Return to the principle of truth-seeking. Under Trump there was stupefying dishonesty and an alarming lack of transparency in Washington. I hope our new administration will tell the truth, whether it is about COVID-19, the economy, and everything else. Truth-telling is the bedrock of trust and is a necessary principle to restore our nation.
As part of our series about 5 Steps That Each of Us Can Take to Proactively Help Heal Our Country, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Jim White.
Jim White, Ph.D. is founder and president of JL White International. He also is chairman and CEO of Post Harvest Technologies, Inc. and Growers Ice Company, Inc., and founder and CEO of PHT Opportunity Fund LP. White is the bestselling author of five books, including Broken America: Ten Guiding Principles to Restore America and Opportunity Investing: How to Revitalize Urban and Rural Communities with Opportunity Funds. Throughout his career, he has bought, expanded, and sold 23 companies operating in 44 countries. White holds a B.S. in civil engineering, an MBA, and a doctorate in psychology and organizational behavior. He shares his insights in a webcast series, Healing America with Dr. Jim White, in which he explores the many issues and challenges faced by our nation — and how to fix them.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
My childhood might come as a bit of a surprise considering where I am now, but here goes: I was born dirt poor in a sharecropper cabin in rural South Carolina and raised in a low-income community. My parents abandoned me and my siblings; one morning, they simply walked out the door and never came back. After a while I realized that at the ripe old age of five, I’d become the head of the family. I began collecting empty Coke cans to buy food for my younger brother and sisters.
Eventually, we children were taken in and shuffled around to a series of relatives, none of whom particularly wanted us. My childhood was one of abuse, neglect and hardship. I dropped out of high school.
Since I had nothing to lose, I volunteered for the military and served two tours in Vietnam. Vietnam turned me around. After my service ended, I went to Georgia Tech on the GI Bill. Eventually, I earned a masters and a doctorate.
Over my career I have generated nearly $2 billion. So, I feel I am in the somewhat unique position of having experienced both extreme poverty and wealth.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I don’t mean this to sound at all promotional. But writing my first book, What’s My Purpose? A journey of Personal and Professional Growth back in 2007, crystalized everything I’d felt about life, work and personal fulfilment: how it is necessary to live life with purpose and clarity and to know that you are making a difference in the world. Putting everything on paper changed the direction of my thinking and allowed me to share my beliefs with a broad audience. The book became a stepping stone to helping many other people.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
“Always stand on principle… even if you stand alone.” Although John Adams said this long ago, it is relevant to the way I strive to conduct myself both as a corporate leader and in my personal relationships.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is simply having people follow you. For me, leadership means setting an example and guiding others so that together we can create a better and more successful enterprise for all.
My leadership experience began in Vietnam. During my first tour, I volunteered for the most difficult assignments because really, I had nothing to lose. I quickly earned leadership positions because I excelled at those assignments.
I became a platoon leader. I had to figure out how to make all those boys trust me, so I led them according to principles that were important to me, like honesty, respect, and courage. And I was straight with them — I said, “I know you don’t want to be here. You can’t control politics, or what Nixon and Johnson are doing. But you can control what you do while you are here. You have a choice: to leave here vertically or in a body bag.”
Eventually I realized not only that I could lead, but that I should. The realization led to my creation of Circle of Success™, a yearlong management and leadership development process. Over my career I’ve coached nearly 100,000 participants worldwide, including Fortune 500 CEOs, management teams, governments, and trade associations, in what I know best: transformative management and leadership processes.
In life we come across many people, some who inspire us, some who change us and some who make us better people. Is there a person or people who have helped you get to where you are today? Can you share a story?
Gene Jackson, owner of a small gas station in Lawrenceville, GA, took me under his wing when I was 14 and taught me how to work on cars. He provided security and a sense of belonging.
J.D. Humphreys gave me a job as a crane operator when I was 18 years old.
Bill Burch, owner of Burch-Lowe in Atlanta, GA, gave me my first job when I returned from Vietnam and allowed me to work and go to school at the same time.
Orville Freeman taught me the ins and outs of Washington, DC, and opened my eyes to international business possibilities.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a series of unprecedented crises. So many of us see the news and ask how we can help. We’d love to talk about the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way. Which particular crisis would you like to discuss with us today? Why does that resonate with you so much?
One crisis after another seems to have been the pattern over the last year: being on the brink of war, police brutality, riots, wildfires, the uproar surrounding mail-in ballots and election results… and of course, the pandemic.
But the storming of the United States Capitol on January 6 cut me to the quick. I could not believe that our nation had sunk to that repugnant level of hatred, intolerance, and disrespect. Our very fabric as a democracy was being torn apart.
This is likely a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
Now that Trump is out of office and largely out of the media, I think we’ve turned down the temperature significantly. But still, the wounds are raw and the divisiveness between parties is still gaping. We have a long way to go as a nation before we can say we are “united.”
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience either working on this cause or your experience being impacted by it? Can you share a story with us?
