page title icon Jack Mackey

040: Jack Mackey: Sometimes fear brings out the best in you

Jack Mackey Show Notes

Jack Mackey challenged a group of volunteers for an annual conference to get 300 people to come to their annual conference. That was 3-times more than they had ever had before. Listen to how Jack moved onward and upward after a key volunteer tried to quit before they even started.

From an early age, Jack Mackey had a pathological aversion to authority.  Think James Bond – his childhood hero – minus the tough guy good looks and luxury lifestyle.  He might have some of Bond’s independent streak and initiative though.  Most folks like their bios to flatter them, but Jack learned it is best to lower expectations.

That way, when you learn he’s taken on a second marriage, or a job turning around a failing operation or starting a new business, you sort of expect him to fail – and he may surprise you.  Jack’s failures and successes all taught him the same lesson:  The human condition is to struggle.  Once you accept that, he says, the key to happiness is to love the battle!

Jack is currently the Chief Evangelist and Vice President of Sales at Service Management Group, also known as SMG, which is a Top 50 market research firm in the US, with offices in London and Tokyo that Jack was instrumental in launching.  When he joined the company, SMG had 38 clients and $8 million in revenues.  Under his sales leadership the company has grown to $50 million in revenues and serves more than 325 brands around the world from Shell Oil to McDonald’s to Kroger and JC Penny.

Prior Jack’s life in sales, he founded and operated 4 restaurants, was a teacher and student of Tae Kwon Do for 20 years.  From that experience, Jack developed “Love the Battle” as the most powerful concept for business owners and managers to excel under adversity.

Jack currently resides in Kansas City, Missouri with his with Betsy.

Tweetable Quotes and Mentions

Listen and @jmackey5000 will help you get over the hump on the @FastLeaderShow Click to Tweet

“I know I can’t stave off death, but I’ll be dammed if I’ll go out with a whimper.” -Jack Mackey Click to Tweet

“Sometimes you learn the best lessons from the worst examples.” -Jack Mackey Click to Tweet

“If it can’t be done, it interests me.” -Jack Mackey Click to Tweet

“You’ve got to embrace challenges” -Jack Mackey Click to Tweet

“Impossible is just a big word for small-minded men.” -Jack Mackey Click to Tweet

“It’s no disgrace to fail, make a mistake or lose…it’s going to happen.” -Jack Mackey Click to Tweet

“The balance is not to accept losing, but to understand.” -Jack Mackey Click to Tweet

“If you gave it your best effort you can’t turn on yourself.” -Jack Mackey Click to Tweet

“Sometimes adversity or fear brings the best out of you.” -Jack Mackey Click to Tweet

“You actually have to believe in the people on your team.” -Jack Mackey Click to Tweet

“People rise to the expectation of the leader.” -Jack Mackey Click to Tweet

“Leadership needs to be much more collegial now.” -Jack Mackey Click to Tweet

“A lot of times, the best thing you add is asking the right questions.” -Jack Mackey Click to Tweet

“You have to find a way to make people to want to work together.” -Jack Mackey Click to Tweet

Hump to Get Over

Jack Mackey challenged a group of volunteers for an annual conference to get 300 people to come to their annual conference. That was 3-times more than they had ever had before. Listen to how Jack moved onward and upward after a key volunteer tried to quit before they even started.

Advice for others

(Leadership) It’s not about you.

Holding him back from being an even better leader

I don’t have the energy of a 21-year old.

Best Leadership Advice Received

Take people with you.

Secret to Success

Start what you finish. Put things back in the same place. Stay organized. Don’t get in your own way.

Best tools that helps in business or Life

The Seinfeld Strategy.

Recommended Reading

Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

Contacting Jack

Email: jmackey [at]




54 Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Competencies List: Emotional Intelligence has proven to be the right kind of intelligence to have if you want to move onward and upward faster. Get your free list today.

