This post is part of the Leadership Interview Program, The Leadership Group's blog column in which President Trevor Stevenson interviews leaders about life and work.
Jim Short is a VP of Sales Consulting at Stratford Managers Corporation. Stratford provides access to services and expertise including business operations, human resources, finance, GC+, sales, marketing and intellectual property for innovative small and mid-sized firms looking to break through to the next level. Jim’s division helps these companies do everything from initially accessing available government programs and providing interim sales training through to helping them develop a national and international sales strategy, an appropriate compensation plan, and sales information systems. In other words, Jim provides everything these companies need to become effective in the market.
Jim recently spoke with The Leadership Group’s Trevor Stevenson to discuss the importance of pursuing government funding and why confidence is the essential ingredient to success.
TREVOR STEVENSON OF THE LEADERSHIP GROUP: Does Stratford Managers have a niche market that they focus on or are attracted to?
JIM SHORT: We enjoy helping and are fortunate to work with many emerging technology companies. People who are part of L-Spark, people who are part of the Wesley Clover group and companies like that. Some of them have gone through their first round of funding, and some of them are reasonably well established. Sometimes it is simply making sure that they have all the appropriate technology and access to the government services that they require. There are a wide variety of services that they need and we’re thrilled to be able to help them.
TREVOR: What’s your relationship with Invest Ottawa?
JIM: We’ve done a fair amount of work with them, helping a couple companies get started. We encourage our clients to participate in Invest Ottawa programs very early on, and help get them in front of committees like the Ottawa Angel Funding Network, and so forth.
I’m actually currently helping a company take full advantage of a program that allows them to work in The Hague and other places around the world. The Invest Ottawa folks, the Government of Ontario and Global Affairs Canada have a program where people can reside on a campus in The Hague where they develop very sophisticated and advanced security technology to thwart cyber crime and to address future international cyber threats. It’s really an unbelievable opportunity.
I was just in Europe on behalf of another company where I leveraged Global Affairs relationships and met with the consul generals in Dusseldorf, Munich, Berlin, Amsterdam and London. That company now has an international sales and marketing program taking full advantage of the ways government can help them in that regard.
TREVOR: There are so many support resources available to startups, yet most people don’t even know about them.
JIM: Exactly. It’s funny when you talk to companies outside of Ottawa. You speak to companies in Toronto that are exactly the type of organization that the Government of Canada wants to help get on their feet. Those companies would benefit tremendously from the available programs, but their attitude is “Yeah, as if the Government of Canada’s going to do anything for me.” Well sure enough, we’ve worked with 2 companies over the past 6 months that are now successfully participating in the Building Canada Innovation program. They are now launching an entire public sector initiative with $500,000 from the federal government. Try telling a company in Alberta that the federal government is going to help them. When you first talk to them, they say, “It’s all political, they’re not actually going to do it.” There is a lot of initial disbelief.
TREVOR: At The Leadership Group, we’ve worked with the federal government and we’ve realized that it’s an amazing space, because they invest in themselves and they invest in their own development. But back to you, was most of your career in sales?
JIM: Yes. It just worked out that way. My very first job out of university was starting a software company with a friend back in 1983. Our company was a word processing company before Microsoft Word and WordPerfect even came out, so we could have been very successful had we known then what we know today. Using my past experience, I always think about what I would have wanted to know, and what kind of expertise I could have tapped into to take that from a terrific idea and a great little piece of software into an actual international success.
I thought I needed to learn how to sell, so I went to Xerox and was successful there. I then moved to Apple where I helped run their channel program in Canada and really learned the reseller side of the business. From there, I went to an Ottawa-based consulting firm as VP of Sales. It helped me to really understand the full systems development lifecycle, and the role of expertise versus technology—it takes both to operate a successful system. Next, I went to Entrust and was employee number 70. We grew that to a $150-million business. I was VP of Sales for Canada and we did a $100-million deal to change the way the Government of Canada delivers services online. Then I was VP of Security Solutions at Telus and built their national program. I went on to become VP of Sales for the public sector for CA Technologies for Canada. After that, I helped a couple of startups to get rolling and did some more consulting work. I went on to become VP of Sales for a US company named Avepoint and helped them get their business going. And now I’m working for Stratford Managers.
TREVOR: Wow, impressive. Something you mentioned earlier peaked my interest. Can you expand upon the notion of having something, but not knowing exactly what you have? What would you have told young Jim? What do entrepreneurs need to now?
JIM: The first thing I would say—especially in today’s climate—concerns the federal government. They really have 3 main objectives. One is that they have a strong desire to create experts. The second thing is that they have a strong desire to create jobs. The third thing I would add is they have a strong desire to move from a natural-resource-based economy to a human-resources-based economy. I help companies understand that and help them to realize that, first and foremost, the government is there to help. They want Canadian success stories and they are genuinely supportive. Whether it’s through the Industrial Research Assistance Program or providing money to help develop the software, hardware, technology or funding marketing programs and sales programs that have an international reach. My best advise is to work with the Government of Canada’s Concierge Service, because they can genuinely help. They have a vested interest in your success.
TREVOR: Amazing. Thank you for sharing that gem with us. Achieving balance is one of the most challenging things for young entrepreneurs. What words of wisdom do you have to share with them on this topic?
JIM: I always tell my kids to stick to their dreams, because they can genuinely come true.
My girlfriend’s son had always had entrepreneurial tendencies. He was working as a sales guy in Montreal, but had a fantastic idea. I’ve provided him with guidance. He literally has been one of those people who has leveraged government programs. He stuck to his dream, he starved a little bit, but he stayed committed to his dreams, and now he has a 10-person company that’s growing by 50% every 6 months.
TREVOR: Incredible. This story reminds me of you as a young entrepreneur. Would you say that you were passionate about the code you were writing for your word processing software?
JIM: Absolutely, and that’s what I tell people. Follow your head for sure, but also follow your heart. I’ve always told my children to find work where they get the most professional satisfaction. All of us being equally smart, the things you enjoy the most are the things you’re going to work the hardest at. Nothing builds self-confidence like accomplishment. Confidence is such an important part of our development as people, and it’s such an important factor in success.
I also tell them that success is not defined monetarily. If you work really hard, stick to your dream, have a vision, and you’re in something that you’re really passionate about it, you’ll feel a tremendous sense of fulfilment and accomplishment. All of those things will help you be a much better person. You may not get rich, but you’ll become a much better human being because of it.
TREVOR: So beautifully said. In all of this you run into challenges. You can always figure out the technology and the systems, but what about communication and relationships? What are some of the biggest challenges or successes for you in being able to lead others, to have others follow and be engaged and create results?
JIM: The first thing is you need to have a well thought-out, well-articulated strategy and vision that people can really understand and get behind. The second thing I always do is make sure that the members of my team understand that every role from reception to the VP of Engineering is critical to our collective success. What people do every day is very important for their own personal and professional development, and also very important to the collective good of the organization. If we bought into the vision and the strategy, then we all have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to deliver our portion of it, because everybody’s portion is valuable. Everybody should feel as if they’re an important contributor to the overall success. The third thing I do is manage performance reviews and day-to-day expectations, so people are actually getting reviewed on what they’re doing every day. They’re enthusiastic and contributing, because they feel that they’re genuinely a part of something, so they’re incented by being part of a successful team effort. I always think it’s good to inspire, reward and recognize people’s efforts.
TREVOR: Words of wisdom from Jim Short. I would like to thank you for taking the time to share your experiences and advice with us today. I’ve gotten a lot out of our chat.
JIM: You’re welcome Trevor. It was my pleasure.