By Matt McCue
The toughest 24 hours of John Calia’s life unfolded off the coast of Maine in the middle of a winter storm. A Naval Academy graduate, Calia served in the US Navy for five years in the 1970’s. On this particular trip, Calia’s squadron set off into the Atlantic Ocean to test the durability of minesweeping equipment in the intense cold.
One night as his ship navigated the frigid waters, a nor’easter stirred up 25-foot waves. Since the best way to keep a vessel stable in bad weather is to sail directly into the waves, the crew’s only choice was to keep crashing the ship into them throughout the night.
The challenges Calia overcame in the Navy and the lessons he learned there have been instrumental in steering his 35-year business career. “The military experience taught me to value forthrightness,” he says. “That attribute is very rare in business. People have a tendency to cover their mistakes or tell you things are great when they are not. When I have hired people, I’ve found that those who are forthright help to create the right culture.”
A Brooklyn-born, second-generation American, Calia grew up on Long Island, N.Y. The military was a rite of passage in his family. He selected the Naval Academy because his heroes when he was a teenager were John F. Kennedy, Roger Staubach and John Glenn, all of whom had served in the military. His hopes of becoming an astronaut were dashed when he couldn’t pass the pilot eye exam. Instead, he ventured into business. He began his career at Citibank and later became the CEO of three separate companies: Lifewatch, Inc., Master Collison Repair, Inc. and Cynocom Corporation. He spent the last part of his business career consulting, first with The Bradway Group in Palm Beach, FL and later with a national firm, Tatum LLC.
The father of twin boys and a new grandfather, writing has become his passion. Calia decided to make his first book a fictional business tale. “The best way for people to learn is through storytelling,” he says. “Non-fiction books in this realm usually outline a model of perfection. But, no one is perfect. In writing The Reluctant CEO, I wanted my audience to appreciate that it’s okay to have faults and not to succeed in every endeavor. Your career, like life, is a journey. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll learn some lessons. What’s important is to be persistent and to have your own plan. In the end, the main character in the book – his name is Jack – becomes a better leader by learning lessons along the way and committing to getting better at what he does.”
Today, Calia is an executive coach, leadership speaker, business consultant and writer of the popular blog “Who Will Lead?” He currently makes his home in Fairport, NY, a village on the Erie Canal.