There’s no lavish lobby. No sparkling water feature. No headset-wearing receptionist with a million-dollar smile.
Just John P. Stack, aka Jack Stack.
Stack is at the controls of a manufacturing and venture capitalist empire with investments in 36 companies that produce more than $400 million in sales. At SRC Holdings Corp., Stack greets his visitors at the front door. Then, it’s just a short walk to his office/executive meeting room past a narrow hallway adorned with aged newspaper clippings illustrating Stack’s successes along the way.
“Yeah, those are old,” he says, when I stop to soak up some history.
Stack lives a simple life, with simple offices. What you see is what you get at 3140 E. Division St.
Perhaps it’s because he started on the ground floor – as a 19-year-old mailroom worker for Harvester International – and only rose to chief because of a desire to conquer, a will to work his tail off and the brains to do it.
A quarter-century ago, Stack refused to give up on his folding employer and spearheaded an employee buyout. The rest is history, and for Stack, retirement is now in his near future.
But today, he’s got an executive staff to address, a competitive strategy to develop and corporate bankers to meet.
He personally serves me a glass of water before showing me to his office, then introduces me to his trusted financial officer and general counsel, Dennis Sheppard. Stack’s executive managers slowly stream in, until all 14 arrive for their Monday operational review.
It’s 7:35 a.m. It’s time for business.
The meeting, which Stack dubs “a chat and chew,” moves swiftly, with each manager allotted a couple minutes to speak. Stack acts as a conductor, calling out each person by name to begin the reports: “Jess” … “Marty” … “Mr. DeCarlo.” Stack runs the meeting sternly but with congratulations and humor interjected.
“Keep our eyes on MGM Brakes and on the trucking industry,” he advises. “The supply chain is starting to thin out.”
Later, laughter erupts when fellow executive Stack shares a brief tale of his and Steve Choate’s fishing mishaps of “trees falling on his head” and “pulling the dock out” with them. The conversation returns to a serious tone on news that the federal government will be awarding a contract to replace a fleet of Humvees.
“Did anyone go after that C-SPAN report?” Stack asks. “We have to get that … to see how important it is. We’re making engines that will go into that. If we stumble, it’s going to be tense.”
Stack rolls right into another meeting, this one with five executives, including his son, Ryan, to strategize their approach with a client that may leave due to outside circumstances. The younger Stack pulls a laptop from a messenger bag draped over his shoulder to help develop a plan of attack.
“We’re schizophrenic,” Jack Stack tells the group, then dissects its actions. “There’s a fine line between intent and behavior, and we’re lost in that line. That’s the brain dump on the table.”
He proceeds by soliciting feedback from each person at the table, and after all agree to go after the business, Stacks settles it.
“You’ve got the talent to take it on,” he says. “We need to switch gears. I would feel much better going to sleep at night, if I were you, knowing here’s my plan, but here’s my contingency and here’s my trap door. That’s my last two cents.”
After the room empties, Stack settles in to his desk to return a handful of phone calls and e-mails, then heads to lunch. He returns to face a group of Bank of America executives, the first of two meetings this week with bankers vying for the opportunity to fund a 100 percent employee buyout of SRC Holdings. The next day, he discusses options with out-of-town Harris Bank officers during dinner at Flame.
Such is the daily life of Stack, a 58-year-old entrepreneur, an author, a chief executive, a family man and a fisherman. He recently read that 55-year-old businessmen quit taking risks to the demise of their companies.
“I don’t want to be the stop sign,” he laughs, “I’d rather be more of a flashing light, a cautionary signal.” To that end, Stack is orchestrating this radical buyout by the employees, just as Stack and his young colleagues took over the company 25 years ago.
“It’s déjà vu all over again,” he says, “only a higher value.”
5:30 a.m. – Alarm goes off.
6:15 a.m. – Arrives in office and makes two pots of coffee for executive meeting.
7:25 a.m. – Meeting begins. “We start everything five minutes early,” Stack says.
9:10 a.m. – Holds strategic meeting with five key executives.
10:10 a.m. – Returns phone calls, e-mails, reviews headlines.
11:30 a.m. – Takes lunch. “Anywhere from Ryan’s to Hickory Hills,” Stack notes.
12:15 p.m. – Prepares for meeting with corporate bankers.
1:30 p.m. – Bank of America bankers arrive to discuss employee-buyout financing.
4 p.m. – Conducts conference call about upcoming speeches. “I’ve got a keynote for Inc.’s 500 Fastest Growing Companies … and Winning Workplaces conference in Chicago,” he says.
