August 21, 2021
Bancroft’s President and CEO Paul Jenkins was interviewed for an upcoming article on American business by the University of Chicago Magazine. Below are excerpts from that interview:
UC—You graduated from the University of Chicago more than 20 years ago. How did that experience impact your approach to business?
PJ—The University of Chicago inspired me. The Naval Academy, my undergraduate school, was essentially a trade school. It prepared me to be a leader and professional officer in the Navy. The U of C was different in that it brought together a group of diverse students with broad and far-reaching aspirations. To be a peer among that group of classmates remains one of my life’s highlights. Many of us are in touch regularly, constantly bouncing ideas, questions, and proposals off one another.
UC—So, you remain in touch with your classmates?
PJ—Yes, we just had our reunion. Conversations picked up right where they’d left off. I found we do very little reminiscing. We are all involved in business, so our discussions are mostly about the projects we have, and our vision for future projects. Chicago likes to tout the educational experience as the “Great Discussion” and for our class, that discussion never ends.
UC—How much did the pandemic impact your business?
PJ—I think our positioning in the technology and design industries protected us. In fact, my companies thrived during the pandemic. We added people, we bought two new buildings, we bought two businesses, and started three additional companies—all in the teeth of the storm. We also added tuition reimbursement for all employees so they can continue their education at my expense, to give them greater personal confidence in their value to the industry in crises.
UC—How did you manage all the associated risks?
PJ—The pandemic doesn’t change the way I lead. It only means I work harder to make sure the team is well informed and well cared for. We took steps to ensure their safety in the office. We gave raises, bonuses, and increased benefits. To me, with the Bancroft team, I don’t consider the current environment to be one of increased risk. Skilled pilots don’t fear bad weather, just as skilled Marines don’t fear a well-trained adversary. This environment brought out the best in people I count on to perform every day.
UC—So, you’re bullish an America’s economic recovery?
PJ—As good as my Chicago education was, I’m not qualified to opine on the American economy. I will say that I am confident in my team and am not afraid to place significant bets on our continued success.
UC—To someone thinking of starting in business, what advice would you give them to help them achieve the same level of confidence you have?
PJ—Surround yourself with successful people. Years ago, I bought a business from a guy who had never had any measurable success in his life. After 30 years, he had never even gotten himself licensed in his own field and had never advanced his education. He was great at explaining failure. He was even better at predicting failure. He blamed the last economic downturn for the dire circumstances that led him to sell. Until I rooted him out of the organization, he spent years trying to explain how we could not and would not succeed. You’ll bat a thousand if you predict your own failure. Avoid people like that. They’re poison to any successful venture.