Gary Winnick Discusses “Unsung Heroes”

December 21, 2011

In 1996 a man named Lod Cook called and asked to see me. I couldn’t imagine what he wanted to talk about but I knew very well who he was. Whenever a President of the United States – Democrat or Republican – visited Los Angeles, it was Lod they wanted to see first. Queen Elizabeth bestowed a knighthood on him. He was the chairman of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. He had spent 40 distinguished years at ARCO, from which he retired as Chairman and CEO. He helped rebuild the L.A. Library and served on boards of every variety – corporations and non-profits alike. Lod Cook was synonymous with the terms “pillar of the community” and “civic leader.”

Lod had been a big deal but he was retired now, and it surprised me to realize that he wanted to talk about building a football stadium and bringing an NFL team to L.A. As we chatted, though, it became clear that while this man was retired from his job, he still had a fire inside, a sense of civic duty. Lod Cook’s passion and drive were as strong as a man half his age, and with such a wealth of experience and energy sitting across from me, what else could I do? I hired him. We became partners, and together we built a company that today controls nearly 30 percent of the internet traffic in the world, an industry that didn’t even exist 15 years ago.
I’m no genius. I simply made an observation and acted on it. Men and women like Lod are the unsung heroes of America’s business community: top corporate executives, professionals, investors and public officials, who through no fault of their own have lost their platforms and relevance before they were ready. When seasoned leaders are aged out of the system, we lose a tremendous resource.

People in their 60’s and 70’s have an abundance of experience – as leaders, value creators, navigators – and we need more people with this kind of experience to help us through America’s tough times. Think about it – when you’re on an airplane in the middle of a storm, who do you want flying that plane? You want the most experienced pilot. The people I’m hiring lately aren’t thinking about cash compensation and up-front money; they’re looking for opportunity. They’re looking for an alternative to the story that somebody else wrote for them. No one likes feeling irrelevant, especially when they’ve contributed so much in the past.

Now, for those who want to hang up their Mickey Mantle Number 7 jersey, God bless them. They’ve earned it. But I’ve met plenty who aren’t ready to retire their jerseys. Since the day that Lod Cook and I became a team I’ve embarked on similar journeys with other professionals whose industries had said to them, “Thank you, and good-bye.” Whether from business or public service or numerous other fields, these people have consistently brought intellect, solid judgment and unending passion to the table. With a purpose came performance.

Medical science tells us that retirees who stay active live longer, healthier lives. Allowing talented people the opportunity to stay in the game is good for them, but it’s also good for business and it’s good for our country.

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