Monday, December 11, 2017
Business

Jabil Circuit's new CEO Mark Mondello prone to action

ST. PETERSBURG — Mark Mondello bounds up the stairs two at a time, speedwalks down a hallway and launches himself into a conference room chair.

No need to catch his breath. The new CEO of Jabil Circuit, Tampa Bay's biggest public company by both employee count and shareholder value, is perpetually ready for action.

Whereas Jabil's outgoing chief executive, Tim Main, tends to be methodical and introspective, don't expect the new guy in the hot seat to sit still for long.

Tall and trim, Mondello bikes, runs and swims to manage stress. "I'm hyperactive by nature … I like being with customers … with our shareholders. I like being in our factories," he said in an interview with the Times. "The times I find myself being alone, I like doing something active. That's how I do a lot of my thinking."

Mondello, 48, will need all that energy to tackle this job. Jabil Circuit is the bay area's hidden giant with 160,000 employees worldwide and a market cap that makes it worth more than $3.7 billion. With slim profit margins in its core electronics business, Jabil management has been pushing hard recently to diversify its product mix to serve customers in fields ranging from life science and health care to pet products.

Diversifying has helped appease some stock analysts who were concerned that for too long, the company was too focused on too few sectors with too few big customers, Apple being chief among them. A recent CNBC analysis named Jabil as one of 20 stocks with the most promising "potential to pop" this year.

Many of Mondello's decisions on where to invest next are global in nature. One close to home: a verdict on building a new corporate headquarters in Pinellas County, bringing together employees now scattered in up to nine locations throughout the county.

Land that the company owns at Gandy Boulevard and Interstate 275, as well as several other sites, is being considered for a new headquarters up to 450,000 square feet housing up to 2,000 people. The mega-project — along with more than $30 million worth of public subsidies and government incentives dating back to 2008 — has been on hold throughout the recession.

This is the year a decision will finally be made, Mondello said, and he sounded hopeful.

"We're a Pinellas company and we want to stay within Pinellas County — even if the economics aren't exactly on par with other offers (in and outside Florida)— if we decided to construct a headquarters," he said. "Based on the conversations we've had, I think Jabil and Pinellas County will be able to figure out a good solution."

Confident but humble

Inside more than 50 factories from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to Kwidzyn, Poland, Jabil workers assemble and distribute electronics and other products for some of the best-known manufacturers in the world: Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Nokia and Apple, to name a few. Its latest $665 million cash purchase of Massachusetts-based Nypro turns it into a packaged goods maker for consumer product titans like Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark.

Yet, as a member of the Fortune 500 itself, Jabil is hardly a household name.

Behind-the-scenes toiling is ingrained in Jabil's corporate culture in more ways than one. Its headquarters for decades has been in a low-key patch of buildings at Roosevelt Boulevard and Ninth Avenue. Jabil employees participate in charitable causes like the annual Heart Walk, the Tampa Bay Rays' Hits for Kids and Tampa Bay Lightning's Community Heroes program. Much of its philanthropy is unseen, like supporting an orphanage in Vietnam.

"I would like to effort that when people think of Jabil, they think of humility," Mondello said. "They think about a company that truly cares (yet) there is a fine balance between how visible we are and making sure that we're humble."

Mondello epitomizes the Jabil culture, simultaneously self-deprecating and confident. He describes himself as intensely private and eschews the spotlight of politics or sitting on area chambers of commerce. In a more quiet role, he's been involved as a board member at All Children's Hospital for a decade — a relationship that began in part because of the middle of his three children, a daughter with special needs.

Dr. Jonathan Ellen, president of All Children's Hospital, said he's impressed with the concern Mondello shows outside the board room, particularly when it comes to caring for Jabil workers who go to the hospital.

"He always follows up with them. He always stays engaged," Ellen said. "He thinks about the organization as his family."

Perseverance pays

Mondello was born on the south side of Chicago. His father, who died nine years ago, was in the meatpacking business.

"That's where I got my work ethic from," says Mondello, who feels most at ease on a plant floor. "I've never had an aspiration for sure to be a CEO … My family is mainly a blue collar background."

How he arrived in the front office is a story of loyalty, perseverance and — a factor that Mondello often alludes to as the unspoken key to many a company's success — a dash of good fortune.

While in high school, his father moved to Florida for a different meatpacking job; Mondello wound up going to the University of South Florida, where he received a mechanical engineering degree in 1987.

Over the next 5 1/2 years, he worked on different projects involving flight controls and fuel controls in the Clearwater offices of a Buffalo, N.Y., company called Moog. Playing softball with some friends in 1991, he discovered Jabil, then a fledgling circuit board maker still small enough that employees were more likely to have a variety of responsibilities than a title on a business card.

After he joined Jabil as a production supervisor, it wasn't long before Mondello racked up plenty of titles on his resume: project manager; vice president, business development; senior vice president, business development.

In 2002, after Main was elevated to CEO, Mondello became chief operating officer overseeing all day-to-day global activities. For 40 weeks out of the year he was traveling, mainly internationally.

Main, ever methodical, began the process to find his successor back in 2008 with an internal development program that honed in on a half-dozen future leaders. The company was poised to vet external candidates for the next CEO as well, but a consultant review said there was no need given the bench strength Jabil already had, Main said.

Through the years, Main said, he and Mondello typically came to the same conclusion for courses of action even though they attacked problems differently. "Mark has a higher sense of urgency" in forging ahead, he said.

Ellen, the All Children's CEO, offers a similar description of board member Mondello as "a nonstop moving guy" who is "always multitasking on a million things."

"I have a natural personality of wanting to move with speed," Mondello said. Even when he reads, he finds himself putting a book down quickly if he gets bored or learns what he wanted to learn. And he'll move on.

"As the company gets bigger, you realize you have to action a little bit slower at times, communicate more and ensure you're getting emotional buy-in for big decisions," Mondello said. "That's been a critical piece of learning for me."

After working as Main's top lieutenant for a decade, Mondello figures changes under his regime will be largely "evolutionary than revolutionary."

He said he's excited that Jabil is broadening its business model, not just for the sake of diversity but because the company can do more to help make the world a better place.

He's proud Jabil is poised to be the largest provider of insulin pens in the world. He sees moving into animal products as an entry point toward improving the world food supply. The Nypro deal, he says, will push the company into developing more environmentally friendly packaging.

Jabil has long billed itself as a culture that promotes individual entrepreneurship and risk-taking. It stretches back to one of the favorite pieces of company lore from 1979: when Jabil's brash young CEO – the pony-tail sporting, motorcycle-driving Bill Morean – convinced auto parts maker AC-Delco to take a chance by bringing on tiny Jabil as a partner.

Mondello said he looks forward to letting individual managers across the spectrum worry about the day-to-day while he focuses on "creating a path, telling our story and thinking about where we're headed."

"With that said, we run what's going to be a $35 billion company on 4.5 to 5 percent operating margins. So it would be insanely dangerous to get too far away from the details. I'll never waver too far from the detail."

He worries about making the right moves to position Jabil for the long term rather than appease the markets that tend to judge public companies "in 90-day buckets." He worries about keeping communication channels open throughout the 33 countries where Jabil has plants.

Mainly, he worries about letting his people down.

"I'm very blessed to be part of a story… that is hopefully not close to being finished. Hopefully, we're in the mid-chapters somewhere."

The story of Jabil, in other words, is one book he's not ready to put down anytime soon.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8242.

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