As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jack Lighton who has been at the helm of the nonprofit Loggerhead Marinelife Center since 2013. The organization is committed to the conservation of Florida’s coastal ecosystems through public education, research and rehabilitation with a special focus on threatened and endangered sea turtles.
Thank you so much for your time! Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
One of the funniest moments at Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) unfolded on live TV when I was being interviewed to discuss sea turtle nesting season. I was situated with one of our media partners at the top of a beach dune — right across the street from our sea turtle hospital. It was early in the morning and I was dressed in my company polo, khaki shorts, but did not have any shoes on. Hey, I was at the beach!
The live interview was set for sunrise, with the area’s most popular morning news show, and I was excited to connect with lots of viewers. Well, a funny on-air blooper soon ensued. I lost my footing in the sand and rolled down the beach on live TV! Lesson learned, always wear shoes on the beach (especially when on camera) and who cares if you have to empty the sand from your shoes. I did end up receiving a lot of funny comments.
Needless to say, as the face of the company it’s important to be prepared to take on any situation.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Books are very helpful for me to define effective processes and new ways of thinking. From a for-profit perspective, I have enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point.” It may be an oldie (circa 2000) but it is a goodie!
From a nonprofit perspective, I cannot think of a better book than “The Cycle” a book that is a blueprint to help create magnetic engagement and positive fundraising outcomes. In addition to these books, my mentors have helped me become a better leader and advocate for my companies and team members.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven business” is more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I have a very personal pathway to becoming Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s CEO. After many wonderful years working for firms in the for profit or publically traded spaces, I ‘came home’ so to speak when I joined LMC in 2013 as CEO.
I was a product of LMC as my parents took me to the Center in the 1980s. My parents were huge fans of Jacques Cousteau and passionate fundraisers in our hometown of Detroit. LMC was one of the many organizations they fell in love with and we shared our love for visiting “the sea turtle place” throughout my childhood and young adulthood. I was reacquainted with LMC when I wanted to spend some of my free time giving back. I became enthralled with LMC when I realized that the organization possesses one of the largest and most scientifically robust sea turtle nesting datasets in the world.
I kicked off conversations with the Center to join the board of directors, but the cosmos had different plans and I made a huge leap to join as CEO. (Imagine telling my former CEO that I was leaving the firm to go save sea turtles). For me, joining LMC came full circle. I grew up on the mission and I fully believe in the core of my DNA that this is life changing work. I could honor my parent’s legacy — and their love for ocean conservation and philanthropy — which was a true homecoming for me.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
I sure do and it is very simple. My parents instilled in me to “Be extremely passionate about what you do, but above all, always be nice and do the right thing.” Best advice a kid could have ever gotten!
Thank you both for that.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family-related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
COVID-19 has and continues to affect many businesses. As an attraction-based nonprofit, we had to close our beach-side campus to the public for two months. During this time, we maintained mission-critical operations, including the uninterrupted care of 25 sea turtles, sea turtle nesting season research, and rapidly transitioning our traditional education programs online. We managed this business transformation efficiently with around-the-clock meetings and remote working.
Some of the biggest challenges I faced at home was ensuring our work family had enough bandwidth. We were running two businesses out of our home and thankfully our technology stood the test. I realize this was not the case for everyone. Some folks didn’t have enough bandwidth to be virtual, there were barking dogs on zoom calls (totally ok by me by the way!), kids were home going to virtual school while parents were busy trying to manage their work responsibilities, and we had limited opportunity to get out for fresh air. It was intense and one of the most important things we did during quarantine was to buy new bikes and get out into our natural areas. It was transformative and I have heard from so many people on how nature got them through the quarantine stress.
Our neighbors joined in on the fun and bought bikes, too. We created a socially distanced bike club called the “Rocket Groupies’’ as we’re all obsessed with Space X. In two month alone, I’ve racked up over 350 miles on my new bike! Therefore, my advice is to get out into nature. It will help you get fresh air and clear your mind as we all navigate through uncharted waters.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
From a leadership perspective, the biggest challenge is that we have no historic context to analyze and pivot. At LMC, we are a very close and high performing team and we’ve taken on the perspective that failure is not an option. This mindset has been energizing and innovative all at once.
As a nonprofit, we had to carefully and frequently communicate with our donors. We recognized that they, too, were navigating through uncharted territory. From there, we rolled out new ways for the world to connect with our Center and our sea turtle patients.
We were humbled to see the world’s response to LMC’s mission when we were closed. Our digital platforms enabled us to reach over 4,372,369 visitors/students in two months and our media reach generated 1.5 billion unique impressions in that timeframe as well.