For many years I have felt that political leadership on both sides of the aisle was causing distrust, culminating in my fifth book, Broken America: Ten Guiding Principles to Restore America. It released last fall, just before the federal elections — and just as I expected, into an atmosphere lacking in civility. Broken America is a guide to healing and rejuvenating our nation.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country.” Kindly share a story or example for each.
The answer to healing our nation is by returning to the Constitution, and the teachings of our Founding Fathers and Mothers.
Why the Constitution? Simply, without it we would be conflicted, independent states where people lived in fear of neighbors and government, without protection of life, liberty, and property. Without the tenets of the Constitution we would live in chaos… the kind we saw at the Capitol in January.
At the same time, we should look back to the texts and teachings of the Founding Fathers, rooted in ten guiding principles which I believe will heal our nation.
Here are five steps that apply equally to us citizens as well as our leaders:
- Return to the principle of truth-seeking. Under Trump there was stupefying dishonesty and an alarming lack of transparency in Washington. I hope our new administration will tell the truth, whether it is about COVID-19, the economy, and everything else. Truth-telling is the bedrock of trust and is a necessary principle to restore our nation.
- Be patriotic. Patriotism is another principle we must live by, and so should our leaders. Americans need to know that our leaders love and value America beyond everything else. Whether a Democrat of Republican, the United States comes first. We cannot allow those in power to do whatever they want in order to stay in power. A leader who puts the nation’s needs above his or her own earns our trust.
- Adhere to tolerance and equality. It should go without saying that tolerance and equality must be basic principles of any democracy. The horrifying death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests highlighted the urgent need for acting on these principles. The concepts of tolerance and equality must be infused through every government agency and social institution to bring people together, not widen the divide.
- Live with vision. This is a principle I espouse in the business world. Not to be confused with mission or purpose, vision tells us where we are going and where we will be at the end of our journey. A leader must have a clear, unifying vision that not only appeals to his or her base but to everyone. Once in office, the vision needs to be amended to include all Americans — not just one party or sector. Biden alluded to this in his inaugural speech: he said he would be a president for everyone — those who voted for him and those who didn’t.
- Encourage and acknowledge excellence. In business and throughout society, and even in our family lives, the best leaders encourage and acknowledge excellence, from their employees, experts, students. The same should be true in government. Great leaders should compliment their staffs, not the other way around; they shouldn’t need sycophants buzzing like drones around their queen. Contrast the insecure politicians of today who spew insults at various groups to past presidents who praised all Americans, including immigrants, the working class, farmers, and corporate America.
Other principles such as integrity, respect, courage, and compromise should be taken into account as minimum criteria for how we interact with others, regardless of color or religion, age or profession, party or affiliation.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but what can we do to make these ideas a reality? What specific steps can you suggest to make these ideas actually happen? Are there things that the community can do to help you promote these ideas?
These values are not just ephemeral ideas. They are actionable behaviors for living our lives.
Let’s consider the principles of tolerance and equality — I’m thrilled to see that they are being put into practice as we speak: Hollywood seems to be embracing diversity, as is corporate America.
Imagine if we as individuals awoke each morning and said, “I will embrace tolerance and equality today.” What would it look like? Perhaps it would be as simple as striking up a friendly conversation with a neighbor, worker, or colleague. In business, it might mean re-examining hiring and promoting. Or, it might mean unfollowing small-minded individuals on social media.
Imagine if we woke the following morning determined to live patriotically. How? There are many ways. Here are just a few:
- Help a veteran. This can involve a lot more than “thanking” a vet (which is also a nice thing to do.) You can donate to a veteran’s organization or offer assistance to a specific veteran, such as delivering groceries to him or her.
- Serve on a jury. Like voting, this is a right and privilege. Most people see it as just an inconvenience; however, a right to a fair trial among one’s peers is an important part of the American justice system.
- Buy American products. We’ve gone away from this over the years, but we want the factories and warehouses to be on American soil and run by American workers.
- Teach your children American history. Visit historical sites and memorials. And, most importantly, soak in viewpoints from all sides of the political spectrum.
Imagine if people across our nation lived each day according to all these principles! With these principles as our guideposts, and with the Constitution at the forefront of our minds, we can restore the civility of our nation.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I am cautiously optimistic about our future now that we have new leadership under President Biden. But I also expect others we look up to — leaders in Corporate America, leaders in the media, religious leaders, thought leaders — to do their part.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
We live in a culture that values immediate fame and fortune, the fifteen-second Tik Tok notoriety. We don’t celebrate the noble, the educated, and the selfless among us. What happened to science? Where is philanthropy? Why aren’t the Nobel Prizes as widely followed as the Oscars?
It was no surprise that four years ago our country elected as its leader a billionaire reality television star to embody its highest ideals.
But I think we are learning. Unfortunately, the pandemic has taught us painful lessons about what is truly important: caring for our families and neighbors and bolstering our most vulnerable communities.
I think Americans, old and young, are recognizing how critical it is to honor the principles upon which our country was built and are ready to start the healing process.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I have been a student of his for years. I appreciate how he thinks and how he has remained humble. Warren is as relevant today as he was thirty years ago.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!