It seems as though Jay McCargo has always known what he wanted out of life. He not only knew what he wanted his life to become, but he determined very early on that he would never let anything stop him from attaining his dream. Like the bulldozers and front-end loaders that he drove in the summer for his father’s excavating and landscaping business, Jay made his plan and was determined that nothing would stand in his way.
Jay’s plan included a good education, developing multi-faceted relationships and business experience, and finding the right opportunity to take on the ownership of a company – a recipe for success.
Some forty years later, as the President and CEO of ARServices, a company that provides information technology, human capital management, and management consulting services to federal government agencies, Jay has achieved that dream and is creating new dreams for the future.
Methodically following his plan, Jay graduated from the University of Rhode Island, majoring in English and Political Science, with the intention to attend law school.
“I had a lot of mentors in my life who were very smart and successful people, who took the time to talk to me and give me advice. One thing that I understood going into college, and that they stressed to me, was that, no matter what a person may know from a functional perspective, they have to be able to express themselves in a written and oral format and understand other people,” Jay explains, “So you may be very bright, but if you cannot express the value of what you do or communicate the urgency of that to other people and understand people that are trying to tell you that they either need your help or you need their help, then you are dead in the water. So that’s what drove me to my college majors.”
After graduating, Jay worked for a brief time as a legislative assistant before he came on-board at Automation Research Systems as a technical writer.
Automation Research Systems, founded over 30 years ago, was the predecessor company of ARServices. It was created by Jay’s uncle, Albert Spaulding, after his retirement from the Army. Albert’s background in acquisition and program management and his wife, Virginia’s, background in human resources formed the perfect combination to provide out-sourced services and support for government and commercial businesses. A true start-up, Albert and Virginia used their spare bedroom as the company’s initial headquarters, building the company to over 450 employees with $60 million annual revenue.
After Jay had been working for his uncle for about a year, Albert approached him with an offer that reset the trajectory of his future.
Jay recalls, “He came up to me and said, ‘I know you’re about to start law school, but if you would work for me full-time and go to business school part-time to pursue an MBA degree, the company will pay for a part of it for you.’ The offer was extremely generous and considering how expensive law school was going to be, I decided to take him up on it.”
Jay agreed and attended American University in Washington, DC graduating with an MBA degree.
After obtaining his MBA, with his uncle’s blessing, Jay branched off to work in other companies, such as AT&T, Verizon, and Unisys to broaden his experience and knowledge-base. Systematically working his way up through both small and large organizations, Jay continued to gain the experience and acumen that he would need to eventually fulfill his dream of business ownership.
“Early on in my career I knew that someday I wanted to own my own government-centric business, so I tried to build my career to that end. So I thought to myself, ‘Let’s look at the type of skills and competencies that you need to gather and pick up along the way and then make a plan to obtain them’. So all of the stops that I’ve made and the things that I’ve done, I’ve tried to orient myself and prepare myself for the chair that I’m sitting in today.”
Born and raised in Cape May Court House, New Jersey (a tourist spot and fishing region) Jay was the youngest of three siblings. His mother was an educator and social worker and his father and grandfather were successful entrepreneurs who owned and ran an excavating and landscape business, a retail seafood market, and garden center. Jay learned at their feet.
“I come from a culture of business ownership and entrepreneurship. My father and my grandfather were both excavating contractors, my father also owned a retail gardening center, a seafood market, and my uncle and aunt started the predecessor company to ARServices, I just grew up around people and family that owned their own businesses.”
Working at his father’s business in the summers not only helped to shape Jay’s future plans for business ownership but also provided him with insight into business relationships and how to work with people at all levels.
“Working with my dad, it helped build and shape my future goals a lot, because I saw how a business owner in a small town was treated and respected by others. I learned a lot from my father because I would watch him in different business situations from when he was dealing with people that worked for him to when he was dealing with a developer that might be running a project that was building twenty homes. I saw how my father talked to these individuals, how he dealt with them, and the level of respect that he got from them, it really helped me a lot in my career.”
Jay returned to ARServices early in 2007. After being given the opportunity to move up in the senior executive ranks with his current employer, AT&T, Jay had a lunch with his uncle who again made him an offer that he couldn’t refuse.
“I went to lunch with my uncle wanting to pick his brain about mergers and acquisitions and what I should look at in the process of buying a company. He gave me some insights on transactions (during his career my uncle acquired and sold several companies) but then he said, ‘Jay, you know my company pretty well, you know many of the people that work there, you have knowledge of our reputation in the market. I’m thinking about what my exit strategy is going to be; why don’t you take a look at this company and you can come aboard here in the president role, you can see it from the inside out, see if this works and we can work out an acquisition strategy.’ Well I certainly wasn’t expecting that when I sat down with him for lunch.”
