An Interview with John Mackey, President and CEO of The Mackey Group

John Mackey has been in the fire protection/life safety industry for more than 15 years, where he has key leadership roles for ANSUL, Tyco, and The Hiller Companies in Human Resources, Mergers, Acquisitions, as well as Integrating Companies, Service Operations, and Digital Strategies. Currently, John is the President & CEO of The Mackey Group, a fire protection industry consultancy and advisory group that focuses on developing growth strategies, M&A processes, and new technology.

1. What is your role at your company?

My company is in its startup phase, so I wear many hats – founder, president/CEO, sales, marketer, lead analyst, advisor, accountant, and dog walker.

2. Tell us about your family.

I am very blessed. Carrie, my wife of 29 years, and I have 3 adult children, Madison (27), Nolan (22), and Paige (21). Carrie is an owner and realtor of a real estate brokerage in our town, and each of the kids have set out to pursue their dreams, finishing college and new jobs. 

3. What was your dream job growing up?

At an early age I wanted to be a firefighter, then thought of becoming an air traffic controller or commercial airline pilot.

4. What was your first job?

Growing up on the south side of Chicago, I had paper routes and stocked shelves at a liquor store. However, my first real job was working for an electrical supply warehouse, then the US Navy, where I served for 8 years.

5. How did you get into the fire protection industry? Please describe your first job within the industry.

A recruiter called me and asked if I was interested in moving to Marinette, WI. My early career focused on various human resources roles where I worked in retail home improvement, manufacturing, and then a large American beer brewing company. I left the beer industry to join ANSUL as the Director of HR. I worked on Mark Vandover’s staff and led an 8-person HR team in ANSUL and Tyco Safety Product facilities across the US, Mexico, and Canada.

6. Over the course of your career, what has been the biggest change you have seen in the industry?

Compared to most, I’ve only been in the industry a short 15 years. In that time, the biggest change I’ve seen has been the different cycles of consolidation; first with OEMs and now the ongoing cycle for contractors. These examples may not capture the biggest change, but sure highlight that change is constant.

7. What do you love most about your job? Least?

In my current position, I can share my passion and knowledge about the industry with those that are trying to understand how its built and operates. These discussions also allow me to keep a finger on the pulse of the market and learn different perspectives from others in and around our industry. I want to create an environment where our industry is in a better place over the next 10 years than it was in the last 5, 10, or 15 years.

8. What is your favorite movie?

I have a few — Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan, and Miracle.

9. What is the best piece of advice that you were ever given?

Early in my career, one of my mentors encouraged me to learn as much about the business outside of the function I was in. This learning would set the tone for how I would offer solutions to client and customer challenges, and ultimately make me a better leader. This approach has allowed me to move outside of HR and into a number of different leadership roles across the OEM and Contractor space – including Strategy Development, Merger & Acquisition Integration, Sales & Business Development, Service Operations, and Development and Deployment of Technology.   

10. Who inspires you?

My wife — her ability to develop relationships with her friends, family, business partners, clients, and other resources is masterful. She’s an amazing listener, coach, and cheerleader for everyone she meets.

11. Who gave you your first break?

My first Commanding Officer, Captain Ralph Martin — while I was serving in the US Navy, I dealt with serious motion sickness and struggled to do my job every time we left port. I was in the early stages of being transferred to another duty station when the CO met with me to walk through my options – one of them was to stay the course and learn how to persevere and manage my condition while at sea. His encouragement and support allowed me the opportunity to become a better sailor, meet my responsibilities as a shipmate, and complete my enlistment.

12. Would you rather take an ocean, mountain, or lake vacation?

I live by the ocean, so I look forward to mountain and lake vacations.

13. If you had one “Do Over,” how would you use it?

I try not to look in the rear view and second guess myself — I can’t change the past. But I can learn from these earlier decisions and make better choices going forward. That said, I wouldn’t look for a “do over” but a “do sooner.” I would have started my own company sooner, taking firm control of my destiny.

14. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Living life to the fullest, doing things that bring me joy, and being around the people I love

15. What is your greatest fear?

Disappointing my family

16. What is the trait you most dislike in others?

People that are fake, not true to themselves, or not honest and trustworthy

17. Which living person do you most admire?

My wife, Carrie

18. What is your greatest extravagance?

My car

19. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

“A horse a piece,” “Hear me out,” and “So…”

20. What or who is the greatest love of your life? When and where were you happiest?

My wife — we met the summer before I left for the Navy 34 years ago and we developed a great friendship while I was away. We’ve been married 29 years now and have been on a challenging, rewarding, and fun journey.

21. Which talent would you most like to have?

I wish I was a scratch golfer.

22. What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

My family

23. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

My daughter’s dog — she’s spoiled, gets to sit on everyone’s lap, and be pet all day long

24. Where would you most like to live?

Next to a lake, on a mountain

25. What is your most treasured possession?

Our home because it’s the gathering place for our family and friends

26. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

I’m an upbeat, positive person and focus on the bright side of most situations. However, I’ve felt miserable when family and close friends have passed away — my mom, my father-in-law, my sister-in-law, and grandparents. Even in those situations I try to focus on the positive — the good those people brought into my world and the lasting impression they left behind.

27. What do you most value in your friends?

The opportunity to have lots of fun and plenty of laughs

28. Who are your favorite writers?

I prefer to read biographies/auto biographies on influential people, so these authors differ. Two recent books I’ve read include The Immortal Irishman, The Story of Thomas Meagher by Timothy Egan and Maverick, the Biography of Thomas Sowell by Jason Riley.

29. Who are your heroes in real life?

Anyone who has served in the US Military and those that serve our communities through the Police & Fire Departments

30. What are your favorite names?

Carrie, Madison, Nolan, & Paige

31. What is your motto?

This has changed over time. Right now, it’s “Do it! Just f@$&ing do it!”

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