NFPA Annual Conference: Leadership tips from Justin Jacobi


At this week’s NFPA Annual Conference at the Four Seasons in Orlando, Justin Jacobi, Executive Chairman of SunSource, spoke to the association’s Future Leaders group. Jacobi was raised on a farm in Texas and later moved Wisconsin and eventually to Cleveland to work for Applied Industrial Technologies—a huge move (and risk) for him at that point in his career. He shared his perspective on his career and the fluid power industry. Here are five takeaways from his talk:

Be contrarian. As a kid, the sixth of eight children, Jacobi quickly learned that doing favors or taking on chores that no one else wanted to do gave him a lot of leverage. He took that approach to his leadership roles, constantly asking himself what was the hardest challenge facing the company? Then he’d go after that problem. He also looks for employees who are willing to be natural contrarians, as well as those who are open to cross-functionality.

Be a voracious reader. Jacobi recommended Good to Great by Jim Collins and The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney as two of his favorites. He said that no matter the ebb and flow of business and the economy, the principles of these books have held true to him.

People are critically important to the equation. “Whether you’re here networking, whether you’re looking to develop and have good mentors help you, whether you’re a mentor providing that wisdom to someone who’s just starting out and wanting to learn something new—that’s what it’s all about, at least from the business perspective. Personally, they all intertwine,” he said.

See one, do one, teach one. This expression, which he stole from his daughter, a doctor, gets across the idea seeing helps you to learn something. But doing it yourself involves a deeper understanding of the process. And if you then have to teach someone else how to do that task, you really must prepare and gain the deepest knowledge of the ins and outs of the procedure. Graduating to all three of these things ensures you truly understand the issue.

Pick a good life partner. Jacobi said that his wife of 35 years trusted him when he wanted to move from Dallas to Cleveland to pursue that previously mentioned work opportunity. And he trusted her that they could get through the personal upheaval together. He said that without support from your partner or spouse, you won’t end up doing those contrarian things—the risk will be too great. There will be trials and tribulations, both personally and professionally. But having the right person next to you has “made all the difference in the world for me to go do whatever I want—she was right there to support me, and vice versa,” he said.



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