It is not easy for the Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board of a $1.8 billion company with 10,500 employees to convey genuine humility when reflecting upon a career overflowing with personal accomplishments. But it was clear to the room full of local executives and leaders who came to hear Jack London, Chairman of CACI International, Inc. at the ExecutiveBiz “Been There Done That” lunch event series sponsored by Greenberg Traurig on Thursday that this a man far more comfortable shining the spotlight on the company he helped build and the employees who embody it, rather than himself.
In some ways Jack London is still the same self-described “frisky bulldog” from Oklahoma City who learned how to fight, lead and serve his country during 12 years of active duty in the Navy, including time with U.S. Navy “hunter-killer” task forces arrayed against the Soviet Union’s strategic nuclear submarine threat.
Mr. London carried traits developed in the Navy – tenacity, integrity, commitment – to CACI when he joined the small professional services consulting firm 35 years ago. (He also carried them to the lunch event, as Mr. London kept the engagement despite feeling less than 100% after returning from a lengthy plane flight) In some ways his aversion to waxing on about his personal accomplishments traces to one of his favorite quotes from former IBM President Thomas J. Watson: “Nothing happens (in a company) until a sale is made.” Translation: a bunch of talking heads in a room stroking their own egos won’t close a sale or generate business. And few executives specialize in the art of getting business like Mr. London.
In listening along with a packed Tower Club room full of local executives to the path Mr. London and CACI traveled down between then and now, it was clear to everyone that great companies are not built by accident. You can’t just throw a few pet supplies on the Internet and expect to be around for the long haul. (There is no need to be so defensive Pets.com. I could be referring to any Internet pet supplies company that went from IPO to liquidation in nine months)
In the case of CACI, Mr. London chronicled a number of stiff challenges the company faced once he rose to the executive suite in the early 1980s that threatened its very future, ranging from shareholder lawsuits to proxy fights to addressing the all-too-public, and ultimately unproven, accusations against CACI employees at Abu Ghraib. Mr. London fought through all of those challenges, and the fact he was willing to devote part of his time on Thursday to talking about the latter issue speaks volumes about how important ethics are to him personally and to the culture of integrity he helped to foster at the company.
Today CACI, as Mr. London tells it, has reached its current level of success because company leadership has excelled at anticipating changes ahead of the competition. Instead of standing pat, CACI has strategically repositioned itself in order to meet prevailing and future customer demands – all while maintaining its core mission and values.
And no one will be standing pat at CACI if Mr. London has anything to say about it. With nearly $2 billion in sales today he is aiming for $5 billion by 2012. A heady goal, but one he fully expects to reach because he continues to convey the same philosophies to employees that have served him so well during his 35 years at the company: refuse to fail, and ignore those who say you can’t do it.
The event concluded with ExecutiveBiz presenting Mr. London with the “Been There Done That” award as a testament to his accomplishments (picture below). To view additional pictures from the event, visit the ExecutiveBiz Flickr photo page.