Plaid: Women Leaders Series: An Interview with Entrepreneur Sheila Jackson
An Interview with Sheila Jackson
Principle Transportation Group and
JA Jackson Construction
Sheila, let’s start at the beginning. Where were you born?
On an army base in Fort Riley, KS. My mom had gone to visit my dad, I guess I had decided I wanted to pay him a visit as well. As soon as the doctors released us both from the hospital on base we returned “home” to San Jose, CA.
Do you have any siblings?
I was an only child until much later in life. After my parents divorced my dad remarried and I have a half brother and sister who live in Arizona
What was your childhood like?
During my early childhood, growing up in Northern California was fun for me. It was beautiful. As a family we spent a lot of time outdoors, camping and boating. My aunt and uncle owned an Arabian horse ranch in Hollister, CA and I got to spend my summers with them on the ranch, riding and grooming horses. As far back as I can remember, I have had a love for animals. All the time we spent outdoors, I regularly came across tree frogs and lizards. I was devastated when I attempted to catch a lizard and accidentally pulled part of its tail off. Only after my mom told me they grow back, was I able to sleep that night. I didn’t have cousins to hang with so spending my summers on the ranch, dogs and horses were my buddies. Those times represent some of my fondest memories.
Up to the age of nine, other than when I was in school, I spent most of my time with my adult family who were successful, hardworking entrepreneurs.
We spent a lot of time with my dad’s family. We’re Italian, so eating was at the center of most things we did together. My grandfather migrated from Italy. To others he was a shrewd businessman and not one to disappoint. To me he was loving, kind and generous. He would take me for ice cream, walks and talks. He owned a car but rarely drove anything other than his bike.
So, when I was around him we walked…everywhere. Ice cream is a powerful motivator and he knew it. Besides that, I remember many conversations around my grandparent’s dinner table with my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. The conversation always centered on the same two topics; food and money. At a very young age, I learned and accepted three important beliefs; hard work pays, keep your eyes open for opportunities and money matters. What is so wonderful about my upbringing is that I learned to be a go-getter.
Who were the most influential people in your childhood?
My mom and dad, my Grandma and Grandpa Volpe, my Aunt Lynn, my best friend Billy Jo and a horse named Loui
Was there a pivotal moment in your childhood that impacted you as an adult?
There were two – when my dad decided to make a career change and moved us to Chicago and when my dad left me and my mom (I was 13 years old) and my parents divorced.
Where did you go to college?
Like many high school graduates, I didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life so I began being a bit rebellious, exercising my independence. It started with me seeing a guy I met the night of graduation. My dad lived in Arizona by this time and it was just me and my mom. Let’s just say she did not approve. I kept the part-time job I had while in high school and once I graduated, I moved out on my own, started college in Fort Worth at Tarrant County College, taking classes in business administration. Much later I continued my education through Cornell University.
What did your early career path look like?
I’ve always worked. My parents felt strongly that I needed to understand the value of money and what it takes to have the things you want to have. When I was a child it was chores around the house and as soon as I was old enough to have a job, I got one. Early on I had very little awareness of what kind of career I wanted. It can be a daunting question at 16, 17, and 18…”What do you want to do for the rest of your life?” What I was exposed to was business building and hard work.
At 19 I was pregnant. I was not married and I was raised Catholic. So, I got married, put my education on hold and up to the day Bo was born I worked full-time as a commission sales associate for Foley’s Department Store.I didn’t know what I was doing. When my doctor told me I was pregnant I was still a kid myself. My mom said something to me that I will remember as if it happened yesterday. “Sheila, you were old enough to get yourself into this position, you are old enough to figure this out and take care of this baby.” After that, I never had another thought that I wouldn’t be able to do it. And, what I knew was I had someone else to take care of now.
Once Bo was born, I quickly realized the marriage was a mistake. I knew I could take care of my son on my own. Bo’s dad was absent and it wasn’t love so my decision was easy. His dad gave me the greatest love of my life but I did not have those feelings for him, my husband, so I set out applying for administrative positions and was quickly hired for an Executive Assistant position with a property management firm headquartered in New York with offices in the mid-cities. This better suited my new role as a mother. Before Bo was one, it became just the two of us
I was too young to know anything about sexual harassment at work, but when your boss asks you to come into his office and then pulls you onto his lap to take dictation, it’s time to go. So I did, and that is where my career in the medical and dental field started. I opened up a phone book and asked for what I wanted, a job that led to positions as office administrator for some well-respected doctors in Arlington. After fourteen years, I was recruited by a national firm out of Los Angeles, California to serve a national practice management consultant for doctors. I loved it, helping many doctors build their businesses.
How did you get into the Transportation Logistics and Commercial Construction Industries?
The company I was working for was being acquired. I had past experience (with the company taking over) and it became well known that I would be asked to travel more than the 12 days a month I had been. Being a single parent, I wasn’t willing to be away from home, traveling more for work. Most of the opportunities I had meant traveling and then a friend said to me, I want to introduce you to a gentleman out of Dallas. He owns a trucking company and would like to grow a brokerage division of the business. You would be perfect for it AND, you wouldn’t have to travel.
