Today’s episode is with JT McCormick, author of I Got There.
We talk about what it was like to grow up as a poor mixed-race child and how he hustled his way out of poverty and became president of a multi-million dollar software company.
JT shares some heartbreaking stories about how he grew up around criminals and racism and abuse. But he also shares a redemption story, where he achieves the American dream and becomes a self-made millionaire.
Be sure to stick around until the end, because JT’s going to share how you can follow in his footsteps even if you’re starting out with nothing like he did.
This is a life-changing episode that you do not want to miss.
Without further ado, here is JT McCormick.
What was it like to have a drug dealing pimp as your father?
My dad had this red El Dorado Biarritz Cadillac in the 70s, and that was the black man’s car of choice. And he had ordered it custom, and he was the only person who had one. So he loved that car. He loved that car, I believe to this day, more than he loved his kids.
When you rode in my dad’s car, you technically shouldn’t even breath. Don’t put your feet on the seat, don’t mess up anything. Sit there, be still.
One day, we’re driving, we had just gone to Wendy’s and he’s got one of his prostitutes in the front with him, and they’re arguing. She pulls a burger out of the Wendy’s bag, and she hits my dad in the side of the head with it.
He stopped in the middle of the highway, just consider major highway in any major city, stops in the middle of the highway, puts the car in park, walks around, pulls her out of the car, commences to beat her ass, and then pulls out her purse, dumps it on her, pulls out the food, dumps it on her, shuts the door, comes back around, puts the cark in park, we drive off, she’s laying in the middle of the highway beat to a pulp.
He casually calmly turns around, looks at me and my brothers, and says, “Where do you guys want to go to eat?”
When I first got to Houston with my dad, we were living in a weekly rent motel.
My dad was running prostitutes in and out of our motel room. I’m nine years old, and it’s the summer right after my fourth grade year.
It’s Houston. It’s humid. My six month old half sister is crying and crying, and I can not get her to stop. Her mother’s out on the corner trying to pick up a trick (i.e. customer), and my baby sister just won’t stop crying. I don’t know what to do.
I’m picking her up. I’m bouncing her. I’m rocking her.
I’m talking to her like she’s going to talk back to me.
What do I do?
I got so frustrated that I threw my six month old baby sister on the couch.
Oh, the stress. It’s stressful right now to think about it.
As soon as she left my arms, I immediately caught myself and I ran over, I picked her up, and I just plead with her: “I’m so sorry.”
I’m holding my baby sister, and she’s crying even more now. Her mother shows up with this man, the trick, and tells me to leave the hotel room with my crying baby sister in nothing but a diaper. She takes the man in, and they go do their business.
I’m walking around the parking lot of this weekly motel, in the scorching sun in Houston, in the middle of the summer, with no clue what to do. I just felt completely lost. No clue what to do.
That was the most stressful thing that I’ve ever gone through.
When did you get yourself out of poverty?
The last time I was in juvenile, I was in there for two and a half months for beating up a kid and putting him into a coma.
I was homeless, and I was sleeping at a bus stop with my suitcase. But school was a peaceful place for me. It gave me somewhere to go. It was something to do.
Every day, I’d show up with my suitcase, which didn’t fit in my locker. So I had to walk around school all day with this suitcase, (embarrassed, obviously). And when you’re in middle school, kids are relentless.
This one little boy just would not stop messing with me. We’re about four days into me carrying my suitcase, and I snapped.
“I just beat the hell out of that kid, and he went into a coma.”
While I was in juvenile, my dad was in England, and my mom was in Texas. No one knew where I was, so I was just left there. No visitors, no nothing.
By the grace of God, my mother named me Javon, which was not a common name back in the 70s, early 80s. And so, one of the officers in the correction facility asked me, “Hey, do you have an Aunt Jane?” And I perked up, “Yes. I do.” And she said, “Okay.” Then she walked off.
“Growing up, I had three options: drug dealer, rapper, athlete. But no one told me there was business.”
That officer called my Aunt Jane. She asked, “Hey, don’t you have a nephew named Javon?” And my aunt said, “Yes.” The officer said, “This kid’s been here two and half months. No one’s called. No one’s come to visit him. I don’t think anybody knows he’s here.” So my aunt Jane picked me up, and we left.
That’s when I went to live with my uncle Bobby, who — for whatever reason — decided to take me on. That was really a first look into what a structured life was like.
My uncle Bobby was the complete opposite of my dad.
He went to church. He had a job. He worked at General Motors for twenty-something years. He had kids. He had a couple of rental properties that he owned.
We had bible study on Tuesday, bible study on Thursday. We went to church on Sunday. It was structured. Everything he did was on time, punctual, and “Whatever you do, dammit, you better do it to the best of your ability.”
You started off as a janitor. Then you became a candle maker. Then you worked in a mail room. How were those experiences formative in becoming president of two multi-million dollar companies, Headspring & Book In A Box?
I still remember thinking, “My toilet’s going to look better than every other toilet in San Antonio.”
That was my goal, to make my restrooms spotless.
I remember taking pride in everything that I did. When I wiped down the tables, I would make sure that I wiped down everything. Even the salt shakers. For me, my work was very personal, because it was reflection of myself.
Some people don’t look at it that way. They feel that it’s very trivial, because they’re only making minimum wage, so they’re only going to give minimal effort.
