On February 5th, I organized a lunch with Jim Thompson, CEO and founder of Crown Worldwide. The lunch, hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, was fully booked with twenty people in attendance.
You may not have heard of Crown Worldwide, but they are one of the largest logistics, international relocation and document storage companies in the world. You probably have seen their trucks, present in many cities around the globe. They bright red sporting a yellow crown.
Jim’s amazing story is that as a young man, after traveling the world after college, decided he wanted to live in Japan, a country that made a distinct impression on him. He moved to Japan in 1963 with $1000 in his pocket and the promise of $250/month moving job. By 1965, he started his business in Yokohama on a shoestring, financing it with U.S. military contracts which he got before he even had the infrastructure to support them. By the early 1970s, Crown Worldwide moves its headquarters to Hong Kong. Today, it employs over 5000 staff in countries around the world. Forbes Magazine puts Mr. Thompson’s net worth somewhere north of $1 Billion.
Below are some takeaways from the lunch with Jim Thompson:
- Tenacity is vital to success and growth. You need to able to continue even in the face of hardship and failure. You need to be able to overcome fear.
- At the same time, you need to know when to let go of businesses. Some of the best ideas, simply don’t work out. If a business has little prospect for growth or change, let it go.
- Controlled growth is key. Risk is critical to growth, but avoid risking so much that a failure could kill the company. You want to be able to have a lot of good ideas fail and still walk away to fight another day.
- Consistent culture worldwide is key. Before acquiring another business, be as sure as you can that the culture can be changed to match that of the larger business. Differing cultures can result in failure. Let go of acquired businesses that cannot change.
- Maintaining a culture of entrepreneurship, initiative-taking, and acceptance of prudent risk is difficult to maintain as business grows, and requires constant effort to maintain. This becomes more important as time passes.
- Successful entrepreneurs, frequently justify actions with economic rationale after the fact, but move to make decisions by passion. Strength of passion is what is needed to overcome fear and endure the inevitable hardships in building a business.
Photo courtesy of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) and Crown Worldwide.