Howie Jacobson spent his career thinking up—and executing—big ideas for some of Rochester's largest companies. Now he's doing it for himself.

Howie Jacobson spent his career thinking up—and executing—big ideas for some of Rochester's largest companies. Now he's doing it for himself.

In 2011, Howie Jacobson sat at a table with representatives from the Rochester City School District and the Rochester Public Library to find a way to get more children to read- without using time during the school day. Another caveat? Kids couldn't bring books home because they tended not to return them, a problem that could cost up to $10,000 in replacements.

“So here's where my head goes: ‘What could make us unlock that rule?’ Because I don't like rules, especially if they're blocking access,” recalls Jacobson, whose pledge to cover replacement costs helped launch the popular RocRead program, which, through incentives like free ice cream, has consistently drawn participation rates from between 25 and 30 percent of the district's 32,000 students.

And Jacobson hasn't had to shell out a penny.

Coming up with strategies to make things work is natural for the 64-year-old, who recently launched Red Rock 1886, a company that advises small and emerging businesses (mostly those who specialize in manufacturing, real estate, and high tech) on distribution, commercialization of new products, marketing tactics, and other growth opportunities.

“I've worked with hundreds of companies over the years and have been able to identify little nuggets that have sparked some really good ideas,” he says- “Having an outside person as an advisor is of huge value.”

Before offering “a different way to brainstorm,” Jacobson was a former managing partner at Dixon Schwabl, an advertising and marketing firm in Perinton; executive vice president of Canandaigua Wine Company/ Constellation Brands; president of California based Polyphenolics Inc., a leader in the production of grape seed extract; and a member of the group that bought Genesee Brewing Co. in 2000. He's co-founder of The Big Parade, which supports communitywide art projects for charity, vice chair of Golisano Children's Hospital, and vice chair of the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection, among other civic and charitable causes.

Red Rock 1886 is based out of his home in Canandaigua, a place he calls his "recharging station. On their 32-acre property, he and his wife, Jona, tend a vegetable garden, ride a pair of Icelandic horses, and care for two donkeys and a menagerie of chickens.

When he really wants to get away from it all, he lets his mind wander in the treehouse he helped design and build in a stand of maple trees. It has a drop-down ladder, twin bed, woodburning stove, and large windows that overlook a bass pond. There's no electricity or Wi-Fi, so he doesn't bring his laptop, but he allows himself to jot down ideas on paper if the mood strikes.

“The property is full of nooks and special places that allow me to re-energize,” he says, “and that's important because it leads to the creative thinking I do in my advisory role with clients.”

Jacobson doesn't let his irregular work hours get in the way of an invigorating late-night walk along two miles of trails he blazed himself. That would be too conventional. He simply attaches a pencil light to his baseball cap and heads off into the dark.