I’ve always approached things different. I may be making minimum wage, but I’m going to give maximum effort, because I believe no matter what I do, as long as I work hard, it will be identified and I will create opportunities for myself.
I live by this rule: Ask questions.
If I ask, “May I have a promotion, please?” The worst thing someone can say to me is “No.” That’s it.
So why not ask?
So many people go through life upset, because they feel like they were cheated or someone didn’t give them something.
I’ll ask people:
“‘Did you ask?’
‘Well, then what the hell are you mad for?'”
Back in the 20s, 30s, and 40s, an opportunity to work in McDonald’s was just that: an opportunity.
Now, many people in our society believe that they’re too good for that job. That the job is beneath them. Well, if you don’t have a job, it’s not beneath you. We don’t value work ethic anymore in this country.
You were making $500,000 per year in commissions as a salesperson. How did you get so good?
It’s just like going to the gym. It’s persistence.
You don’t go into the gym on Monday, and come out on Wednesday with your goal accomplished. You have to keep going. To build a structure, build a routine.
The sales routine is the exact same:
- Call X amount of people on Monday
- Email X amount of people on Tuesday
- Follow up with X amount of people on Wednesday
- I’m going to stop by their office and drop off my card on Thursday
I’m going to do everything that I can to keep myself top of mind, and it’s just routine. It’s being consistent. That’s it. It’s no different than going to the gym.
What did you do when you lost all of your money?
After everything collapsed, I moved into a one bedroom apartment by myself, and really thought about what I wanted to do in life.
I got myself together, I worked hard, and saved back up to a million dollars.
No one knew I actually had that much money because of the way I lived.
I lived in a one bedroom apartment. I had a very modest car. My rent was $600 a month.
But all I did was study, save my money, and invest. No one knew that I was doing that.
How did you make so much money?
I fell in love with the stock market. Buying individual stocks.
Think about this for a minute.
Bill Gates, Microsoft.
Michael Dell, Dell Computers.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook.
They’ve all invented something. Warren Buffet didn’t invent anything.
He invested his money, made more money, and kept investing.
That’s what I did.
I can take $100, turn it into a $1,000. Turn $1,000 into $10,000, and so on.
You can do that by way of studying. In this day in age, everything is on the internet. Everything. Every publicly traded company, their quarterly earnings are readily available for anybody to look at. Their balance sheets, their income statements, everything is on the internet.
Everything that I’ve done has been self taught.
How did you stay motivated after going broke?
I’m not disabled in any way. I have all my limbs, my arms. I’m not mentally handicapped.
Therefore, there is nothing that I can’t accomplish. Period. And that’s the way I live my life every day.
So many people will push back, “JT I went through this, you don’t understand.”
I tell people (and it’s not to try to one-up anyone), I’ve been sexually abused and molested by my dad’s girlfriends multiple times. I’ve been left alone. I’ve been in juvenile three different times. I barely have a high school diploma.
And yet, I have a belief that I can accomplish anything, and I just have to keep going. That’s how I live, everyday.
Why aren’t more people rich?
Everything has sacrifice involved.
If you want to be great at anything, if you want to accomplish great goals, all of it comes with sacrifice.
If someone that lives in the suburbs is in debt and they want to get out of debt, well it may start as small as: Stop going to Starbucks everyday and buying $5 dollar coffee.
If you do the math on that: 5 days a week = $25 x 52 week in a year = $1,300 per year.
But people aren’t willing to sacrifice.
For five years, I didn’t buy new underwear. I didn’t buy new socks. I didn’t buy new t-shirts. Every dollar I got, I was trying to find out how I could invest that money. Great success requires great sacrifice.
When I was at the software company, I was there for five years. And in the five years I was there, I took off 11 days vacation.
Three of those days were for when I got married, two were for the birth of my daughter, and one was for the birth of my son.
There was an incredible sacrifice that went into building the success of the company that I made, but I was willing to sacrifice and put in that work ethic to accomplish the goals that I wanted. So many people aren’t willing to dedicate themselves to that type of work ethic anymore.
It’s actually kind of sad when you look back at our grandparents, our great grandparents. Those individuals bought homes and they stayed in them for 30 years.
You look at our society now, the average person stays in a home five and half years. That’s it.
That’s because as soon as we get a raise, or as soon as we’ve made more money, the three bedroom, two and a half bath home, and two car garage isn’t good enough anymore. Now I’ve got to get the three car garage, the 4,000 square foot home and it’s got to have a pool in it.
The average person’s carrying $17,000 in credit card debt in this country. That’s atrocious.
We are no longer a nation of savers. We want to spend, we want to put it on credit.
What motivates you to keep reaching for greater success?
I’ve heard the phrase, “Do what you love in life, and you will consider it work.”
I love what I do. There are days where I don’t know if it’s Saturday, or if it’s Tuesday. I love working.
You hear people all the time say, “If I won the lottery, I’d quit my job and I’d travel around the world.”
If I won the lottery, I’d still be at work tomorrow. Period. I love what I do. I love the people that I’m around, and I smile all the time.
Here I am, the president and CEO of a publishing company, and I can’t tell you an adverb from a pronoun and God knows I can’t spell.
Be sure to check out our next episode where we’ll be talking Jay Kim, the author of Hack Your Fitness.