As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Estill.
Jim Estill is currently CEO of both of Danby Appliances and ShipperBee, a new venture that is revamping outdated shipping channels into a system that is better for consumers, retailers and the environment.
Jim is a Canadian technology entrepreneur, executive, and philanthropist. He started his first computer distribution business from the trunk of his car while in university and grew that business to $2 Billion in sales.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
When I was in University, I wanted to design circuit boards, as I am an engineer. I stared by buying computers and got a better deal if I bought 2 computers, and I sold one to someone else. Soon I bought another computer, some printers and software. I started buying and re-selling computer products and that business, which I started from the trunk of my car, grew into EMJ Data Systems, which I sold to SYNNEX. Eventually I reached 2 billion in sales.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I was selling computer parts and packed them in packing peanuts — sometimes called popcorn. So, being an environmental type person, I thought — why don’t I try real popcorn. I bought a few air poppers and popped corn. It turns out when shipped, it compresses so is not good packing. It did make the warehouse smell nice. But worse — we had never had mice and ended up with a mouse infestation.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I read so much; it is difficult to choose just one book. I embraced eMyth — create systems and process around everything. I enjoyed 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing and have become a marketer over time. On a similar vein, Influence — the Psychology of Persuasion.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
My first vision was to build a $100,000,000 company. I now realize that is a weak vision. I was always altruistic and realize now the purpose was to “save the world” but to do that, I needed a company of substance.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
My tag line is “Do the Right Thing”. It is on my business cards and the sign above the door. Originally, I said this because as we tried to have guides on how to do everything, I realized we could not possibly cover everything. So how do you treat customers — Do the Right Thing. Do you ship a substandard product — no Do the Right Thing. How do you treat your co-workers — Do the Right Thing etc.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The biggest family challenge is I cannot see my grandchildren in person. Nowhere near as good but we are doing more Facetime.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I really like seeing people in the office/factory/warehouse. I even deliberately walk through so I can speak to people. I learn by seeing and talking to people. Again — nowhere near as effective, but we are now huge on video. We us MS Teams and CallBridge. I also see this as a reduction in communication so I send a regular “wartime CEO update” to keep people informed on what I am thinking.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Someone once explained “conditions” to me. A condition is something that just is. Like the exchange rate or which party is in power. What we can do is figure out what our response is to these conditions. I am big on success habits and think now is a great time to spend some time on them.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I try to read trends and apply them to my business. Danby Appliances is in the freezer business. That will go up with people concerned with food security. We are in the fridge business. Again — households will need more fridge space because they eat at home more. I even see wine coolers as doing well as people entertain more at home. So it sounds like I am in the perfect business — right? Not really — we have huge market share in hotels — that business will be down. We sell to many retail stores — so online will need to be the focus. It is seeing what trends there are and moving resources to the right trend.
In peacetime, my lack of focus is not good. In wartime, it serves us well.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I think there will be less travel, more work at home…and less hugs and handshakes. We are also likely to be more of a germaphobe nation.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Redeploy resources into areas of growth. Be aware of the trends and respond quickly.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Do not define yourself too narrowly. By opening up who you and your company are, you open up opportunities.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Happiness is linked to gratitude. Be grateful to be more happy.
We may feel uncertain now but we still have lots to be grateful for.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can find me on LinkedIn and of course the Danby Appliances and ShipperBee websites.