Show Transcript:

[expand title=”Click to access edited transcript”]

040: Jack Mackey: Sometimes Fear Brings Out The Best in You

Intro: Welcome to the Fast Leader Podcast, where we uncover the leadership like hat that help you to experience, break out performance faster and rocket to success. And now here’s your host, customer and employee engagement expert and certified emotional intelligence practitioner, Jim Rembach.

Jim Rembach: “Contributing to the annual $150 billion loss in training and development investments is downright demoralizing, so raise your spirits and training ROI by increasing learning transfer with ResultPal. Get over the Hump now by going to and getting a $750 performance package for free.”


Okay, Fast leader legion make sure you share this episode because it’s going to be fun. I have somebody today who is both witty and full of wisdom. From an early age Jack Mackey had a pathological aversion to authority, think James Bond his childhood hero minus the tough guy looks and luxury lifestyle. He might have some of Bond’s independent stricken initiative though. Most folks like their bios to flatter them but Jack learned it’s best to lower expectations that way when you learn he’s taken on a second marriage or a job turning around a failing operation or starting a new business you sort of expecting him to fail and he may surprise you.


Jack’s failures and successes all taught him the same lesson, the human condition is to struggle, once you accept that he says the key to happiness is to love the battle. Jack is currently the Chief evangelist and Vice-President of Sales at Service Management Group also known as SMG which is a top 50 market research firm in the US with offices in London and Tokyo that Jack was instrumental in launching. When he joined the company SMG had 38 client and $8 million revenues. Under his sales leadership the company has grown to $50 million in revenues and serves more than 325 brands around world from Shell Oil to McDonald’s to Kroger to JC Penney. 


Prior to Jack’s life in sales he founded an operated four restaurants, was a teacher and student of Taekwondo for 20 years. From that experience Jack developed, loved the battle, as the most powerful concept for business owners and managers to excel under adversity. Jack currently reside in Kansas City with his wife Betsy. Jack Mackey are you ready to help us get over the Hump?


Jack Mackey:    I am halfway over the Hump already man.


Jim Rembach:    I hear you. Alright, so I’ve given our legion a little bit about you but can you share what your current passion is so that we can get to know you better?


Jack Mackey:    Well my current passion is, I am training for a triathlon to celebrate my 55th birthday. I know I can’t stave off death but I’ll be damned if I’ll go out with a whimper. And my passion at work is, as you know Jim is we’ve met is, I’m just passionate about creating five star experiences for people whether they’re customers or employees or, hey how about, even my family, my wife, and kids and the people I work with.


Jim Rembach:    You know, I think that’s a great point Jack. One of the reasons why I definitely wanted to have you on my show is that you’re one of those folks that—you seem like you’re always there for people. Even when we’ve had just casual passing’s at a member insight exchange for the CXPA, or even being on a leader call, being both the CX leaders for the association is that, you take the time and you listen well and you give some darn good advice and that’s really appreciated. And doing it both for the business side as well as your family is something that I think we really need to separate the line between the two. I think you’ve probably emulated that in a lot of ways. Even though I haven’t seen the family side, I just kind of know it’s there, where does that come from?


Jack Mackey:    I’ve got to say that it comes from my parents. I have an unusual heritage. My mom was a frustrated actress and my dad was a lawyer but he found that he didn’t like the confrontational side of loss so he ended up using his talents in the real estate appraisal but both of my parents were great hosts and entertainers. People would love to come to the parties at our house, and so I was exposed at an early age to what it was like to make people feel welcome and comfortable and to greet people and to go to some effort to listen to them and remember their names and what they cared about, my parents are just masters at that.


Jim Rembach:    Well you know, it’s interesting that you say that cause I know you and I have had several discussions around hospitality in restaurants and you had a long history in that even as an executive chef I think you were for a while, and so you’ve had some good discussions about that. Do you think that even that influenced you, that being with them and seeing all of that and to go into the restaurant space?


