Playing With A Full Deck

Earlier this week, the Phoenix Business Journal wrote an executive profile of our CEO, Jim Hooker. The piece profiles Jim’s education and business background, but what we’re really proud of is that it highlights what happened when he found the hidden gem, Televerde.

Jim’s always been a strong advocate that the work we do every day has a social purpose, which is why he’s committed – from the beginning – to work with Corrections Industries to provide training, career counseling and good-paying jobs to our teammates at Indiana’s Rockville Correctional Facility and the Arizona State Prison Complex at Perryville.

Read on to learn more about Jim and how he came to be introduced to Televerde. We want to give a big thank you to Hayley Ringle and the Phoenix Business Journal for their interest in Televerde and continued excellent reporting. Enjoy!

Playing with a full deck: Jim Hooker finds challenges in helping women in prison, competitive bridge

Jim Hooker’s life has been filled with getting into deals he couldn’t refuse.

After majoring in anything but school during college, and after being drafted into the Army following the Vietnam War withdrawal, Hooker didn’t start to get serious about his career until earning his MBA at American University in Washington.

“I was a top student. I liked finance and liked the challenge,” said Hooker, who was born in Baltimore and spent two years in the Army.

“I got more focused. I wanted to run IBM.” He started selling IBM computers to companies in Brooklyn, New York. He admitted he sold a lot but didn’t finish many deals.

A former manager asked him, after a couple years working for IBM, to be a marketing director for a reseller of computer hardware and software. Hooker said he thought it was a good career move, at least until he got another deal a few years later that he couldn’t refuse.

That job was to run a hardware, leasing, and maintenance business for a software company focused on the apparel business. But he left after a couple years because of professional differences.

Yet the move helped him to start his own computer leasing company in Manhattan, where he leased and sold hardware. He ended up selling his Ceres Capital Corp. to PacifiCorp Capital Corp. after six years for an undisclosed price. Hooker continued working for PacifiCorp, moving to Virginia with his wife and three boys. After a year there, he became the company’s president and COO.

After PacifiCorp merged with Bell Atlantic Capital and became Pacific Atlantic Capital Corp., Hooker moved to Phoenix as its executive vice president.

“I never wanted to live in Phoenix, but I got a deal I couldn’t refuse,” he said. “I liked the money and the opportunity.

It looked like an interesting kind of deal. It was better for two companies to be together than competing.”

Yet again, the deal that seemed good soured for professional and cultural differences, Hooker said.
In college, Hooker said learned to play bridge after his roommate was one of the top card counters and a gamer. Instead of plunging back into the business work, Hooker said he decided he would focus on being a world-class bridge player. “It was always a hobby I was pretty good at,” Hooker said.

He entered competitions and won regional events, playing with the best players in the world.
But, once again, after a couple years he became bored and decided to look for something else.
By then it was the dawn of the early World Wide Web, and he found an opportunity after meeting the founder of Televerde in 1995. The Phoenix-based sales and marketing solutions provider used trained women in correctional facilities as call center employees.

“The business idea was small, but I really liked the idea of being able to do something for the women who were incarcerated,” Hooker said. “I loved the challenge. Everyone said I couldn’t make this work.”

Although he initially was just an investor, he bought out a partner and became CEO in March 1996.
“They needed a leader, and I wanted to create the best solution,” Hooker said. “I found the ladies to be intelligent, perceptive and willing to learn the most complex things. It was an exciting time.”

Televerde now has 600 employees and works with women in prisons in Rockville, Indiana, and Perryville Prison in Goodyear. The company also has offices in Glasgow, Scotland, and Cordoba, Argentina, and works with 110 mainly tech companies.

Hooker said while he’s managed to stay in this job for close to 20 years, he still plays bridge a couple days a week to keep his mind sharp.

“The game is so addictive and very competitive,” said Hooker, who plays at a couple local bridge clubs.

“My mother always said if you learn how to play bridge and golf, you’ll never be alone.”

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