On a coffee table near a couch sits a copy of his latest book, Character: The Ultimate Success Factor. His image stares from the cover with a slight smile. When the man himself enters the room, he greets a guest with a firm handshake, unwavering eye contact and a let’s-get-down-to-business demeanor.
It’s this straightforward, right-is-right and wrong-is-wrong approach to business that has helped enable J. Phillip London, known to the world as Jack, transform Arlington, VA-based defense contractor CACI from a small consulting company into a multinational information solutions and services firm with more than $3.6 billion in revenue.
“I’m ambitious,” London says, a hint of an Oklahoma accent apparent in his voice. “Not ruthlessly so, but in the sense that I like to achieve and accomplish things. I like to build things, I like to be part of successful organizations. I like to work with people that share these kinds of attributes and values.”
London, 77, was CACI’s 35th employee when he joined the company as a program manager in 1972. He went on to serve 23 years as CEO before stepping down to become executive chairman in 2007. Today the firm has more than 15,000 employees in 120 offices worldwide, and is a member of the Fortune 1000 Largest Companies, the Russell 2000 Index and the S&P SmallCap 600 Index.
How did he do it? Industry insiders say the keys were his aggressive policy of mergers and acquisitions and his inherent understanding in the 1990s that computer applications were shifting toward networks.
“The federal IT industry is what it is today because of Dr. Jack London,” Shawn Osborne, president and CEO of the TechAmerica Foundation, said in June when he presented London with the organization’s Corporate Leadership Award. “His vision on where the industry was heading helped shape not only CACI but also the industry as a whole.”
While he is proud of his business record and policies, London points to something else as the primary reason for his success. An ideal that’s shaped not only his career in the corporate world, but his 24 years in the U.S. Navy, and he hopes, the entirety of his life.
He points to the title of his book.
“Good character is a quality we can all own that no one can ever take from you,” he says. “In our business, we are people-driven. You look at our balance sheet and you don’t find a lot of patents or manufacturing plants or real estate or gold mines. Our balance sheet is receivables, and it’s accomplished by our people. I think by bringing these values of trustworthiness and integrity, then technical competence, to the organization … that was part of the reason I had the opportunity to progress as I did.”
The makings of a legend
Jack London’s great grandfather was an Oklahoma Sooner, the nickname given to those who took part in the land rushes that opened the Oklahoma Indian Territory to settlement. It was before a University of Oklahoma Sooners football game in the 1950s that young Jack watched as the Blue Angels streaked overhead. The show piqued his interest in the Navy and, eventually, the Naval Academy.
London’s father, Harry, also went by the name Jack. He was an entrepreneur who ran a small home furnishings business.
“I learned a lot of values from being in and around his business, watching him operate, and how he conducted himself,” he says. “He had vendors and suppliers that would provide him with his product lines. He would negotiate with them. I would often watch them stand and talk about the deals. They would shake hands — that would be it. Maybe someone would follow up with a letter 10 days later, but it was all done with a handshake. It wasn’t U.S. Steel or General Motors, but those folks in that type of business in those days, their word was their bond. It was an interesting experience that I reflect on these days.”
London did earn that appointment to the Naval Academy, graduating with a bachelor of science in naval engineering before going on to serve 12 years of active duty and 12 years in the Navy Reserve. Among the highlights of his career was his membership on the airborne recovery team assigned to pick up astronaut John Glenn after he orbited the earth on Feb. 20, 1962. Glenn ended up overflying the planned recovery zone and was picked up by a ship rather than a helicopter, but London still remembers the momentous day vividly.
He retired from active duty in 1971 (and from the reserve, with the rank of captain, in 1983) and landed a job with a Rockville-based engineering firm. That company was sold within a year, precipitating his move to CACI, where he was afforded the opportunity that would shape his career and a large part of his life.
Founded in 1962, CACI went public six years later, but still was a “tiny” company with “only a few million dollars in revenue” when London joined it.
