Character: Jack London’s Ultimate Success Factor

Forty-four years ago, in 1972, a young man named J. Phillip London – Jack, for short – took a job at a small defense contracting firm called CACI. London was the company’s thirty-fifth employee, and he is still with CACI today. In fact, he would come to serve 23 years as the firm’s president and CEO and, during that time, grow CACI from a small business in Arlington, Virginia, to a multi-billion-dollar global information solutions with over 150,000 employees in 120 offices across the globe.

If you ask leaders in the field, they will tell you that London accomplished this success – and  transformed the information technology industry – as a result of “his aggressive policy of mergers and acquisitions and his inherent understanding” of the future of computer applications. This may very well be the case. However, if you ask the man himself, London is more likely to emphasize what he believes has always been the key to his success in life and in business: character. Character is what London calls, in the title of his book, “the ultimate success factor.” He explains it this way: “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.”

London defines character as “a unique set of moral and ethical qualities that define what you believe in. . . . It’s also about integrity, values, and doing the right thing.” It may sound cliché to some, but this is the foundation upon which London built the multinational corporation that is CACI International, Inc. – and which, he believes, is what has allowed the firm to endure such defining moments such as “the false accusations against CACI with regards to mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.”

And the concept of character-based decision making isn’t London’s alone. He has effectively communicated and established it as the very core of CACI’s company culture, to the point where the members of the organization – everyone from current CEO Ken Asbury right down to the “boots on the ground” – are committed to the same values. Asbury explains, “At the end of the day, there’s nothing magic about it, it’s just common sense. . . . It’s about not taking shortcuts and doing the hard thing when it’s the right thing.” In an industry like defense contracting, which has been immersed in controversy for most of the past several decades, London and CACI are proof-positive that operating on a firm foundation of integrity and ethics is crucial to continuing success.