The striking story of a local motivational teacher/consultant.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Carmel Valley’s Jim White was a dirt-poor Southern boy who decided to take on the world, a high school dropout who went on to consult for President John F. Kennedy’s Secretary of Agriculture, a hard-living stroke victim who survived to join the likes of Deepak Chopra in helping people be healthier. His autobiography, A Man Consumed by Intention, will be published this month.
How did he make his way through poverty and illness to become a larger-than-life entrepreneur? For one, he paid those obstacles little attention.
“I lacked the things that most [people] attribute success to. [I had] no stable, loving home life, no early education,” he says. “Yet, I’ve always had the attitude that I will not acknowledge my limitations.”
Combat experience helped him practice that art– and begin to understand how he might share it with others. “I was born in Georgia, raised in South Carolina and grew up in Vietnam,” he says. “Vietnam and the Army were the foundation of my leadership skills.” He enlisted in 1968 and asked to go to Vietnam with Special Forces. “I didn’t think I’d come back, [but] I wanted to know what I could take… who I was,” he says. During 23 months in-country, he was promoted from private to captain, proving himself in combat, mine-clearing and while leading untested troops into hot zones from Cu Chi to Laos.
He graduated from Georgia Tech courtesy of the Army and began a career in mergers and acquisitions. Along the way, he got an engineering degree, an MBA and a doctorate. He bought 22 mostly distressed companies, made them profitable and sold them. While he admires the skills of corporate raiders Carl Ikann and T. Boone Pickens, White insists he devised strategies that created win-win scenarios for sellers, employees, consumers and vendors, quite an accomplishment for a boy who says he was told he was “stupid.”
“I see things differently,” he explains. “When you’re poor you see [things] that other people consider trash, but to you they may be resources. I saw opportunities where others saw problems.”
Still, it took a narrowly averted tragedy to shift his personal strategy toward inspiring others.
At age 36, already a successful businessman, he was in the Geneva airport en route to Nigeria when he suffered a near-fatal stroke. Long hours and hard living caught up with him and he was faced with relearning to talk and walk. “I was in bed for six months in a foreign country without friends or family,” he recalls. He gave up alcohol and cigarettes and set out on an inward journey.
What he found along that path was a new purpose: “to make a positive impact on the lives of others.
“You must be honest and accountable… you must have integrity,” he says, “[and] lead by example.” He adds that fears must be identified and faced “because they make us less intelligent.”
He suddenly sold his companies and volunteered to promote the nascent European Economic Community. At a seminar in New York, he realized that he had found his next business, and JL White International was born. The firm has 34 staff members and now does in-depth corporate consulting and training for executives and individuals abroad. He says he defies industry clichés by delving deeply into the skills, attitudes and psyches of management and employees, weeding out those not right for that particular corporate culture and its goals– while treading on some tricky moral high ground.
“I’ve always had a sort of moral compass,” he says, adding that people do know what the right thing to do is and should do it whether or not it’s popular. Endorsements indicate that his formula is working– he’s cut operating costs by as much as 40 percent among his clients, who quickly learn he’s tough on everyone. “Twenty-three times the people who brought us to their firms in the first place left them because of our work,” he says.
Among the local clients he has worked with on leadership, delegation, communication and trust are the Santa Cruz, San Mateo and San Benito sheriff’s departments. Other clients have included Macy’s, Cisco and Trader Joe’s.
In addition to his consulting work, he also leads an increasingly popular seminar, “What Is Your Purpose?” which has graduated 26,000 individuals.
Three years ago, White joined the Transformational Leadership Council begun by Jack Canfield, author of Chicken Soup for Your Soul. Its select members, including Wayne Dyer, Stewart Emory and Deepak Chopra, share a mission to make the world a better place through humanism and New (and not-so-new) Age tools.
Unsurprisingly, White sees few limits to what the team can do. “Through [our] writings, the Internet, seminars and videos,” he says, “this group can influence millions around the globe.”