Jay stepped into the role of president and continued the family tradition of growing and building successful businesses. When asked about his business model, Jay lays out the four driving principles for his company: Agility, Reliability, Success, and Integrity.
“In terms of agility, you have to be flexible and adaptable when running a business. You need to be agile so that if a key component is delayed or plans change, you can still deliver the product or service that you have promised your client on time and within budget. That leads to the next principle which is reliability. You have to have a consistent work ethic and always do what you say that you’re going to do; otherwise your clients won’t stick around. Success and analytics go hand-in-hand because measure of success means that you have a drive for excellence and that you recognize and appreciate success in others around you. Analytics is truly understanding your company and having a series of ways that you can measure performance and success in order to benchmark against your past performance or your competitor’s performance or other elements within your company. If you are unable to accurately measure the critical elements of success in an organization it’s like you’re walking around with your eyes closed hoping that you don’t fall into an open manhole. The last one is commitment to integrity. The people that I have seen who are successful and that I admire are business people of integrity. Even if the honesty does not make you feel good, it was the right thing. They deal with others with truth in their actions and in how they run their business and interact with the world.”
Jay’s plan for his life wasn’t limited to the professional arena and, as if right on cue, he met and married the woman of his dreams, Bridget McCargo, who became his confidante and support system. After the birth of their daughter, Bridget stayed at home and took care of their children and household.
“We very much had a traditional marriage. She would give me wonderful and always very well thought-out advice about decisions that I needed to make and opportunities that would come up. In fact, she was the impetus for me stepping into the President role with ARServices. She said, ‘You’re ready’ and she was right.”
Then suddenly and tragically, one evening, three years ago, Bridget went to sleep and never woke up. A cerebral hemorrhage took her away from Jay and her two children. Their lives would never be the same again.
“The hardest thing I ever did in my life was that first night when I knew that Bridget was not going to recover was going home and driving her car home with our children in it, knowing that we were never all going to be together again and knowing that I was going to have to sit them down in our house and talk to them about it. Going through that, it gives you perspective. It shows you that this other stuff, though it’s important, pales in comparison. Dealing with Bridget’s loss and helping my kids deal with their mother’s passing, losing who I feel is the best mother in the world, it has changed me. It has made me put things into perspective and helped me to know what’s important.”
What is important to Jay is the happiness and well-being of those close to him, and realizing the gift of time that we are given with one another.
Reflecting on that gift and recognizing how important the time and advice he was given by many mentors throughout his life, Jay attributes much of his success to that mentoring, “I’ve been very lucky in having access to highly successful, insightful, and caring mentors who took an interest in my life. My father, uncle, and grandfather, Sonny Jones (a close friend of my dad’s), my fifth grade teacher, Marie Chester, and my aunts Virginia Spaulding and Elizabeth Willis who both encouraged me in different ways. My head coach in college football, Robert Griffin taught me the importance of being prepared and the interconnectedness of life and people. So many caring and selfless people who helped shape my life.”
The mentors who guided Jay along the way helped inspire his current aspiration to start an organization to create access and opportunity for the next generation.
“I am the man that I am because of the people who took a real interest in my life at a very young age. They did not have to do that. Now I can take that knowledge and help to build a professional and financial platform that can be carried forward. To have an organization that allows and provides access, opportunity and exposure to those who might not receive it otherwise. I truly believe that, because I received this opportunity, I need to pass it on. To keep it moving…”
Jay’s advice to new graduates and young people entering the workforce is to pay attention as they start in a new company and to take a position aligned with one of three areas within the business: Production/Operations, Sales/Marketing or Finance.
“If you look at the CEO’s and the other highly compensated and key leaders in companies, they come from one of three core areas. The other functions and departments in a company are good and necessary, and I’m not saying that it’s not very important to have an understanding of those areas, but the people who are leaders in one of those areas will always be leaders. They are the true thought leaders of an organization. They are part of the ‘secret sauce’ of the organization.”
Step by step, goal by goal, Jay McCargo created the life he envisioned as a youth. The owner of a successful business, proud and strong family man, and now with plans to develop an organization for teaching and mentoring the future generations, Jay has truly attained his goals. A hard working and respected business man with an entrepreneurial spirit and a plan of action that has never failed, Jay McCargo kept it moving and achieved his dreams.