I’m sure the look on my face was one of confusion when I said, “You do realize I know nothing about that industry and I didn’t play with Tonka trucks growing up?” I spent a couple of days observing the operations and with a phone and strong desire to stay home with my son and make money, I grew a multi-million dollar boutique transportation brokerage business.
Transportation transported me right into the arms of my husband. Joe and I met at the gym. I was teaching indoor cycling at 5am and Joe joined the class. Over time, we learned more about one another, including the work each one of us did. Joe was a Sr. Project Manager for a very well-known construction company in Fort Worth. He ended up hiring me to work with him on a construction project. Working with him is where I fell in love with him. I knew then, Joe was different and that he, of all people needed to do what he does under his own brand, building his own company. In 2011, we did. JA Jackson Construction was founded and has grown year-over-year.
You and your husband Joe are partners in life and in business. Tell us how you two keep things separate and what you like most about working together
Great question. It’s not easy, but for us it’s fairly simple. Joe and I are both equally committed to each other, family, friends and our community. That’s the foundation. Beyond that we are both very success driven. In our younger days, the driven part may have caused some challenges and we may have gotten in each other’s way. We’ve lived long enough that we “get” one another. We don’t always agree BUT we do agree to hear (not just listen but hear) the others point of view and feelings on whatever the subject may be.
Our commitment to communicate, give one another the space each needs to grow while supporting one another in our varied roles has been the secret to our relational success at home and at the office. With Joe I have learned that true partnerships can exist in the home and in the office
You have some large iconic companies as clients. What did it take to secure the business?
It took persistence, exceeding expectations and being known for such. We aren’t the biggest – we are the best. People want to do business with people they can count on to have their best interest in mind at all times and behavior that consistently follows. Talk is cheap. It’s what you do or don’t do that people remember.
What challenges have you experienced (and overcome) being a woman leader in predominantly male dominated businesses? How I’ve Overcome Challenges:
(1) Knowing my strengths and learning where my blind spots are. (2) Building teams and relationships with trustworthy people whose strengths are different than my own. (3) Knowing your audience –research, do your due diligence. “Don’t chum the waters when you’re swimming with sharks”.
What are your greatest strengths as a leader?
My ability to execute and implement solutions. I have the ability to “catch” an idea and make it a reality. My desire to learn and continuously improve. The process of learning about people, places and things excites me and my commitment to stable values such as honesty and loyalty.
What is your proudest moment to date as a business owner?
My proudest moment as a business owner was 3 ½ years ago when my son recognized we could use some help in the business. He asked if he could help and would I teach him what I know. He has been a true gift from God in more ways than I can count.
Who are some professional heroes of yours?
My professional heroes are John Maxwell and Logan Stout. I have tremendous respect and admiration for the way these two men have grown mega corporations while maintaining a faith first culture.
Who are your personal heroes?
My mom. She was very hurt when my dad left us. At the time, I was a kid and she never really let on just how hurt she was. Only as I got older did I begin to understand just how strong a woman she was and is. She always did her best to keep us together and take care of me. My husband Joe is a personal hero. He is my rock, my best friend and partner in life and business. With him, I experience what real love and partnership is, every day.
What do you attribute your business success to?
Doing what’s right…consistently. Or that could be framed up as doing what I say I’m going to do even when it’s the last thing I want to do.
What is the part about your job you love the most?
The people. Providing a working environment that facilitates professional and personal growth
You are coming out with a book next year. What is the focus?
What is “ideal” for one isn’t necessarily ideal for another. I think as women, we need to really be okay with that for ourselves and then we need to find it in our hearts to really be okay with that for other women, even when that “ideal” looks very different from what we have known. Acceptance first and then, together, we can make a big impact on the world around us.
You are running for Woman of the Year for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Tell us about that and the fund raising event on April 27th in the Fort Worth Stockyards.
It’s an honor to have been nominated for 2017 Woman of the Year for LLS. The Man & Woman of the Year campaign is a spirited fund raising event honoring local children surviving blood cancer. On April 27th, 2017 I am co-hosting a super fun event at Stockyards Station. People from all over will spend an afternoon with peers, hearing from two outstanding servant leaders from North Texas, Logan Stout and Dr. Rick Rigsby. They will be able to network and meet new people from the community, play and win great raffle prizes, eat some delicious tamale shots and other goodies thanks to The Tamale Company who has graciously offered to cater the event. The event is going to help raise money to support children and families in our community who are battling one the scariest diseases of all, cancer. This event promises to be so much fun and one where you will grow personally and professionally while making a difference in the lives of people who need help.
Can you leave us with your favorite quote?
I have more than one favorite quote. If I must choose one, it’s:
“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud” ~ Maya Angelou
For more information, check out these links:
Premiere Transportation Group – http://www.p-tg.com/
JA Construction – http://jajacksonconstruction.com/
Fire Up the Saddle Event – https://fireup.yapsody.com/event/index/65266/fire-up-the-sadd
Contact Information for Sheila Jackson – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org