leadership team to maximize the AHA’s business dealings to help save and improve as many lives as possible. He is eager to “really accelerate the AHA’s performance, whether it’s financial or the ability to deliver on our 2020 Impact Goal and ultimately the 2030 Impact Goal.”

These goals focus on greatly improving the health of all Americans, something the AHA has long done through education and a renowned scientific research program that funds more research into cardiovascular diseases than all entities except the federal government.

But when it comes to innovation, Postl points to new ways to think about research projects, such as One Brave Idea, a five-year research project funded by $25 million each from the American Heart Association, Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences) and AstraZeneca. The $75 million was awarded to Calum MacRae and his research team to look at innovative methods to study the roots of coronary heart disease.

“That’s sort of the silver bullet, and that’s very exciting,” Postl said. “A great team and leadership have been put in place to make it happen.”

Postl is also excited about the promise of precision medicine, which the AHA has delved into through its Institute for Cardiovascular Precision Medicine. Precision medicine takes into account a person’s genetics, environment and lifestyle habits to pinpoint the best way to prevent and treat heart disease and stroke.

“The AHA is really going to be a force for innovation and terrific societal impact,” he said.

Postl said during his term he will aim to help keep the association’s activities fresh, vital and growing.

“What you learn is that something can perform really well for several years, but if you don’t evolve it, change it and improve it, it can start to decline,” he said.

Part of that challenge is keeping the revenue growing. “We have a goal of hitting a billion dollars in the next two years,” he said.

Postl has been building toward this lofty volunteer position for a long time.

He started volunteering in the Houston area more than 15 years ago, where he still plays a major fundraising role for local events including Heart Walk and Heart Ball. He has served on the national board for nine years and is immediate past chair of the SouthWest Affiliate board.

Along the way, he realized how much he enjoyed helping others as part of a science-based organization. His belief in the AHA’s mission — building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke — has kept him committed.

Part of that commitment stems from his own tragic encounter with heart disease, when his dad died of a heart attack in 1967 at 54.

“It was out of the blue — the famous ‘widowmaker,’” Postl said. “I had just started working for Procter & Gamble, so I was able to support my mother and my siblings for the next several years.”

Fifty years after his father’s death, Postl remains passionate about raising awareness and raising funds for the AHA’s mission.

He’s especially passionate about the Houston Heart Walk, which he has chaired for many years. He usually winds up the event’s top walker.

“I run the walk. I’m usually one of the first out and the first back,” he said.