For comparison, in 2019 we welcomed 350,000 guests free-of-charge to our campus, and created 2 billion unique media impressions in those 12 months.
My takeaway — folks were craving good news, an escape with our sea turtle patients, and a ‘slice of sunshine.’ I’m thrilled that our team was able to provide that.
Many people have become anxious about the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
This serious problem needs to be addressed. Given that everyone is hyper connected via their devices, especially as we move through COVID-19, the news cycle can be overwhelming, scary, and drive up hopelessness.
In our home, we instituted a very different TV schedule. We paused watching network news and started the day with our favorite Spotify mixes/stations. We, like the rest of the world, chose to spend nights (when not on Zoom or conference calls) binge watching shows. (Schitt$ Creek is one of the best by far. However, we were clearly late to the party). Frankly, we and many of our friends had to proactively and meaningfully protect ourselves from becoming overwhelmed. And as already discussed, the bike rides and seeking out nature were very soothing to the soul.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-COVID economy will look like. But we can, of course, try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-COVID economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time, the Post-COVID growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-COVID economy?
At LMC we have seen an amazing uptick in new and unique opportunities that were not at the top of our product strategy prior to COVID-19. Our team observed a lot of opportunities that continue to support LMC’s “idea incubator” from the astounding interest in our sustainable products on our e-store to the incredible interest in gifting virtual sea turtle adoptions. Another tremendous opportunity in the virtual world is micro giving. For instance, folks tuning into our digital platforms, many of whom were new to LMC’s mission, wanted to meaningfully join our movement and for the cost of a cup of coffee they got involved in the rehabilitation of one of our patients, supported a sea turtle release live on Earth Day, or gifted a sea turtle adoption to a friend or loved one. We are continuing the rapid evolution and refinement of our virtual platforms, continuing to engage our ‘new virtual friends’ and now that we are reopened to the public, helping our in person guests see the fun of connecting with us while they are away from our sea turtles. We are hopeful!
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act, or live?
I am very optimistic that when we have a vaccine or a high degree of folks with the antibodies, we will realize a return to normalcy in short order. What we are realizing, however, is that our staff, volunteers, guests, and supporters are all going to require more variety in how they connect with us, how they work for us, and how they advocate for us. If any time proves that ‘one size does not fit all’ now is that time!
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-COVID economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-COVID Economy?
Please see above.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I encourage folks to invest in their team members’ successes and their passions. Talk openly about personal goals, limitations, and accelerants. Now more than ever, be open-minded to new points of view!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My parents used to tell me to always be nice and do the right thing. My dad took it a step farther by saying, “Jack, what goes around comes around if you wait around long enough.” Wisest words ever spoken to me.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Please follow me on FaceBook: @Jack Lighton
Please follow me on LinkedIn: @Jack Lighton
Please follow me on Instagram: @jacklighton
Bio: Jack E. Lighton, President & CEO
Jack E. Lighton is President & CEO of Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC), one of Palm Beach County’s most visited cultural destinations. Mr. Lighton joined LMC in 2013 and since joining the center, Lighton and his team have transformed LMC’s programing, increased conservation impact, and optimized the organization to better support the Center’s vision: “To be recognized locally and internationally as the leading authority in sea turtle education, research and rehabilitation.”
Under Lighton’s leadership, the center has tripled annual revenue, guest counts, memberships, and educational programming. LMC’s Palm Beach County campus welcomes nearly 700,000 guests annually, offering an unprecedented opportunity to educate and inspire those who visit.
In partnership with the Center’s Board of Directors, Lighton manages the Center’s “Waves of Progress” capital expansion campaign that broke ground on April 3, 2019. This expansion will triple the size of LMC’s campus allowing the Center to accelerate and amplify their conservation and education impact; in Florida and worldwide. When complete the facility will offer one of the world’s most advanced and unique experiences for guests, students, and scientific partners.
Prior to joining LMC, Lighton served as Senior Vice President at Harris Interactive — Nielsen where he managed the firm’s global consulting teams focused on brand-strategy and corporate reputation. Lighton led brand strategy campaigns for some of the world’s leading firms from his offices in New York, London, and Singapore.
A long-standing resident of Palm Beach County, Lighton’s affiliation with LMC dates back to the Center’s inception. Lighton is an active board member of the Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce and the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County (non-voting.) In his free time Lighton spends time advocating for animal rescue and volunteering for the North American Veterinary Heart Center, the world’s most advanced veterinary open-heart center located in Jupiter, Florida.