Editor’s note: The Navy shut a door. He opened another one.


Jack London, chief executive of government contractor CACI International. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For the Washington Post)
September 29, 2013

A Navy man, J. Phillip “Jack” London was wrapping up his master’s degree at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., back in the late 1960s with only one thought about his career ahead.

He was determined to go to Vietnam. Three times he requested duty. Three times he was denied, and ultimately ordered to return to his alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy, to teach.

London understood the consequences. Without combat service, he was unlikely to rise to a true leadership position. He could have sulked, or blamed a superior. Instead, he went to George Washington University and got a doctorate in business administration.

It’s funny how life’s roadblocks can sometimes open up unexpected avenues. London left the Navy in 1971 and went to work for a small government contractor, where his name on a bid happened to catch the eye of an executive at another small firm at the time, CACI International.

He made the move, becoming employee 35, and never looked back, rising to become chief executive and now executive chairman of what is one of the region’s big dogs.

I learned all this in a new book London has penned, “Character: The Ultimate Success Factor.” With a title like that, I expected a lot of bromides and platitudes, and there are plenty.

But there’s also a lot of wisdom, too, about how to navigate business challenges. London has steered his company through recessions, shareholder revolts, mergers and technological shifts, and he draws lessons from them all.

You get the sense London could be a demanding boss. He makes no bones about losing his cool over an unsuccessful bid. “Let your emotions happen,” he advises, because that’s your gut telling you something. Then, figure out what went wrong.

These days, CACI is positioning itself for a slowdown in government spending, a shift that has already forced changes at the top. The constant is London: “We have continuing aspirations to build the company,” he told me during an interview in his Arlington office.

I asked him what he thought was the most important take-away from this book. “People, the individual, control their destiny,” he said. “And character is what that is all about ... it determines how far they’ll go and whether they will succeed or fail.”

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.
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