What makes a modern CEO? What gets him or her out of bed in the morning, other than the goals of making cranky board members happy and meeting numerous deadlines so he or she can hold onto a seven-figure salary — or more — and all the perks that come with such daunting responsibility?
Bart Jackson, author, entrepreneur and world traveler, has a new book, “The Art of the CEO,” where he offers seemingly endless insights on the attributes and secrets that place CEOs at the top of the pyramid. Jackson will introduce the book at a reception Thursday, December 5, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Interstate Motorsport’s exotic car showroom on Titus Mill Road in Pennington. The evening will include brief presentations by several CEOs and entrepreneurs, and wines supplied by Hopewell Valley Vineyards (In 2011 Jackson wrote “The Tasteful Traveler’s Handbook to the Wineries & Vineyards of New Jersey.”) For more information about this by-invitation event E-mail Jeanne@JeanneMurphyPR.com or call 908-752-5179.
Jackson has been writing about business, the outdoors, and most everything in between for more than 40 years. He and his wife, a retired South Brunswick Township librarian, live on a country road near Cranbury and have been married for 37 years. Jackson grew up in Westfield, in Union County. His father worked as a chemical engineer and his mother was an editor of Table Topics Magazine, a New York-based magazine that years ago featured stories and advice for homemakers. She also edited the AT&T house magazine.
“My mother had a great effect on me and taught me the power of words, and she instilled a passion for them. I fell in love with both the written and spoken word from childhood,” Jackson recalls.
His father earned a degree in chemical engineering at Princeton University and went on to become an executive in a large engineering firm. Jackson enjoys tell the story of a family hiking trip at High Point State Park, where New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania converge in far northwestern Sussex County.
While they paused to take in the fall foliage, he says, “My mother explained the myth of Persephone and my father explained the mechanics of sap flow.”
After graduating from Hobart College, Class of 1970, Jackson began writing for and editing magazines focussed on everything from industrial distribution to boating to whitewater canoeing. He got a taste of entrepreneurial lifestyle by founding and editing a magazine called the Outdoorsman.
Shortly after the founding of U.S. 1 newspaper in 1984, Jackson became a frequent contributor, writing on environmental issues, outdoor activities (including a para-sailing flight and a weekend of snowmobiling in northeastern Pennsylvania), and hundreds of interviews with business leaders.
More recently Jackson has created a niche in business publishing with BartsBooks, which is part of his Prometheus Publishing. In the last five years has produced titles such as, “So That’s How They Do It! Tactics of Business Masters”, “Behind Every Successful Woman Is Herself” and “Business Basics: Tactics for Success and Satisfaction.”
For “The Art of the CEO” Jackson assembled a diverse group of “authorities” on CEOs, all CEOs themselves (except for Jacques Lacombe, the conductor and musical director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra) as experts for the book. The list includes Google’s Eric Schmidt. Jackson also looked to a larger list of contributors including former President Bill Clinton and Princeton resident Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup Co.
Jackson has put his long experience in business writing to good use. “Art of the CEO” may, indeed, end up in briefcases of those aiming for, if not attaining and occupying, “the big chair,” as Jackson describes the usual landing place of CEO wanna-bees.
But the same as with giving driving directions, people can tell you what a CEO is, but not too many can tell you how to get there. Jackson said that was the feeling he had after reading much of what passes for business journalism today. “The thing about business writing today is it’s all about ‘Everybody’s rich and what’s the matter with you if you’re not.’ Nothing about how to do it. I wanted to know how do you make this work?” he says.
“The CEO’s job has become so much more complex,” he said. “Twenty years ago the CEO was the president of the company who was involved with making the product and selling it. Nowadays, CEOs we talked to say they can’t believe how much time they spend with the financial side.”
Indeed, early on “The Art of the CEO” cites two prestigious surveys to find that 60 percent of the modern CEO’s time is spent in meetings and more than 50 percent of his or her days are “devoted to raising capital via everything from investor chats to loan negotiations.”
“The Art of the CEO” is full of bite-sized information nuggets like that, which makes its 159 pages a quick read. Each of the 14 chapters contains amusing asides and cartoon illustrations, along with regular side trips such as “Tips and Tasks,” “Attitude Adjustment,” “Blunders to Avoid” and “Afterthoughts” providing advice.
Jackson is an avid outdoorsman. In his 20s he competed in the national championships for whitewater canoeing and started “Outdoorsman” magazine, an experience he quickly chalks up to beginners naivete. Jackson frequently expresses his thoughts and ideas in terms of athletics. The image of teamwork is quite old in corporate culture. But early on in Chapter One, for example, Jackson writes of the CEO’s world as a sports league where the spectacular fingertip catch that may have made the highlight film of an amateur career is now expected on a daily basis.
It’s no wonder that a business writer like Jackson, who has hiked Mount Everest and taken a canoe through the rapids of the Colorado River, should be attracted by the upper echelons of the corporate world where the air is rare. To Jackson, it is all about confronting a challenge and conquering it.
Page through “The Art of the CEO” for a few moments and the thing that jumps out is how much time the book spends on “vision” — the need for a CEO to have one and to be able to state it clearly, at a moment’s notice, if need be.
“I think the image of the CEO is one of a person who is straight ahead, public be damned. People who are seen just doing for themselves, people don’t want anything to do with them. You better be liked. People don’t want a con job. And you better be likable.
“The burning fire of a CEO is ‘How am I going to make my project work?’ Denise Morrison, the CEO of Campbell Soup, she is constantly — and this is another trait of the CEO — there is this tremendous dissatisfaction. There is this restless improvisational sense that makes them such fun folks to be with,” says Jackson.
“Basically, I’ve been a writer all my career — history, architecture, travel writing, a boating magazine. I’ve found that the only people who are really interesting are entrepreneurs.”
His travels have provided unique insights on how our culture measures up to others around the world in terms of business shrewdness.
“Do you have any idea how many cultures have no word for teenager?” he asks, in a way that might be expected of someone who sees only a downside to languid summer afternoons spent with a fishing pole and a couple of baloney sandwiches. “You go to Tibet or Mongolia and the three-year-old is on horseback doing the herding. You see an entirely different view.”
“Negotiation. Most Americans don’t do it very well,” Jackson says. “The Chinese have been dickering since they were seven years old. We play baseball better because we’ve been doing it since we were seven years old.”
So what is next for the man who has been to the mountaintop and who has gleaned the knowledge of today’s corporate chieftains?
In the next few weeks, “BartsBook Quips” will be up and running. It will be a feature of BartsBooks where those who sign up will regularly receive assorted business-related quips and witticisms in their E-mail. The next book, expected to be available before Christmas, is “101 Best Business Quips — Take a Little Laughter to Work.”
Other books being planned by Jackson: Two leadership guides, one involving the techniques and story of a major CEO, the other based on the methods of a Japanese conductor.
As one might expect of a writer with such a broad list of published work, Jackson will not spend much time in his easy chair in front of the television. On the horizon for 2014 are a trip with his wife to study churches’ art and architecture in Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, and then possibly a return trip to India to visit the India Institutes of Management where he has previously lectured. But surely the outdoors will also beckon, and Jackson adds that he may canoe a stretch of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania — “in the spring, when the water is high.”