I have known and interviewed Jim Estill for more than a decade and what I found about him is that he is extremely entrepreneurial. He practically owns half of Guelph, Ont., where EMJ Data Systems Ltd., the company he founded back in 1979, is based.
He personally showed me his land and the
remaining acreage for expansion if he ever wanted to increase the size of EMJ’s current distribution facility.
Over the years he has been very successful acquiring companies at bargain-basement prices such as Daisytek, Empac and SDMS. Each of these companies were in financial trouble and all proved to be strategic assets for EMJ. In fact, SDMS strengthened EMJ’s position in point-of-sale distribution business, which was one of the reasons why Synnex CEO Robert Huang offered Estill $56 million last month to enter into a Synnex/EMJ alliance.
Estill was also smart enough to partner with up-and-coming companies such as Citrix Systems and Macromedia before others.
Beyond finding trend-setting IT companies, he would drill down deep to partner with obscure little companies such as Extensis, Hemera, Dantz and Global Graphics for success. And he would also take flyers on Casio for handhelds when every one else wanted Palm, and Acer for its Tablet PCs.
In my opinion, Estill has remained successful because he isn’t looking for a home run ever time at bat. He’s happy with a hit, a walk, hit by pitch, balk – anything just to get on base. It is a philosophy that’s been working for many, many years. One of Estill’s classic quotes is: “”We’re more of a workhorse than a racehorse.””
He’s also a reasonable man. Unlike his peers, during the rock-bottom year of 2001 Estill did not see fit to lay off staff. It was business as usual for him and EMJ, which consistently delivered profitable quarter after profitable quarter. He could have made staff reductions and no one would have batted an eye.
Estill is very unique for a CEO: he picks up his own phone. He hires technically trained people as his sales staff. And he doesn’t golf, which in this industry is a misdemeanor offence.
Moving forward, however, I wonder if the Synnex/EMJ alliance will shackle Estill’s entrepreneurual spirit? Can he continue to wheel and deal for success or will he be stuck in a decision-making-by-committee environment?
A positive first step was to leave Estill in charge. No disrespect to Mitchell Martin, who is a first class executive in his own right, but Estill brings clout to Synnex big time in this marketplace and with his unique management style will challenge Tech Data and Ingram Micro.