Jack Mackey:    No. I totally fell in love with the craft of cooking, that’s how I got there. Once I got into the restaurant business it really helped that I loved food, I discovered it kind of late in life cause even though my parents are great entertainers they weren’t great cooks. The first time I was exposed to great cooking, it was like an epiphany, I fell in love with it. And back in those days too, Jim this was in the 70’s, and being a cook there was no such thing as a celebrity chef, being a cook was a big no-no in my family. I think the Department of Labor classified cooks along with sort of maids and household staff, so it was a very low esteemed job in the viewpoint of all my peers. And when I fell in love with cooking they were shocked, my friends, my parents, everybody was. But my attitude was, if I go and learn to this and it turns out this isn’t the way I want to make my living, how can I go wrong? I’m going to be a great cook for the rest of my life and that worked out so well. And of course, I don’t cook for a living but I never regretted getting into that.


But I think I got off track of your question which was—how did this attitude towards people get in to me? And how did it influence my restaurant industry? I think what is was,  in a way I saw some negative examples in the kitchens, the behind the scenes stuff, there’s a lot of stereotypes about chefs throwing things and cussing and things, a lot of that was true back in the 70’s. Sometimes, you learn the best lessons from the worst examples, and you say to yourself, “I’m never going to be that way.” And as a result of that you go all the way in the opposite way so that you become not a bad example but maybe you become a little bit of an example about how it should be done the way you should talk to people. A great example to that, Jim is when wait staff would come back to the kitchen they would order something and the customer had said that they wanted something special about it, no salt or extra this or whatever and a lot of times the cooks, they saw themselves as artist would get almost offended and they take it out on the servers that the customer wanted something special, so I had to intervene all the time and set the example that we were here for what the customers wanted, the servers were simply communicating what the customers wanted and that it was very important to me that we made the customers happy and the process were very respectful of the servers who requested these unusual things.


Jim Rembach:    I think what you’re talking about are some really—and we were on a call yesterday with the CXPA’s part of leader group. I think we all started talking about fundamentals. What you’re talking about is very fundamental in regards to being able to deliver a customer experience that will render prosperity. It just makes a lot of things easier and they flow much better when you reduce that whole need to create conflict. And I think that’s great example that you just shared right there about the whole transformation of what has occurred within the kitchen. 


Now, I know for you talking about even who your parents influence and just interacting with you that you do find things that are very inspirational and you share them quite often your great storyteller. On the show we focus on quotes because they do just that, they can inspire and tell great stories and oftentimes just a few words. Is there a quote for you the kind of stands out as one that has that depth and meaning and gives you drive?


Jack Mackey:    Yes. I learned it at an early age with a fellow who was interviewing with me. He was telling me about his career and I asked him what’s the best advice he had ever gotten, and he said: “If it can’t be done, it interests me. If it can’t be done, it interests me” and I have used that over and over again in my career as a way of challenging sales people, challenging leaders, and even in volunteer organization when I wanted people to do things beyond what we’re going to accomplish in the past. In fact, I used to use it as byline under my name for a while, “If it can’t be done, it interests me” and I think there’s a lot to that. Because it really speaks to this idea of loving the battle, you’ve got to embrace challenges. And, in fact, I bet everybody or lot of people have seen that poster of Mohammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston and that first round knockout and it basically said nothing is impossible. Then there was this great copy about how impossible is just a big work for small minded men that think more about the problems they face than how to change the world that’s been given to them. And at the end of the quote it turns around to from “Nothing is impossible to impossible is nothing.”


Jim Rembach:    Oh, that’s some great wisdom there, Jack. I know that when you start talking about looking at things that are supposedly impossible and it does actually have interest is that when we go down the path to pursue those things that we have humps to get over and there were so many different learnings that we can have within those homes because there’s failures as there’s wisdom that we capture for others. Can you think of a hump that you had to get over that added to you and to others?


