John Marrow is often approached by employees who’d like to know how he planned out his career path to CEO, but the truth is that was never really his plan.
John grew up in Yorkshire, England. As a kid, he loved to take things apart and try to put them back together.
“I always had an interest in making things and fixing things,” he said.
It was obvious from the start that he was born to be an engineer. What he didn’t see as clearly was his natural affinity for leadership.
“Growing up as a kid, when I was on sports teams, for some reason I often ended up being the captain,” he said. “When you’re young, you don’t know you have those leadership skills, but other people do.”
John went to Newcastle to study mechanical engineering. Nearing graduation in a time before the internet, he studied a book that listed employers who hired fresh graduates. It was here that he discovered mechanical engineering opportunities in South Africa. Images of sunshine and nice beaches contrasted with the miserable, wet weather of Newcastle and inspired John to reach out to two companies, both of which invited him to interview. By summertime, he was on his way to South Africa to start an internship with Anglo American Corporation.
“I went out to Free State province, which at the time was home to the largest gold mining operation in the world," said John. "I worked on engineering projects. I liked the lifestyle, I liked the sun, I liked the people and the job.”
The job liked him, too. Anglo American wanted him to come back after graduation to work full-time. He asked them to contribute to his education, so they sent him home with a job offer and a scholarship. After graduation, he went back to South Africa and worked for Anglo American, and eventually De Beers Group. He started as engineer, but it wasn't long before he was drawn to leadership.
“I realized early on I didn’t want to be the guy doing endless 3-D models, spreadsheets and calculations,” he said. “My skill didn’t lie in being the NASA engineer, but in the people side. Early in my career, I moved myself towards project management. That led me forward to senior management, leadership, ownership and C-suite — my skillset evolved from technical to management to leadership.”
John met and married his wife, Gina, during his time in South Africa. Five years after settling into their dream home, they decided to uproot and move to North America to be near family. All of Gina’s immediate relatives had relocated to Canada and the United States, and the couple wanted to raise their children closer to their cousins and grandparents. John and Gina moved to Canada initially, where John worked with Amec, the company that eventually sent them to the Midwest.
“That’s when I started in the mergers and acquisitions side of the business,” said John. “They were doing a lot of acquisitions.”
John was soon drawn to a new opportunity with a privately owned engineering company, SSOE, based in Toledo. SSOE ultimately offered him and a couple of colleagues a job to build a new office in St. Paul, Minnesota, where John worked his way up over seven years from project director to principal, vice president and then part-owner.
Harris Group Inc. brought John to the Pacific Northwest in 2012, when they recruited him to be CEO of the company based here in Seattle.
John’s focus is mainly on leadership development, interim leadership, succession planning, and M&A.
“One of the things I’ve done as CEO, the thing that has really excited me over and above P&L and looking after the business, is developing the next generation of leaders. Bringing the next generation of leaders from within the organization through, and putting together programs for their development is an exhilarating and rewarding undertaking. I’ve become adept at recognizing latent leadership talent and over the years have fine-tuned my approach to harnessing and nurturing this talent for the benefit of the organization.”
John pointed out that sometimes the next generation of leaders comes out of the company and sometimes they need to be hired. Either way, the development of leadership is a critical part of what it takes to make an ownership transition successful, whether that transition results in handing the baton to internal employees or family, or restructuring and tailoring the organization for an attractive M&A transaction.
“Private companies struggle with this,” said John. “I can successfully lead those transitions.”
If companies are buying or selling, he has the knowledge and experience to guide them through that process.
John is committed to working as a CEO on a temporary or contract basis so he can give 100 percent of his effort and attention to the company, with the knowledge that he is doing so within a specified time period.
“My view of my role at OneAccord is, wherever my hat lands, I am going to grasp the opportunity with both hands, and I can work across all disciplines relating to operating, buying or selling."
John originally met OneAccord co-founder Jeff Rogers in 2018 at the prompting of Dean Kato. They kept in touch and Jeff eventually called with an opportunity. The timing wasn’t right — John was already committed to a company in California — but in January of this year things lined up and John joined the team.
“I think the people within OneAccord are consummate professionals,” he said. “It’s a great big family. Everybody seems to want to help everybody out. It’s a giving society, not a taking society. Everybody I’ve met in the organization is absolutely terrific. Our values align, so that’s been exciting for me. I think Jeff has great character and is a brilliant leader — he has so much integrity and sincerity, and there’s a lot to be said for that in this world. It can be very cut-throat at the top.”
John and the Great Outdoors
Outside of work, John is a family man who loves to be outside and introduce his children to the cities of the world.
“I love traveling with the family," he said. "Obviously, I've traveled all my life with work, but that's often a chore. Traveling with the family is fun, I love that."
John played soccer competitively in South Africa and still enjoys playing social games today. He's also a golfer and a very social person who enjoys being around people, whether on the green or in a business group. He invests a great deal of time in his children's pursuit of sports — his son's basketball team was recently crowned champions at the Washington State Special Olympics and his daughter is a competitive cheerleader.
John and Gina have been married for 25 years. Gina was in corporate communications and did a lot of work with black empowerment during her time in South Africa. She is currently a middle school teacher. As rewarding as she found her career in South Africa, she truly loves working with young teens, and wishes she had started teaching years ago.
John is looking forward to building his practice within OneAccord and delivering value-added services to all his clients.