Shy Jack Long thinks big about business, charity and more
Out & About
When Jack Long wanted to start a business, he didn't summon a creative staff, pick synergistic teams and lead brainstorming sessions.
"I went to my little office," Long says with a gentle, endearingly goofy smile. "I put on my thinking cap to think, think, think."
It worked. Long, 53, an Austin entrepreneur, philanthropist, teacher and pilot, achieves big things simply by doing them cheaper and better. He has started at least two booming businesses and one admired charity while passing along his wisdom to students at the Acton School of Business and flying his jet for worthy causes.
Where's the oversized personality that usually goes with such signal achievements? Sitting across a smooth, round table inside the trimly corporate Atlantic Aviation building, Long looks more like the amiable dad who heads up the church picnic than a captain of industry.
Born in Knoxville, Tenn., Long was a shy kid and something of a slacker in high school.
"I was a terrible introvert," he says. "Still am. But introverts can power through and be extroverted when they need to be."
During his third year at the University of Richmond, a secular liberal arts college in Richmond, Virginia, the light blinked on.
"Once I got to business classes, it all changed," he says. "My wife calls me a late bloomer."
One influential professor engineered his late entry into the Vanderbilt University graduate business program. That's where he met his wife, Carolyn Adams Long. Here's how nondescript Jack Long was in youth: He and his wife actually attended the same Tennessee middle school. "She can remember every other student except me," he jokes.
The couple worked in the banking sector in Nashville and Houston. They scrimped and saved so that once Carolyn Long landed a secure job, her husband could take time off to "think, think, think."
"I always had an entrepreneurial drive," Jack Long says. "My wife says it's because I'm not a team player."
Long went through several business ideas before coming up with Lone Star Overnight. He started the miniature Federal Express with Gary Gunter, a fellow Southwest Airlines groupie who applied that company's regional strategy — skipping the hub-and-spoke system — to package delivery. The business partners raised money in $25,000 chunks, then planted the service in Austin and shipped their first package in 1991.
Lone Star got off to a rocky start, but customers loved it. After three rounds of capitalizing, it broke even in less than two years and has made a profit every month since then, Long says. He sold his Lone Star interests in 1997.
After a hated stint as CFO for a larger company, Long tried to ride the dot-com boom with a home-delivery grocery company. His next move, however, triumphed. He started PeopleAdmin, which provides software for college human resources departments.
"They were still doing everything on paper and by committee," he says. "They were wearing out copy machines. They were drowning in paper."
In 2000, he put all his chips in PeopleAdmin, which ended up being used in more than 600 colleges and universities. In August 2008, he sold 70 percent of his interest in that startup. But he couldn't stop.
"It's just too much fun starting new companies," he says, with the look of a kid eyeing the latest toy.
When the Longs bet on Lone Star, they quit their jobs, had their first child, moved to Austin, bought their first house and started a new business over the course of seven or eight months. They live in a Pemberton Heights house, and their two children are in college.
Carolyn, who started volunteering 22 years ago, is the outgoing chairwoman of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center board of directors. Both are involved with St. Stephens Episcopal School, the Nature Conservancy of Texas and Breakthrough Austin, which helps out low-income students who will be the first in their families to attend college.
The couple started Emerging Scholars as a link for highly motivated students between Breakthrough Austin and St. Stephen's.
"A lot of kids' families look at college costing $50,000 and prep $20,000 and they say: ‘There's no way we can afford it, so why should we even try?' " Long says. "We talk to sixth-graders and tell them: ‘There's going to be a lot of work before you cross the stage graduating for college. But if you are willing to work hard, money won't be a problem.' "
The Longs completely funded the first phase and just raised $3 million for the second phase.
"It's probably the most rewarding thing we have ever done," he says, grateful that others contributors agree. "If something is a good idea, other people should be able to support it."
What about the teaching gig? He'd always heard that entrepreneurship could not be taught. An investor introduced Long to Jeff Sandefer, the businessman who expanded the University of Texas MBA program to train entrepreneurs in the late 1990s. As has been recorded often elsewhere, Sandefer and his colleagues, who taught by the case-based method, left UT in 2001 and started Acton in 2003. Sandefer later advised Gov. Rick Perry on possible radical changes to higher education.
"Introverts are not natural case method teachers," Long admits. "It's difficult for me. We teach cases in all different industries, so I get to learn a lot. I think we make a big difference in students lives."
If all that were not enough, he volunteers to fly emergency services to crisis areas like Haiti and transports rare animals to breed. He's also taking one course per semester in astrophysics at UT.
"I'm hoping to graduate at the same time as our daughter," he says "My biggest problem in life is feeling guilty about how lucky I've been."
Contact Michael Barnes at email@example.com or 445-3970