“The major thing we did in those days [was] transition from a consulting type of company to a systems-oriented company,” he says. “I brought the idea that we could make a bigger company out of it, without having to have phenomenal luck. You can be entrepreneurial and creative, but typically, to be successful you also have to be able to lead a team of people in an effective way. I’ve found that people that are very inventive couldn’t lead another person to the bathroom without having a fight. Attitude is a big deal. I guess I realized in the last 10 or 15 years, as we got to be [a] larger company, that [it] was key to empower people.”
London steadily rose through the ranks, and in 1984, three years after being elected to the board of directors, he was named president and CEO. His natural leadership abilities, some of which he picked up from the men he worked for in the Navy, were evident.
“I wouldn’t for a second contend that having served in the military necessarily correlates to being successful in business,” he says. “[But] I had the opportunity to serve under some people I thought were big thinkers. That was an epiphany. The people that I worked with were high-integrity, four-star admirals that were the best of the Greatest Generation. I saw what real leadership was all about. There was an attribute that they tended to share — the ability to commit themselves to some kind of activity and not think of necessarily what will happen to them. They had an emotional capability to detach. They were willing to do the right thing and make a commitment to it, even if it caused them some unfortunate backlash or problem.”
Once he was at the helm of the company, London wasted no time imparting his philosophy of character-based decision making.
Gregory Bradford is president and chief executive of CACI Limited, the company’s United Kingdom operation. He joined the firm in 1979 and met London a few years later.
“[Jack’s] a guy with a tremendous amount of energy and ambition, and he has instilled in everyone who has reported to him this ambition to build the business,” says Bradford, who reported to London for 22 years. “He’s got a collaborative management style. I always kind of thought he was my partner as opposed to my boss. We would brainstorm and debate things. There were only a few instances in my career where he told me to do something.”
A changing world
In the early 1990s London sensed a changing world. Networks were on the brink of exploding, so he launched an ambitious mergers and acquisitions program to reposition the company for the new landscape.
It worked. Revenue jumped, and the company’s workforce and government contracts grew exponentially. Since 1992, CACI has closed more than 60 deals, acquiring communications and network services capabilities, and entering the intelligence domain.
“[Jack] has this lifetime experience in how to handle these things, how to talk to the Street — investor relations are an important part of it — and how to deliver the messaging about the acquisition,” says Navy Admiral (Ret.) Gregory Johnson, a CACI board member. “He is willing to take prudent risks. It differentiated us and gave us unique capabilities, all the kinds of things that Jack has learned are key to the success of our company.”
While the company has had some close calls, there have been no catastrophic acquisition failures, London says.
“Our whole mergers and acquisitions program is living proof that you can take a capital structure in a cash flow world and transform it over time,” he says. “We’re looking for organizations that have technical or marketplace specialties, uniqueness, special market sense or customer sense. The initial thing we look for is a culture of values — an attitude toward the customer. We’re looking for organizations that will basically fit our culture. They have to have a willingness to participate in a degree of loyalty to what we’re trying to do in supporting the U.S. government in very high-value, important areas.”
Of course it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. In 2004, CACI was accused of involvement in the mistreatment of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. London vigorously defended the company and wrote a book called Our Good Name: A Company’s Fight to Defend Its Honor and Get the Truth Told About Abu Ghraib.
Early last year, CACI’s board of directors replaced ex-CEO Dan Allen with current president and CEO Ken Asbury. Allen’s abrupt departure — he had been on the job less than a year — raised eyebrows among those in the industry still astounded by the level of power London wields. Inside CACI, however, the troops closed ranks.
“It took a lot of courage to say, okay, we need to look at a change here,” Johnson says. “I think Jack and the board handled it very well. At the end of the day it was Jack’s leadership and wisdom that smoothed the transition. It’s been a successful transition in what arguably could not have been a more difficult time.”
London describes his role in the company today as a confidant and safe haven for Asbury, and a strategist and public face for CACI. When the company acquired intelligence contractor Six3 Systems last year for $820 million, London was integral to the approval of the deal. His office suite is next door to the board room. It’s clear his fingerprints remain all over the firm.