Jack Mackey:    Well first of all, just a comment about failures. I was with a group of people once, where somebody started the conversation and said, “So, everybody’s always talking about their biggest successes tell me about your biggest failure? And everybody was dead silent and about ten things came to my mind and I said, “I can dominate this whole conversation, my life is littered with failures.” And I think, if you’re going to have a career that is challenging at all it’s going to be checked with disappointments and failures and even the occasional humiliation. I like what you said the other day, you just have to get back up, it’s no disgrace to fail or make mistake or lose, and in fact it’s going to happen. The balance is not to accept losing but to understand when you’re unable to succeed in spite of your best efforts. If you gave it your best effort you can’t turn on yourselves and beat yourself up, you got to get up and get back in the ring as you would say.


Jim Rembach:    Absolutely. I mean one of those things that I like is, until you’re dead you’re not done. I mean that to me the ultimate losing, so to speak. And for those of us that are of faith we know that’s not the end either so you always have chance to get back up.


Jack Mackey:     So true, but back to your question, I wanted to think of a story that involved me in a leadership role, cause there’s lots of personal challenges but that’s a little bit of a different set of skills to overcome personal challenges. In a leadership situation, I’ll never forget I was a member of a group called Toastmasters, in fact I still am a member. I founded a club here at SMG, I’ve been a member for a long time, I love public speaking. And I also like seeing people gain the confidence that comes with, not just speaking in public, but leading. And so, in the Toastmasters organization I ended up becoming the district governor out here in my part of country and one of things we do is put on an annual conference and that takes a lot of volunteers and you got to get people to volunteer to do things outside their comfort zone. I especially made it a challenge for everybody because the history in my district was we never got more than 100 people come to the conference no matter what we did. There was 1800 people get invited and 100 would come and that was a lot of work for 100 people. 


So I went to a national or regional conference of other district leaders and I heard about this one opted up in Wisconsin and they got 300 people to come to their conference. They did it by having the individual clubs pay one small fee and anybody as many people as where the club could attend versus having the individual members have to pony up extra money beyond their dues, and I thought that was brilliant. So, I challenge everybody, we’re going to have 300 people come to our conference, if it can’t be done it interests me, that’s how I introduced it. And so, a lot of people were skeptical but one fellow particular was in my eyesight as a guy who would be a great organizer of the event in terms of planning, I would handle the marketing but I need somebody that I could rely on in the planning and execution make sure the rooms were set up and 300 people is a big organizing challenge, and this guy’s name was Charlie Frost, I’m sure Charlie Frost won’t mind me using his name. 


So, Charlie and I went out one Saturday morning and our challenge was, we had to first of all go and vat a couple of hotels and figure out which one we would choose. Charlie picked me up and the first thing he said when I got in the car he says, “Jack, the more I think about this, I don’t still think I’m going to be able to do this.” and I said “Well, good morning to you too Charlie, thanks for picking me up.” I said, “Okay, I get it you’re a little bit nervous, I was scared to death the first time I did this, as long as we’re up and we’re out let’s go ahead and go out to one of these hotels and just see what happens.” So, he tells the story that I just acted like I didn’t hear him say I quit before I start. 


So, we went out to one of the hotels and once we got in there and we started talking to the meeting planner and she took us into the room and saw the layout, he was very detail oriented, and when he starts to talk about the details he starts to organize and he got that and by the end of our visiting 3 hotels there was no talk about how he couldn’t do it or anything, and that was the most successful conference we ever had and I’ve been so proud of that and so proud of him. It just shows that sometimes adversity or fear brings the best out in you and I think that was a case for Charlie and I know it happened for me 


Jim Rembach:    I think there’s another thing for me that kind of stood out as you were saying that. And it wasn’t necessarily ignoring what Charlie was saying it was more so that you chunked it down for him. And then, you made it something that he didn’t have to feel like he was drinking from a firehose, it was something that he felt that he could take this one little incremental step at a time. And then, throughout the course of the days you were saying he was pulling and putting all of the other minor pieces together to make a major outcome, I think that was fantastic.


Jack Mackey:    Yeah, it’s kind of like swimming lessons, you don’t throw somebody and then ask them to swim the length of the pool. You stand in the pool and just ask him to take your hand and put their foot in the water. In that case that was a good leadership lesson for me.


