Focus on Leadership: Doug Jackson, president and CEO of Cali, has built a career on relationships – November 2022
Interview by Kemp Harr
Doug Jackson, a third-generation Californian, played football for Chapman University in Orange, California before joining Tuftex early in his career. He stayed on with the company as it was acquired by Queen and then Shaw, for a tenure of 21 years in total. Doug transitioned to Cali as chief revenue officer in 2017. He was named president of the organization the same year and CEO in 2018. In 2021, Cali was acquired by U.K.-based Victoria.
Doug and his wife, Sharon, live in San Clemente. They have two grown children, a daughter and a son. Doug, a surfer, loves the California culture and is pleased to be a part of a company that both represents and lives by that laid-back yet productive lifestyle.
Q: Tell us how you ended up focusing your career in the floorcovering business.
A: My fraternity brother’s dad was good friends with the original owner of Tuftex, which was later bought by Queen and then Shaw. It was one of my first jobs out of college, and I realized very quickly it was a business based on relationships. I hold relationships near and dear to my heart. Through them, you find success, growth and lifelong friendships. Thinking both about the driving force of the brand we’re building at Cali and how I operate as a leader, that’s what it boils down to: every win is owed to relationships.
Q: Why did you focus on media studies and communications in college?
A: I went to Chapman primarily to play football. Over my four years there, I realized I wasn’t going to be taking football to the next level, and communications seemed like a natural path to a future in coaching or sales. Those two paths are actually very much linked; I’ve found many helpful parallels between sports and running an organization.
Q: How did your 21 years at Shaw Industries prepare you for your leadership role at Cali?
A: Shaw is a great company centered around people. During my time there, I watched the team grow and saw how Shaw developed what is now their leadership team today. My years there were fantastic. My biggest learning was how to help people be the best they can be and how to clear the runway so they can thrive and do their finest work. I left for an opportunity at what was then a small company in San Diego, where I would have the chance to grow something. It felt true to my roots. Part of my time at Shaw was spent growing its West Coast brand, Tuftex, so it was an easy transition for me to work with a brand that represented an authentic California identity and to help develop that presence.
Q: What were a few of your proudest moments at Shaw?
A: Over my time both at Shaw and Cali, I’ve been most proud to help people grow and watch them thrive in their careers. I’ve been fortunate enough to see colleagues become leaders at both companies. It really is one of the greatest achievements you can experience as an executive-to create stepping stones that allow people to do their best, thereby creating a future generation of leaders.
Q: Tell us the story about joining Cali.
A: A headhunter had been calling me about a position at this small bamboo company in San Diego. I wasn’t that interested at first, but they called again when I was at UC Davis with my son for a football recruiting event, and I finally opted to set up an interview. On the drive down to San Diego, I decided against it and tried to cancel, but Jeff Goldberg, the co-founder and CEO at the time, encouraged me to just come down to meet them. So I did, and I began to see the offer as a real possibility. They were fellow surfers and lived an authentic West Coast lifestyle, which resonated with me. Plus, it presented a new challenge with a lot of potential. I realized that at that point in my career, Cali needed me, and I needed Cali. I just didn’t see the path at Shaw that I saw at this small but growing company, and to have the chance to help guide a new team to serious success was a major opportunity I couldn’t turn down.
Q: Describe the Cali culture. What do you do as a leader to build this culture?
A: The Cali culture is deeply focused on an authentic California lifestyle. The culture and the lifestyle are intertwined. Our team works in flip-flops, and most everyone partakes in a casual, outdoor, athletic routine. This isn’t to say we’re sloppy or not hardworking. There’s a natural drive here that’s fueled by the freedom we have to live authentically. The best thing about the Cali culture is that it’s focused on allowing people to do their best work. Cali has gathered a highly skilled group of professionals who aren’t burdened by how things should be done but are focused on how things could be done.
Q: When you are working with customers or prospective employees, how do you turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’?
A: That’s a really interesting question because I’ve always felt it’s generally easier to say ‘yes’ than ‘no.’ Maybe the question isn’t how you turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes,’ but how you turn a ‘no’ into a win-win. Sometimes no is the right answer, but you have to get creative and think of a better solution to the problem. As a leader, I think it’s important to not necessarily say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ but to fully understand the question and help the person reach the right solution in their mind. It’s frequently easy to say ‘yes’; ‘no’ is hard. I’d rather take the no to a better solution for all involved by asking the right questions and creating the right opportunity. ‘No’ should be seen as a challenge to slow down, understand the issue and explain your reasoning.
Q: Who would you call your mentors? What did you learn from them?
A: My mentors are individuals who have spent their careers focused on people, developing teams and growing organizations-essentially helping those around them to be the best they can be. It’s hard to narrow it down, but Randy Merritt, John Godwin and Raoul Jiura are three individuals who have probably had the greatest impact at different points in my career. Randy Merritt, in particular, was someone I watched during his time before and after Shaw, and I was always impressed by how he helped people grow.
Q: What advice do you give your grown children about finding success?
A: Both of my children have chosen careers focused on helping others. My daughter has almost completed her master’s in child psychology and is working with disabled children. My son went to college on the East Coast to play football and is getting his degree in fire science with plans to coach part-time. My advice to them has always been to give back and give more than you take. I see both of them doing that in their career paths, and I’m extremely proud of them.
Q: Tell us why it’s important to not try to be all things to all people when it comes to your relationship with your channel and customers.
A: There’s this great little SoCal burger chain called In-N-Out, and what I love most about them (beyond the great burgers) is that they know who they are and what they’re good at. That’s what they focus on. I take a lot of time with our leadership team to make sure we’re focused on knowing who we are, how we’re adding value, and helping our customers. We won’t be the largest supplier, but we can always add value and a unique offering in showrooms. Plus, we spend a lot of time with our customer and have genuine fun doing it. These relationships should be fun and focused on what matters.
Q: How do you balance your work life with your family and spiritual life?
A: I’m not a very religious person, but I find spirituality in nature-in the ocean in the mornings when I get a chance to surf, in sunsets, and in vineyards in fall evenings. I’m amazed by the beauty of the environment around me, which is why I’m so passionate about our brand and how Cali represents all that. Work-life balance is just a natural progression from there. We’re focused on legacy, sustainability and building the next generation of Cali associates. I love witnessing the success of legacy employees who are driven to build better and smarter. The biggest win I could get in my career would be to leave Cali in the hands of that generation.
Q: What do you do for fun when you’re not focused on Cali’s success?
A: First off, Cali is fun. It’s been a lot of fun the last five years helping to grow this company. We’ve been lucky that a lot of us have known each other since before joining the Cali team. Beyond that, I love and find so much inspiration being outdoors. I still love to surf, and I love spending fall afternoons out in the Napa vineyards. I find so much inspiration there as we try to tell this Cali story; it’s all based on a lifestyle I genuinely enjoy.
Q: What is your favorite quote that gives us more insight into who Doug Jackson is?
A: “People want to believe you are sincerely interested in them as persons, not just for what they can do for you,” John Wooden.
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