A farewell to Jim Estill

People come and go in this fast-paced industry – from CEOs to those of us who report the news. There are a rare few, though, that stand out. For many, Jim Estill – who announced he’ll be retiring from Synnex Canada at the end of May – is one of those people.

A 30-year veteran of the distribution business, Estill is known for his ability to hatch successful new business opportunities, and has been a usual suspect on CDN‘s annual Top 25 Newsmakers. Clearly, that’s because he’s run successful businesses, first at EMJ Data Systems, and then at Synnex Canada (NYSE: SNX</a). But that's only part of the story.

We live in a world of marketing-speak, where C-level execs are media-trained, where their statements are crafted and finessed by a team of public relations experts. These words, however, sometimes feel empty, and what we lose in this interaction is a sense of personality. Many C-level execs start blurring together, like Stepford CEOs.

Really, though, we’ve become so accustomed to this that someone genuine tends to stand out. Estill’s blog – which is not affiliated with Synnex or any other company – shares his opinions on everything from business opportunities in a downturn to inspirational quotes from the latest book he’s reading. And it’s refreshing.

Estill founded EMJ, which grew into a $300 million business, which he then took public in 1994. He bought DaisyTek in 2003; a year later, Synnex acquired EMJ.

Though Estill has had many successes in his career so far, like bringing Apple and Acer on board when others wouldn’t consider it and making a “lucky” early investment in RIM (he still sits on the board of directors), he’s also quick to point out areas where things didn’t go exactly as planned, such as Seattle Computers and Tall Grass. Haven’t heard of those companies? Exactly his point.

Over the years, he’s made a deep impression on partners, who feel that he genuinely has their best interests at heart. That’s not something we hear very often about CEOs. For many, doing business with EMJ or Synnex was more about doing business with Estill.

It may seem like an odd time to leave a company – when you’re the CEO of a successful business, which is still doing well despite the fact we’re smack-dab in the middle of a recession. Somehow, though, I’m not entirely surprised. Some people bring a sense of optimism to whatever they do and aren’t going to let something like a recession get in the way of their goals and aspirations.

And Estill is ready for a new challenge (though he’s unable to reveal what that new challenge will be under contractual obligations). Whatever it is, though, it won’t compete with Synnex.

In his latest blog, Estill talks about a book called Strategic Acceleration: Succeed at the Speed of Life. He brings up a point made in the book: that most people fail from lack of action than from doing things that are not perfect. Estill has never shied away from mistakes or failure – and perhaps that’s the secret of his success. Whatever he chooses to do next, I have no doubt that success will follow him.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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