“I was new to the company,” Asbury says. “Going through the process of what kind of information is necessary to get to the board, doing all the banking things, he’d been through it a number of times before. I got to go through a very short learning curve because I had somebody with a tremendous amount of knowledge and a fundamental willingness to share it.”
Since arriving at CACI, Asbury, a longtime Lockheed Martin veteran, has supported London’s emphasis on communicating the company’s culture to employees on a continuing basis.
“At the end of the day, there’s nothing magic about it, it’s just common sense,” says Asbury, who also spent much of his childhood in Oklahoma. “It’s about not taking shortcuts and doing the hard thing when it’s the right thing. Jack can be as detailed as anybody you’ve ever met, but he also has the capacity to see big picture. He sees big picture and he can take it down to as small a detail as you want. I [have] got to keep on my toes. I’m very prepared every time I go in to see Jack, because I don’t know whether I’m going to get the 10,000-foot question, or the six-inch question.”
A legacy founded in character
Writing a book called Character requires a boatload of confidence (and some would say at least a dash of hubris). For London, who started working on it about four years ago, it was less a finite literary project than the culmination of a career spent shaping CACI’s culture.
“It started off to be a small, 50-page paper for our employees,” he says. “It didn’t take me very long to realize that I really had a hot topic that was radioactive in some ways. I started reflecting on Enron, WorldCom, Lehman Brothers, the VA tragedy. It’s unbelievable.”
In conversation, London is fond of quoting everyone from George Washington to Roy Disney to Jack Welch. Along with his philosophies, the book is peppered with quotations from historical figures, business leaders, entertainers and coaches, among others. Norman Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, wrote the foreword:
“A good test when contemplating taking an action is to ask if you would mind if your mother watched you doing it,” he writes. “For those not fortunate enough to have a mother who lives to be 105, Jack London’s book should be required reading.”
All royalties from the book go to CAUSE, a nonprofit that organizes programs to promote recreation, relaxation and resiliency for members of the armed services recuperating from injuries received in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. CAUSE is one of several military and veteran-focused groups London supports.
“For a guy who’s a [leader] of a huge defense-related corporation, watch how he’ll focus on smaller issues,” says Todd Creekman, executive director of the Naval Historical Foundation. London serves on its board. “One of the things that Jack has brought to us, as a businessman, is a sense that you’ve got a bottom line. It doesn’t matter how noble your mission is. Even if you’re a nonprofit, you’ve got to perform.”
London’s father worked into his late 80s, and the son of that small-town Oklahoma entrepreneur, a man who built a billion-dollar company by following what his gut told him was right, has no plans to retire anytime soon.
“I’m a pretty determined type of person. I have a little bulldog-type of mentality in me,” he says. “I will do something to stay involved.”
Not to do so would be out of character for Jack London. CEO
Mike Unger is a freelance writer based in Baltimore, MD. Contact us at email@example.com.
The student, in consultation with his or her advisor, will decide when the dissertation is ready for defense.
Students may defend in the fall, spring, or summer, for a January, May, or September degree, respectively. Please see below for the steps that must be taken during the semester in which the student plans to defend.
• At the beginning of the semester, the student must inform the Director of Graduate Studies, the Department Administrator, and his or her "core" dissertation readers that he or she plans to defend. The three "core" readers include the student's advisor and two other faculty members. Most often, the readers are the same individuals who served on the student's dissertation proposal committee.
• The advisor and student, in consultation with the DGS, must then select two additional committee members, for a total of five. * Please see guidelines pertaining to the makeup of dissertation committees at the bottom of this page.
• Once a committee of five is formed, the student should work with committee members, as early as possible (even before the beginning of the semester is preferable), to decide on a dissertation defense date. * It is important that this happen as early as possible, particularly if you have committee members who cannot be present at the defense. There are various forms that require original signatures from your committee members, so the earlier we know, the earlier we can be in touch with these people to start the signature process in time for various deadlines. At this time, the department strongly encourages that there be no more than 2 committee members Skyping in, so please consider this when selecting your 4th and 5th readers.