 Jim Rembach:    Well I think that’s a good leadership lesson for all of us. Because I think too many times especially in today’s world where we just have so many things that we need to get done that we often don’t slowdown in order to get more accomplished.


Jack Mackey:    I agree with you, Jim. I also think that one of the requirements of being an effective leader is you not only have to believe in whatever it is you’re leading, you actually have to believe in the people that are on your team. So the fact that I actually, I picked Charlie, I hand-picked him, I believed he could do it I was ready to trust my reputation with him, I felt that way, so when he didn’t feel that way I think it was my beliefs that helped reset his belief about what he could do. And I think people rise to the level of expectations of the leader, that’s not a new idea that’s an old idea, and the reason it’s old is it sticks around because it’s true.


Jim Rembach:    Very much so, very much so. Okay, so if you started thinking about the experiences that you had not just as a leader but also as a follower because I don’t also see the situation Jack were you’re the person who has to grab the limelight, I don’t see that I mean you actually fall in with the group to help carry the group as a group member just as much as you are comfortable with standing in front and leading the way, so If you were to think about all of those experiences, if there was one piece of advice you’d give to the Legion what would it be ?


Jack Mackey:    I think it was advice about leadership, it would be: “it’s not about you.” It took me a while to come to that perspective because in my first career I was the typical leader in as much as I actually did know more about the topic than anyone else that worked for me. In fact, they came to work for me because they wanted to learn from me. And then, when I change and evolve my career in to the areas that I’ve been in since, which is mid-management training and consulting and customer experience management and leadership, once I got into that there was people there that knew a lot more than I did about a lot of different areas. So, this is where I’ve found that leadership needs to be much more collegial now because no one is looking to you for all the answers, in fact, a lot of times the best thing you add is asking the right questions and as you said, not insisting that you step in the limelight or that it always be your answer. 


So I learned that over time, it’s not like I’ve been that way my whole life just like you like everybody we all have to evolve. If you’ve ever been in a job where you actually wear the smartest, fastest, most knowledgeable in that area and people looked to you for leadership, that is a whole different kind of leadership than where you’re on cross functional team with a whole bunch of people with advanced degrees and areas that know ten times more than you and those specific areas and you have to pull them all together to deliver a result you need to find a way to make people want to work together, and you get that by respecting them, listening to them and a lot of times that means asking good questions.


Jim Rembach:    Thanks for sharing that wisdom. We talked about a lot of different things that you have going on, everything from your volunteer work to your actual work and being in that serial entrepreneur in regards to that type of energy and as well as some the creative things that were talking about, but if you are think about one thing right now the kind of gives you that energy and excitement, what is it?


Jack Mackey:    Gosh! I feel like I’m 21 years old from an emotional point of view. I don’t know where that comes from. I think I mentioned I’m turning 65 and so all my peers are that age too, and all of us whenever we get together for reunions or anything everybody says that the mind does not feel old the body feels sometimes old but the mind does not feel old so I’m blessed at there isn’t any secret that I’ve discovered it feels like it’s in my DNA, but I don’t feel like it’s exclusive to Jack Mackey, because everybody else I talk to that’s my age sort of feels, still feels young. Now, to keep that young feeling when you’re in a career situation where it’s not just a passion, people are relying on you so they need you to be energetic and focused and committed. What continues to turn me in is on, is I always find new things to try to learn and get better at, I guess that’s the key. 


Do you remember when you had your first job or a first job in a new career? You think back on those days when you’re first starting a job and you are learning so much so quickly that you can almost feel your mind expanding and you can almost feel yourself getting better, it’s just a matter of weeks and months of this massive growth. And when you think back about how great it feels early on a job like that, that is really what I try to recapture by taking on new challenges all the time and trying to learn new things and throw myself into situations where sometimes I’m actually nervous and scared, I try not to show that cause it makes my teammates nervous, but sometimes if I’m not nervous or scared for a couple weeks I just don’t feel like I’m challenging myself enough.


Jim Rembach:    Well, the Fast leader Legion wishes you the very best. Now before we move on, let’s get a quick word from our sponsor. 


