Jeans & Ties Guys is a recurring series introducing men who embody what J&T is all about. Today: Dan McCready of Charlotte, N.C.
Dan McCready has always had an analytical bent. He learned to play chess at age 5 and competed nationally throughout grade school and high school. He won several North Carolina state competitions and the sixth-grade team he captained even won a national championship.
“We were just this little public school in Charlotte, up against all these big New York City private schools where chess is a class and they pay to have masters come and teach the kids,” McCready says. “And we pulled it off.”
In chess, winning players are always thinking a few moves ahead. In October 2012, the Duke and Harvard grad and Marine veteran became frustrated by the lack of passion he felt for his work at a national consulting company. Though he had no other job lined up and a young family to support, McCready made the decision to quit. An entrepreneur at heart, he felt called to start his own company; he just wasn’t sure what kind.
“It was a crazy, gut-feel move,” says McCready, who turns 31 in July. “The passion element wasn’t there for me. I had this moment when I thought life is short, you have to do something you really care about. I wanted to take those 80 hours I was working and put them into finding a company. And I ultimately found two.”
The first was Double Time Capital, an investment firm focused on growing solar energy in America. His interest in the topic stemmed from his time in the military, where Marines in Afghanistan brought flexible solar panels on patrol to reduce reliance on batteries, which allowed them to stay in the field longer. His partner in the venture, Rye Barcott, is also a fellow Marine, and the company’s name is a nod to the military term meaning “to speed up the rate of march.”
The solar firm has been a moneymaker for McCready, and he’s using it to fund his second venture. It’s called This Land, a website that sells the goods of American craftsmen and tells their stories. The idea for it came in the spring of 2013 while McCready was driving through the Kentucky countryside. He was struck by the beauty and wanted to learn more about the heritage behind the land.
“This Land is an idea of connecting people in this busy, 21st-century world we live in with a set of values that people used to care about and might be missing now,” says McCready, who has softly launched the site and plans to make a strong national push in the coming months. “It’s a way to connect people with work that’s made by hand here in the U.S., in a way it used to be done—with hard work, integrity, passion behind it. It’s a way to tell the stories of great things happening here in America.”
Jeans & Ties Guy: Dan McCready
Is there any specific strategy you have when it comes to style? What are three things you like to wear?
Since I discovered a passion for American-made wares after launching This Land, I’ve started to look for things made in the U.S. with very high quality. I’m not into the latest trends. I like things that are timeless, something that could have been worn or carried long ago and still works today.
- My go-to sweatshirt is made by American Giant, a start-up in San Francisco. It’s an old-school sweatshirt, made in California with a cotton fleece. It’s black and zips up. It’s impeccably designed, the kind of thing that probably will last longer than I will.
- Danner boots are another favorite. I wore boots every day in the Marine Corps and during the time I served, Danners were known as the best. They’re made in the U.S. and have a healthy, weighted feel.
- On the business side, my go-to dress shoes are made by Allen Edmonds. It’s a nearly century-old company that handcrafts all its shoes in the U.S. They’re pricey but last forever. The best part? The company repurposes them when they get beat up.
Your home is in Charlotte. What’s your favorite part about living there?
My favorite thing about Charlotte is that it’s not just a great city, but it’s close to where my heart is: the mountains. I grew up backpacking in Boy Scouts, and did a lot more of it in the Marine Corps. (Although Marine Corps backpacking, called “humping,” is not exactly recreational—with body armor, weapons, and a heavy pack to lug along.) North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains are very special. They don’t have the grand snowy peaks of the Rockies, but what they do have is an ancient-ness. They’re among the oldest mountains in the world, worn down and smoothed over many years.
I love to hit a great mountain trail, clear my head, get out of the city, and into the wild. Within a two-hour drive from Charlotte, there’s a place called Shining Rock Wilderness Area, where my wife and I first spent time together. The wilderness area sits at 6,000 feet. Trails are not well marked, so you have to know what you’re doing with a map and compass. The peaks and mountain gaps are covered in grasses, wild blackberries, and rhododendron. You can see forever. Great forest fires from the last century scarred the land and created what we call “mountain balds.” In a sort of sad way, it’s very beautiful.
What about the city itself?
My favorite spot in Charlotte is the park where I used to play as a kid, Freedom Park. It’s a big park, with a pond, near the center of the city. There’s an old locomotive near the playground. As a kid, I could crawl around under it, but it’s long since been fenced off. I take my one- and three-year olds to Freedom Park now. It’s crazy how time flies.
Just recently, I discovered a plaque in the corner of the park hidden behind some bushes. It was installed in 1945 to commemorate the opening of the park. It reads, “In memory of all who served so fearlessly—and so gallantly gave the laughter from their hearts—that others might play in a happy world.” Isn’t that something?
You traveled a lot in a previous job. What kind of business traveler were you?
The job I had before I started This Land was a world away from what I’m doing now. It was one of those corporate fast-track jobs. I’d get up at five Monday mornings, fly out to a company headquarters that was my client, work nonstop for four days and—if I was lucky—get home to see the kids before bedtime Thursday. I had no time to enjoy cities I visited. It was interesting work, but my heart wasn’t in it.
That experience motivated me to take a stab and do something on my own. I felt life was too short to do something you don’t love, even if others think you should. I will say, though, that starting a company didn’t slow down the work one bit. But I’m grateful to be doing something that matters to me and makes a difference. That was something I missed from my days in the Marine Corps and I’m glad to have found it again.
Another part of the spark that started This Land was your realization of having no heirloom-quality items to hand down to your kids. Have you rectified that?
Some of my favorite pieces are smaller, functional crafts most folks don’t expect to be so well-made. Maybe we’ve been trained to get these items at the Wal-Marts of the world. This Land’s Forged Steel Bottle Opener by blacksmith Stephen Yusko is one of the coolest, most smartly-designed pieces I’ve ever held. It takes me back. The best part is, I can use it in my everyday life. It does something simple—open a beer—yet I know a real person made it by hand.
You attended two esteemed institutions of higher learning: Duke, then Harvard (with four years in the Marines in between). If you can narrow it down, what was the thing you learned at each place that stuck with you the most?
I like to say I got my education in the Marine Corps, a place where I started as a 22-year old guy, got thrown into tougher situations than I’d imagined and learned how to lead.
As I look back, one thing that helped me is that I’ve remained true to myself. A lot of people thought I was nuts to go into the military after Duke. I didn’t come from a military family and very few of my classmates made that choice. But I was a freshman on September 11 and it was just something I had to do. As it turned out, several years later, a place like Harvard Business School sort of connected the dots for me. They valued the leadership experiences I had in the Marines and saw the military as a springboard for an entrepreneurial career. Leaving the corporate world to embrace the craziness of starting a company was another way to stay true to myself. We’ll see how it turns out!
How will you spend your Fourth of July?
My in-laws have a place in southwest Virginia, and we’ll do a little grilling, maybe some fireworks. I have one little tradition. I like to bring all the kid cousins together and give them a little anecdote about American history. Last year, I told them about our first president, General Washington, and how in the Revolutionary War he pulled together a rag-tag group of patriots and held off the British. One of the kids, about 8 years old, asked a follow-up question that began, “So, when Robert E. Lee became the first President…” So I don’t know how much they listen, but I get a big kick out of it.