Art Mesher, Descartes, ‘The turnaround kid’

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This morning Communitech’s TechWorking breakfast was a speedy interlude into the life and time of Art Mesher at Descartes. Descartes is one of those tech firms which had a fair dip a while back around when the tech bubble burst and was almost wiped off the face of the earth — until Art showed up. Art provided a hard-hitting yet entertaining view of his top step program to turning around the organization — some tough stuff that yielded real results, evidenced by Descartes’ total turnaround, with 10 profitable quarters under its belt these days.

Art’s Ten Step Program to a healthier, happier turnaround (credit where credit’s due — based on a Dilbert scheme from some time ago, God bless Scott Adams):


1. Go dark and execute. Refocus and plan on reemerging six months later.

2. But before you do #1, throw your predecessor under the bus. Tell everyone s/he was an incredibly ‘dim bulb’. The best part about this is your stock won’t dip because everyone pretty much already knew it.

3. Identify 2-3 things that are working well in your business, and double your energy on those.

4. Identify the 4-5 things that are consuming more time and energy than they’re worth, and kill those.

5. Lay off a third of the workforce. Harsh! History dictates you’ll probably have to do it anyway, and your ability to continue to employ the other 2/3 is at stake. Grit your teeth and do it.

6. Reduce layers, flatten the company, and then promote up and comers and put them clearly in charge.

7. Figure out the single most important thing your company has to win at, and but your single best person in charge of winning it.

8. Look at the market, find new areas in which you’re not currently winning but want to — and acquire the best companies in that segment.

9. In six months, re-lauch the company with a clear vision.

10. Stop suing your customers.

Art’s 3 Acronyms for Success:

O.N.E. - One Networked Enterprise; the tech marketplace is consolidating, do the same in your organization — it’s one entity.

T.E.A.M. - Transparency; Entrepreneurial Enthusiasm; Accountability; Metrics.

L.E.A.R.Ning - Listening; Educating; Articulating; Researching: Networking.


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Tom Corr of the Accelerator Centre, Iain Klugman of Communitech and John Pollock of Electrohome are officially opening room.


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StartupCamp: Everything I Wish I’d Known

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Jim Estill of Synnex is going to tell us everything he wishes he’d known before he make that fatal fateful decision to become an entrepreneur.

Jim’s Top 10 Rules:

  1. There isn’t any secret. It’s all the little things.
  2. There is no order to the top 10 - priorities change
  3. Different situations need different solutions
  4. Manage your risk - fail often, fail fast, fail cheap
  5. Set a pace you can maintain forever - business is a marathon, sharpen the saw
  6. Be frugal
  7. Be growth oriented - growth motivates
  8. Welcome and embrace change - change is opportunity
  9. Nurture a network - give freely to people, keep in touch
  10. Be a time management fanatic - use tricks, study it, speed/sense of urgency wins

Since he sold EMJ Systems to Synnex he has learned a few things. For example, since Synnex is the largest distributor in Canada, if WalMart doesn’t buy from him they don’t have computers to sell. So they now actually pay their bills on time.

He allowed his company to grow by letting go of the decisions, but managing the culture. If people understand the culture, then they make the right decisions.

He loves to fight, but he doesn’t like fair fights. He only likes fights where he has the advantage.

Retail will continue to grow, but online is a big part of their business and growing fast.

He sold EMJ Systems partly because of fear of change on the horizon, liquidity, and because he was feeling a bit bored. And since he is no longer running his own business he now has options. He can call California tomorrow and say he isn’t coming in… ever. (Just kidding.)

What keeps him up at night? What customers did he lose that he needs to get back? Has he done enough networking? He says that you should only worry about what you can potentially fix.

Jim’s presentation:

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