Ideally, the defense date should be at least several weeks prior to the GSASFinal Dissertation Deadline (available on the GSAS Academic Calendar). This gives the student an opportunity to incorporate any revisions suggested by the committee (during the defense) before the final deadline.
• The student must apply for the Ph.D. degree on Albert. Each semester, there is a deadline by which the student must do this. The deadlines can be found on the GSAS Academic Calendar, and are usually within a month of the beginning of a given semester.
• The student must prepare the preliminary dissertation copy in accordance with GSAS dissertation guidelines. Each semester (including summer), there is a GSASPreliminary Dissertation Deadline by which the student must submit his or her preliminary dissertation (or excerpts) to the GSAS Office of Academic and Student Life. These deadlines are also available on the GSAS Academic Calendar. It is highly recommended that you review the GSAS guidelines at the beginning of the semester. You will find that a) the dissertation must be formatted in a certain manner, which can be quite time consuming, and b) they require documents with original signatures as well, so you will want to prepare these in advance of the Preliminary and Final deadlines. The department is not aware of the details of the GSAS guidelines, so we will not be sending you reminders related to these. It is the student's responsibility to review and meet their requirements and deadlines. The department will, however, send reminders about department paperwork, guidelines, and due dates.
* The Department Administrator (cc'd to the Director of Graduate Studies) is your contact for questions and all matters regarding your defense, department guidelines and requirements (registration deadlines, the required "Reader Sheets" and "Oral Defense" forms (outlined below), forming your committee, setting the date for your defense, communicating with your committee, and anything else that happens within the department). Your contact at GSAS for questions pertaining to their deadlines and procedures is Cherone Slater (firstname.lastname@example.org). While you are responsible to reaching our to your committee to select a defense date, once you have narrowed it down, please begin cc'ing me on these communications so that I can make sure that there is space available and that the defense will not conflict with some other department event.
• Upon request (of faculty or students), the student must submit one copy of the dissertation to the department one month prior to the defense. The student must also make one complete copy of the dissertation available (electronic or hard copy) to all five committee members no later than one month prior to the defense. Your advisor, and ideally your core committee members, should be seeing your work regularly leading up to the semester in which you defend and the date of the defense.
Also on this date (one month prior to the defense), the student must submit three "Doctoral Thesis Reader" sheets to the Departmental Administrator, signed by his or her core readers. This sheet indicates that the committee member has read a dissertation draft and approved the dissertation for defense, which is why it is crucial that your core members have access to your writing as it progresses in the months/semesters before your defense. This form is available in the office of the Department Administrator or online, under GSAS Forms.
*For committee members who are not on campus to provide original signatures on this document (not applicable to the "Doctoral Thesis Oral Defense Form"), they may e-mail the Director of Graduate Studies and Department Administrator to verify that the dissertation is ready for defense and then sign the form at a later date or at the actual defense.
• On the date of the defense, the five committee members must sign the "Doctoral Thesis Oral Defense Form," indicating that the student has passed the oral dissertation defense. This form is also available in the office of the Department Administrator or online, under GSAS Forms. If a committee member cannot be present at the defense, the student and Administrator must communicate with this person so that he or she can mail a signed form to the department well before the final dissertation deadline. The three "Doctoral Thesis Reader Sheets" and the "Doctoral Thesis Oral Defense Form" are kept on file in the department, and the Department Administrator is responsible for submitting these to the registrar following the dissertation defense (by the Final Dissertation Deadline). All other paperwork is handled between the student and GSAS; GSAS is then responsible for submitting that paperwork to the registrar.
• Finally, the student must submit the final dissertation copy and other required paperwork, in accordance with GSAS dissertation guidelines, to the GSAS Office of Academic and Student Life. GSAS Final Dissertation Deadlines are available on the GSAS Academic Calendar.
According to University Policy, at least three of the dissertation defense committee members must be GSAS faculty members. Former GSAS faculty members (who have been gone for fewer than five years) are regarded as NYU faculty for the purpose of a dissertation defense. The Director of Graduate Studies must approve a committee with fewer than three department faculty members. The committee may have "outside" committee members (not on the NYU faculty at all), with the permission of the Director of Graduate Studies.