Jim James, Ideal Industries' new president and CEO, talks about the economy and his plans to triple the company's revenues over the next eight years.
Jim James was named president and CEO of Ideal Industries in mid-August. He succeeds Dave Juday, who had been serving as interim president and CEO of Ideal since February. Juday will continue his role as chairman of the board. Before joining the Sycamore, Ill.-based Ideal Industries, James was president of ITW Building Glenview, Ill., Components Group, a division of Illinois Tool Works.
In an interview with Electrical Wholesaling, James fielded questions about the U.S. economy, Ideal Industries' sales channels and ambitious plans for the company's future growth.
Q: SO FAR, HOW DOES IDEAL SEEM SIMILAR TO YOUR POSITION AT ITW? HOW IS IT DIFFERENT?
A: In terms of responsibility and accountability it's the same. In terms of agility and freedom, Ideal's culture and being privately held allows it to be much more agile. The freedom to think, act, and invest for the longer term is different from publicly traded companies that tend to think and act in the shorter term.
Q: WHAT KIND OF SALES FORCE DID ITW USE? ITS OWN FACTORY SALESPEOPLE, INDEPENDENT REPS OR A MIX OF THE TWO?
A: ITW is an $18 billion company with nearly 900 business units in over 48 countries. So you can imagine that you will find every type of sales structure within ITW. During my career with ITW, I have managed several different businesses that utilize direct sales and independent sales and/or a combination of both. The type of products and markets served determined which system was utilized.
Q: WHAT IS THE REP-FACTORY SALESPERSON MIX AT IDEAL?
A: 90 percent direct and 10 percent independent.
Q: Do you ANTICIPATE ANY CHANGES IN The REP-FACTORY MIX AT IDEAL?
A: No, not in the near future. Our businesses will continually review their business strategies to ensure we are well positioned to remain competitive in these channels that are constantly changing.
Q: WHICH PRODUCT AREAS IS IDEAL LOOKING AT FOR EXPANSION?
A: We will continue to evaluate our product offering and expand where it makes sense. The key here is to continue to innovate and to make sure we bring products that add value for our customers.
Q: WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR GOALS FOR IDEAL AS PRESIDENT AND CEO?
A: I came to Ideal because it has a great foundation and track record and the shareholders are eager and willing to continue to invest in its growth. We have set a goal of tripling revenues by Ideal's 100th birthday in 2016. This goal will be the basis for our acquisition and organic growth strategies going forward.
Q: HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO MEET WITH MANY OF IDEAL's DISTRIBUTORS?
A: Unfortunately, I have not had a chance to fully dive into our distributor network. My goal is within the first eight weeks on the job to have met all of our team members and visited all of Ideal's businesses around the world. It is a priority of mine to get out and begin meeting our distributors that Ideal has spent the past 92 years in partnership with.
Q: DID YOU HAVE A LOT OF DISTRIBUTOR CONTACT AT ITW? WAS IT A DISTRIBUTION-BASED BUSINESS?
A: A majority of the sales in the businesses that I managed at ITW went through distribution. It was always important that I stayed close to the channels to ensure our growth strategies and organization structures were aligned correctly.
Q: CAN YOU SHARE WITH US YOUR OPINION ON THE ECONOMY? HOW LONG DO YOU THINK IT WILL BE BEFORE THE ECONOMY SETTLES DOWN?
A: Wow, that is a question the experts are having trouble answering, but I will give it a try. Based on the data and information I have been reviewing and based on our own markets, I don't think things will bottom out until early to mid-2009 and then not start to pick up again until Q4 2009 or early 2010. Not until the credit markets resolve their issues will we see the housing and commercial markets begin to grow again.
Even with all the turmoil on Wall Street, several sectors of the economy continue to fare well, but these too will eventually be adversely affected unless credit begins to loosen back up. Obviously, the credit crisis and commodity pricing is much more complex than I have laid out here, but many experts give hope things will get better by the end of 2009.
Q: INCREASES IN METALS PRICES AND BUILDING COMMODITIES ARE A BIG ISSUE IN THIS INDUSTRY. WHICH COMMODITY PRICES DID YOU TRACK MOST CLOSELY WITH ITW?
A: Oil and steel affected a good portion of ITW products but it was not so much what we tracked, as it was how each business dealt with the increases that was monitored.
Q: DO YOU SEE MUCH DIFFERENCE IN THE IMPACT COMMODITY PRICING HAS ON COMPANIES?
A: Commodity pricing has affected everyone the same worldwide. No one is immune to these increases. How companies decide to deal with these increases is what will determine the true impact on their businesses.
Who is JIM James?
Before assuming his current post, Jim James was president of ITW Building Components Group, a division of Illinois Tool Works. In his 16 years with ITW, James worked across a broad range of industries including metal fabrication, aerospace, construction adhesives and component manufacturing. James received an MBA from Georgia State University and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Technology (Manufacturing Engineering) from the University of Wisconsin.
Habitat for Humanity, Bridge Homes for Children, Junior Achievement Teacher and United Way volunteer.
James and his wife, Missy, have two children, a daughter, Hannah (11) and a son, Austin (8). James enjoys all sports and coaches his kids in basketball, baseball, football and soccer.