“Publishing my book meant going public with information I’d kept private most of my life. People would find out I was an orphan, my father was a drug-dealing pimp, I was abused and neglected as a child, I spent time in juvie, and I don’t have a college degree. I overcame those obstacles with a simple and powerful realization: those details from my past aren’t weaknesses. They’re advantages.”
JT McCormick is the President and CEO of Scribe Media, a publishing company that helps you write, publish and market your book. The company has worked with more than 1,000 authors. and Entrepreneur Magazine recently ranked Scribe’s as having the Top Company Culture in America.
Previously, JT was the President of Headspring Software, which he helped grow to a multimillion-dollar, 100-plus person company that was repeatedly ranked as one of the best places to work in all of Texas.
JT is also the author of I Got There: How I Overcame Racism, Poverty, and Abuse to Achieve the American Dream. His book tells the story of how he worked his way out of poverty, starting with his career cleaning toilets and eventually becoming the President of multiple companies.
In addition to his role at Scribe Media, JT has mentored at-risk youth in the juvenile justice system, as well as youth in low economic communities. JT’s work has been featured on CNBC, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Inc, and many others. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Megan, and their four children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Thank you for having me! My father was a drug dealer and pimp who fathered 23 children, and my mother was an orphan who grew up in an institution. I know that much, but I have no idea where my last name comes from.
My first job out of high school was scrubbing toilets for a restaurant called Po Folks. Seriously. I still shake my head at that name because I joke that my mom and I were so poor we couldn’t afford the o and the r — we were just po.
But I hustled my way into better opportunities, eventually becoming the CEO of a software company, Headspring, despite not knowing how to write a single line of code. Then I wrote my book with Scribe Media (Book in a Box at the time). I fell in love with the company, the culture, and the mission of Unlocking the World’s Wisdom, so I came on to lead the Tribe.
Now I’m the CEO of a company that writes and publishes books, and I don’t know the difference between an adverb and a pronoun.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Our co-founders were in an intense shouting match. They’d already spent 45 minutes of our weekly executive meeting arguing over this one issue. I had to stop them before they could snap on each other like a couple of dogs breaking off their chains.
The subject? Which protein bars we should buy for the office.
I had to intervene to get us back on track. “Damn,” I said. “Is this what you spent your time on before I got here — protein bars? You two needed me more than I thought HaHa!”
Frankly, the debate hasn’t ended (between them), but at least now we spend our executive meetings driving results, rather than discussing protein bars.
What was your biggest challenge to date either personally or professionally and how did you overcome it?
Really quickly: I don’t see it as an “either-or” professional or personal obstacle I overcame. My biggest challenge to date was all-encompassing — it was both professional and personal.
Here’s why: it came when we made the decision to make my book public. I originally thought my book would only be a legacy for my family. But my friend Tucker (Scribe’s co-founder) helped convince me to share my book with the world beyond my family.
It wasn’t an easy decision. Publishing my book meant going public with information I’d kept private most of my life. My background would be out in the open. People would find out I was an orphan, my father was a drug-dealing pimp, I was abused and neglected as a child, I spent time in juvie, and I don’t have a college degree.
I overcame those obstacles with a simple and powerful realization: those details from my past aren’t weaknesses. They’re advantages. Because of my unique past, I could look at every so-called “self-made millionaire” with an MBA and a rich father and say to myself, “I am truly self-made.” Once I realized that, my past was no longer something to hide — it’s part of what makes me successful.
That’s not to say I don’t struggle owning that sometimes. Trust me, I do. I still catch myself referring to I Got There as “the book,” rather than “my book.” But like all things, I’m working to improve all the time.
What does leadership mean to you and how do you best inspire others to lead?
Leadership in its truest form is servant leadership. You cannot lead unless you are serving, and in my opinion the role of leadership at its core is to serve and support the people you lead by way of teaching, coaching, and mentoring with the ultimate goal of growing more leaders.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My mother is the person who helped me the most. Although she didn’t teach me business lessons, she taught me the lessons of perseverance and never giving up, which have in turn helped me in business.
Even though my mother and I were learning many of life’s lessons at the same time, she taught me two very important things:
1) Never judge anyone, because everyone has a story and you don’t always know it.
2) Sometimes necessity has an ugly face.
Was it difficult to fit your life into your business/career and how did you do that?
No, it isn’t difficult for me because I’ve never had to fit one into the other. Work is a part of life, and everything I do in my life comes down to 5 categories:
If an activity doesn’t fall within one of those 5 categories, I don’t do it.
Perfect example: I love to play golf, but it takes 4 hours to play a round. I would rather have that time to spend with my family or study the craft of investing. Therefore, even though golf could fit into my health category, I don’t play.
Did you find that as your success grew it became more difficult to focus on the other areas of your life?
I didn’t find it more difficult — I found I needed to be more focused. Here’s what I mean: as I became more successful, I had to be even more intentional with my time. Again, I don’t separate work success from life success. It’s all life success.
I’ll take it back to those 5 categories: if I let one of those 5 categories slip, then I’m not truly successful. So as Scribe grows, and as my family grows (we just welcomed our 4th child, Jace, to the world), I need to focus even more on how I allocate my time to those categories, without disregarding any one of them.
Can you share some pieces of advice to other leaders about how to achieve the best balance between work and personal life?
What I’ve found is that asking questions not only helps you learn quickly, but it also helps you discover where other people are BS’ing. It’s such a simple and powerful tool, yet most people are afraid to utilize it.
What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment and pride?
My family. No matter what I accomplish in business, my greatest accomplishment will always be my family. I did not repeat the upbringing I had, and that has made all the difference.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
This’ll sound crazy, but hear me out: I would do my own version of show and tell for high schools.
We know for a fact that 40% of all graduating students don’t go on to college. So they miss out on that opportunity. On top of that, we never teach them the fundamentals of life skills.
We don’t send them into the world with the knowledge they need to succeed. They don’t even know how to do a handshake.
So I would show them how to shake a hand, and tell them why it’s important.
I’d show them attention to detail, and tell them why it’s so easy to overlook.
I’d show them what a wealth advisor (or any other career) does, and tell them how to become it.
I’d show them a job application, and teach them how to fill it out.
In short, this movement is to prepare students for a better life after high school by teaching them life’s essential skills.
We could improve lower economic communities in particular if we would just show them what is possible. You don’t know what you don’t know. If all you’ve ever seen is poverty, you won’t know how to get out of that cycle and achieve anything else. Unless someone comes in and shows you.
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About the author: Jacob Rupp is a coach, author, speaker, podcaster, and rabbi. He is the founder of Lift Your Legacy, a community that helps people live a more authentic life. He has a regular, syndicated column that appears in ThriveGlobal and Medium magazine. To learn more about him or to listen to the Lift Your Legacy podcast, search iTunes or visit his site: liftyourlegacy.live