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Alright! Now here we go Fast leader listeners, it’s time for the—Hump Day Hoedown. Okay Jack, the Hump day Hoedown is the part of our show where you give us good insights fast. So, I’m going to ask you several questions and your job is to give us a robust yet rapid responses that are going to help us move onward and upward faster.  Jack Mackey are you ready to Hoedown? 


Jack Mackey:    I’ll give it a shot man. If it can’t be done it interests me.


Jim Rembach:    Alright. So what do you think is holding you back from being an even better leader today?


Jack Mackey:    I don’t have the energy of a 21 year old. [Laugh]


Jim Rembach:    What is the best leadership advice you have ever received?


Jack Mackey:    Take people with you.


Jim Rembach:    What is one of your secrets that you believe contributes to your success?


Jack Mackey:    Start what you finish. Put things back in the same place. Stay organized. Just basic simple stuff, don’t get in front in your own way.


Jim Rembach:    What do you feel is one of your best tools that helps you lead in business or life?


Jack Mackey:    I just learned this tool three years ago, it’s called the Seinfeld strategy, want to hear it?


Jim Rembach:    Yes we do.


Jack Mackey:    Alright the Seinfeld strategy was somebody asked Jerry Seinfeld how did he make a billion dollars being funnyman, and he said that, the only way to tell better jokes is to write better jokes and the only way to write better jokes is to write a lot them and so he said I made a commitment that every day I was going to write jokes whether they were good bad ugly that was a secondary thing, I was going to write jokes every day. So I got myself a big yearly calendar and every day that I wrote jokes for an hour I put an X on the calendar and my challenge was to not break that chain of X’s and he said that, that strategy of committing to a daily activity that would cumulatively get you where you wanted to go and not break in the chain was the best reason why he is so successful. Ever since I heard that, I always use a calendar but I never use the X on each day to get myself a pat on the back for that activity, so I love that strategy.


Jim Rembach:    Good strategy. What would be one book you would recommend to our listeners?


Jack Mackey:    Good strategy, Bad strategy by a guy name Richard Rumelt. He’s a UCLA Professor of Strategy. Strategy is such a highfalutin word and everybody uses multisyllabic words to discuss it and he was really good at boiling it down. So, that’s the one I’d recommend for your leadership. But just for fun, I listen to audio books all the time. You got to listen to The Big Short by Michael Lewis who also did Money Ball that explains the whole financial crisis that we just went through again in a story format, fantastic audio book.


Jim Rembach:    Okay, Fast Leader legion, you can find links to that and other bonus information from our show by going to the show notes page for Jack and you’ll find that at Okay Jack, this is my last Hump Day Hoedown question: Imagine you were given the opportunity to go back to the age of 25 and you have been given the opportunity to take the knowledge and skills that you have back with you but you can’t take everything back you can only choose one, so what one piece of skill or knowledge would you take back with you and why?


Jack Mackey:    I would’ve never guessed, and therefore I would’ve taken this back with me. I would’ve never guessed when I was a young man that keyboard skills would matter so much. I passed up the opportunity in high school and college, I never ever got good at typing cause I never thought typing was going to matter and now everybody needs to communicate and you’re constantly typing, they don’t call it that anymore, so if I could do it all over again I would go back, I would learn to type a 120 or 130 words a minute and that would have advance my career a lot faster.


Jim Rembach:    I think I’m right there with you. Jack it was an honor to spend time with you today can you please share with the Fast leader Legion how they can connect with you?


Jack Mackey:    Oh! I’d love to. I’m on LinkedIn as Jack Mackey, easy to find and you can reach me at SMG, and my Twitter handle is JMakey5000.


Jim Rembach:    Jack Mackey thank you for sharing of knowledge and wisdom. The Fast Leader Legion honors you and thanks you for helping us get over the Hump. Woot! Woot!


Thank you for joining me on the Fast Leader show today. For recaps, links from every show, special offers and access to download and subscribe, if you haven’t already, head on over the so we can help you move onward and upward faster.