John Shipp ‘98 Courageously Carves
His Own Path to Success
By Ben DuMont ‘92
Nathaniel Shipp, against daunting odds, never gave up, and never gave in. He grew up before the Civil Rights movement and endured ridicule, including rejection from colleges, because of his skin color – yet he had dreams and persisted. Nathaniel went on to serve in the Korean War, became one of the first Black physical therapists west of the Mississippi River, and served the local Catholic community as a respected deacon.
“During his most difficult times, my grandpa said it would have been easy to quit and feel sorry for himself,” says John Shipp ‘98. “But he always persevered and became a better person for it.”
In addition to raising John in North St. Louis, where he attended St. Engelbert Focus School (now Saint Elizabeth, Mother of John the Baptist), Nathaniel challenged his grandson to apply to St. Louis U. High. John, however, had planned to attend Cardinal Ritter or a public school with his friends.
“My grandpa had higher expectations for me,” says John. “He insisted I immerse myself in other communities, to get out of my own head and comfort zone if I wanted to grow and maximize my potential.”
Nathaniel supported John throughout his entire SLUH journey, funding his education, attending his football games and helping him with his homework. “He was such a champion for me in so many different ways. I give credit to him for the man I am today.”
Shipp knew nobody entering SLUH as a freshman, and he was not the popular kid he had been in middle school. Eventually, he found a group of friends and thrived, participating in track, basketball and football.
“At SLUH I learned the value of stakeholder management by networking and leveraging everyone around me,” says Shipp. “Once I figured this out, I began to enjoy high school socially, and I improved academically.”
Dr. Eric Clark ‘83, President of Loyola Academy of St. Louis who was then the SLUH Dean of Students, was a mentor to Shipp. “Dr. Clark was tough on me and held me accountable. He set higher expectations and didn’t accept excuses. He was a realist that the world was not always going to be fair, and that I had to adapt and be resilient.”
As a sophomore at Missouri State, Shipp made a rash decision. He was attending on a football scholarship, studying cell and molecular biology, when his grandfather died from lung cancer.
“After his passing, I lost my swagger,” says Shipp. “I walked out of football practice one day to clear my head.” The next day, the coach severed John’s scholarship for a year – to teach him a lesson. Unsure how he would pay for college, he found his answer on a tv commercial: the U.S. Army.
Shipp took off a semester and enlisted as a combat engineer in the National Guard. He completed officer school, at age 20, as one of the youngest military commissioned officers in U.S. history.
After becoming an officer, he returned to school to complete his BS degree in cellular and molecular biology with minors in chemistry and psychology. Upon graduation he went active duty. Due to a shortage of pilots because of army troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Shipp was able to transition from an engineer to aviation officer over the course of a year. After he finished flight school and became a Blackhawk pilot, he was selected for the maintenance test pilot program, a highly selective yet risky undertaking.
Up to this point, John’s five-year military service had primarily been stateside, but he received the call in 2005 to join the 101st Airborne Division as an air assault pilot in Iraq.
As the missions and close calls racked up, the deployment took a toll on him, mentally and emotionally. He had experienced live combat, countless mortar attacks, bullet holes in his helicopter stopped only by Kevlar, a missile blowing up his sleeping quarters just moments after leaving, and even the loss of his flight school friend whose helicopter crashed after being ensnared by an enemy kite flying above a known insurgent safe house.
“There’s a saying that there’s no such thing as atheism in foxholes,” says Shipp. “I prayed a lot in Iraq, on a whole different level.”
Despite the adversity Shipp faced during his tour in Iraq from 2005-2007, he found the entire military experience rewarding. “I knew I had given back to something bigger than me, a much larger purpose. That said, I was ready for my next chapter because I had used up all nine of my lives.”
Today, Shipp, is the Head of Talent Attraction and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Anheuser-Busch InBev. He leads workshops and training session across all of North American and blends both his personal experiences and historical stories to facilitate conversations on subjects that can having varying viewpoints.
One such story that he often shares is the the story of how Honda Motor Company began. Soichiro Honda, who worked on the production line for Toyota in the 1930s, was ignored when he presented his innovative concept – the 3-ring piston – to company leadership. After leaving Toyota, he started his own company and amassed a fortune by selling his invention to his former employer.
“It’s important to attract top talent,” Shipp says, “but it’s equally important to nurture creative ideas from our employees.”
Now in his 15th year at AB-InBev – after starting in operations maintenance and ascending the ranks as Director of Plant Strategy, Director of Learning and Development, to his current position – Shipp values embracing new perspectives. It’s a concept he learned at SLUH.
“[My English teacher] Mr. Hussung encouraged us to formulate our own ideas and opinions, and to have a healthy, engaging discussion,” he says. “I leaned into this approach because it was fun looking at things differently and it allowed me to have a deeper appreciation for Shakespeare.”
Shipp, who encourages employees to share creative and disruptive ideas, believes diversity goes beyond promoting social justice. “From a business perspective, it is a booster. When we have employees representing a variety of cultures and backgrounds, it informs our product development and enriches our brand in a way that is authentic.”
A staunch advocate that “you don't change standards or expectations” to advance diversity, Shipp says what people really want is opportunity – opportunity to compete for employment. This means offering complementary programs that provide the opportunity to succeed in the workplace, as well as “casting our net in places we haven’t gone before.”
Shipp has leveraged his military experience as a co-founder of the ABI-Vets employee resource group at Anheuser Busch. He also started Hire Our Heroes, the Anheuser-Busch military recruitment program that transitions soldiers into technology, cyber security, human resources, supply and logistics.
Given all Shipp has achieved, both professionally and personally, he is not complacent – nor does he take anything for granted, including his SLUH experience.
“SLUH taught me to lean into failure by adapting and overcoming,” he says. “I learned that if I wanted to grow and become the best version of myself, I had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, to be vulnerable and put myself out there. Doing this has made me more resilient – and it has been the pillar of my success everywhere.”
“Shipp has such a compelling life story because a kid coming from the Northside of St. Louis stereotypically is not supposed to rise to his career level,” says friend Darryl Frierson ‘99, who recently interviewed Shipp on Frierson’s podcast, Mic Checka. “He is a courageous leader who is constantly thinking or asking how he can help someone else.”
Looking ahead, Shipp turns his attention to helping others. “It’s all about giving back for me now. I hope to coach one day,” he says, adding he’s partial to football and track.
Perhaps you’ll see Shipp out there some day, on the field or track, coaching with his confident yet humble swagger and upbeat spirit. His message to his athletes: Set higher expectations, make no excuses. Nathaniel would be proud.