The first strategy was perhaps the most effective: show them Yosemite.
“Charlie Houston was on the first American K2 expedition back in 1953. An outstanding mountaineer, and he’d never been to Yosemite. So I brought him there for the first time and he said, ‘I’ve got to be a part of this.’”
If someone hadn’t been, Jack would take them into the park and unveil its majesty before their eyes; try to give them the same experience he had received and still receives each time he enters Yosemite’s hallowed Valley.
“I have no idea how many times I’ve been to Yosemite…maybe 200? I’ve traveled a lot of the world and I don't think there's any place I've been where there's so much concentrated beauty in one spot.”
Another important strategy came in the form of a slogan.
“Successful people like to succeed,” says Jack.
“I thought I could help structure a board with successful people, and that, to me, was a good idea because successful people like to succeed. I'd learned that from a gentleman by the name of Norman Dyhrenfurth, who led the American expedition to Mount Everest in 1963. I asked him why he brought a bunch of people with PhDs to go climb Mount Everest and he said, ‘I want successful people.’”
The eventual first Board of Directors of the Yosemite Institute reflects Jack’s belief in those strategies and his impressive diligence: mountaineer Charles Houston, astronaut Bill Anders, photographer Ansel Adams, television producer and director Virginia Duncan, Bank of America Chair Chauncey Medberry, future U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar “Cap” Weinberger — the list goes on and includes leaders from academia, Wall Street, Madison Avenue, film and television, the White House and the arts. Horace Albright even served as an Advisory Council member.
“It actually wasn’t a wealthy board,” he says. “It was a successful board.”
Jack served as Yosemite Institute’s first Board Chair…with some prodding.
“Oh I thought of Bill [Anders] immediately, but he said to me, ‘Jack, I’m now an atomic energy commissioner, soon to be head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. My life's too busy, but you should do it. Plus you’re closer to Yosemite.’ So that's how I ended up being the first chair,” says Jack.
Jack and Don worked closely to get Yosemite Institute off the ground. It felt like a pairing where each of them could focus on utilizing their individual strengths to help the organization launch and prosper.
“I think the world of Don. He did a great job going to schools and getting them there; he really was the one responsible for the campus up in Crane Flat — in my opinion you couldn’t have picked a better person to run the operations than Don. As the founder of our environmental education program, he was terrific.”
Jack and the board focused on the economic challenges that often arise in an organization's infancy. Which brings us to Jack’s nickname.
“Oh yeah, ‘5% Jack’. It’s simple, really. Take 5% of your total revenue and make sure that's what you have at the bottom of the line at the end of the year,” he says. “When you write this piece, you’d better remind everyone not to forget the 5% rule!”
That rule guided Yosemite Institute to financial success, and it was able to run an annual surplus, so much so that the Yosemite campus’s revenue helped fund a second campus in Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It remained an adherent to the 5% rule for decades.