6 p.m. – Calls it a day, and heads home to wife Betsy. “I could go out every night and eat – sometimes you’ve just got to draw the line,” he says.
How do you start your day?
“The night before. Everything is laid out from socks to vitamins, so I can run out. If I don’t have everything laid out, I’ll forget something.
“I start thinking about work at 2 or 3 in the morning. I make more decisions in my sleep. I can come up with more suggestions at night sleeping than I can in the course of a day because everything is moving so fast. It’s the first time my brain slows down. I’ve just got to believe that more people when they’re sleeping have come up with some phenomenal solutions.”
What is your technology of choice?
“I use a Blackberry for e-mails and text messaging. I don’t get the latest and the greatest stuff. I’ve got an old, old Blackberry. I wouldn’t know an iPod from a pea pod. I know they’ve got the iPhone. To me, it’d just be too complicated. I mean, I can work a computer in the front end of a bass boat and do things that most people can’t do, but when it comes down to that stuff, it can be too time-consuming.”
Where do you get your business news?
“Everywhere. Everything I can get my hands on. With the TV flipper … I can hit the school system, I can hit planning and zoning, I can hit C-SPAN. I am an incredible flipper. I go to sleep with it in my hand.
“I fly so much, I buy every business magazine that I can. I read a lot. My Internet is AOL, tied into small business. Locally, I’ve got the News-Leader and (SBJ). I don’t read a lot of the Wall Street Journal. I love Businessweek, Inc. magazine, Fortune.”
After booting up his computer, he notices that Northwest Airlines canceled hundreds of flights. “We’ve got to get on that right now and see how it can affect us. We’ve got direct flights to Detroit, direct flights to Cincinnati. I wonder if we made the cut.”
Who is your right-hand person?
“Becky (Lane, executive assistant of 21 years). She runs the company. There are a lot of people in corporate that are really good. We have a very lean corporate staff; we’ve got 11 people. My CFO is incredible, Dennis (Sheppard), he’s got a CPA and a law degree. He’s brilliant. … He may be a pain in the ass in the short term, but he keeps you from making really big mistakes. Everybody’s the right arm, everybody’s the left arm.”
What is your average travel schedule?
“I’m usually gone two days a week, either in transit, giving speeches or seeing factories. A lot of time is consumed out of the office. I give two to three speeches a week, internally or externally.”
Do you prefer e-mail or voicemail?
“I’d rather talk on the phone. I’m also spoiled because I’ve got an assistant who can take up most of my e-mails. Becky’s been with me for 21 years. You’ve been together that long in the business, she thinks better than I do.”
How do you stay focused?
“I like scorecards. I’m a numbers junkie. I’ve got an addiction to numbers. I’ve got a memory that remembers everything. It’s a game, it’s really a game, and it’s fun. In any kind of addiction, don’t you have focus?”
What is the greatest characteristic a leader can possess?
“A sense of humor. Because it’s self-effacing; it’s a communicating style (that) disarms people. At the end of the day, the sense of humor provides you with that sense of satisfaction, that sense of fun. What you want to do is focus on the positive, you don’t want to focus on the negative. You want to get the negative fixed as fast as you possibly can because you know what zone you want to be in. I want to be in that zone of satisfaction, having fun and enjoying what I’m doing.”
How often do you take vacation?
(pauses) “I took a vacation this year. (pauses again) I went five days without calling in. I cheated a little bit but not a lot. My kids work at the factory, so I called them. Becky didn’t know it. I think Becky had a bet that I would call in, and I didn’t call in. I didn’t go through her, but I found out some things I needed to know. (laughs) I couldn’t leave it entirely. But I did go five days without calling here, which is the longest I’ve ever done that.”
Where do you spend your vacations?
“I take days. I steal a day here and there (to go to) Table Rock Lake.”
What are your favorite books?
“‘Atlas Shrugged’ and ‘The Fountainhead.’ They had such an influence in my business and I find that it keeps coming back.
What book are you reading right now?
“I have a new book every week across my desk for people that ask for quotes. I get all the rough drafts. I read the books before they come out.” (pulls out five-inch stack of authors’ drafts) “For example, here’s ‘The Authentic Brand: How Today’s Top Entrepreneurs Connect with Customers.’”
What or who is Springfield’s best-kept secret?
“Bill Foster (of Foster Hospitality Group LLC). He’s made a lot of differences inside this community – still one of the best-kept secrets around. I think he’s a giant.”[[In-content Ad]]
Edd Akers, Rick Huffman, Tracy Kimberlin and April McDonough participate in the discussion.
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