Jim Hall owns and operates Hall's Training Solutions and is an adjunct teacher at Albany Technical College.
“On the Job with ...” is a weekly feature of Sunday Inc. Today’s Q&A is with Jim Hall, a business owner and former retail manager and engineer. He shared his answers with Managing Editor Danny Carter.
Q. What was your first job?
A. Outside of yard work, stock boy at Hillcrest Grocery at age 13. Did everything from mark and put up stock to bagging and carry out. Mopped floors every Saturday morning. Later worked my way up to home delivery in a 1954 Chevy Van and even meat cutting. I learned retailing from the bottom up.
Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first paycheck?
A. Clothes. I was able to by my own clothes all through high school and that was pretty important at the time.
Q. What’s the single most effective technique you found during the past two years for keeping clients happy?
A. I try to listen to my clients and understand what their needs are, but at the same time make them aware of new technologies that might be useful to them.
Q. What led you to your current position?
A. Started out as a way to give something back toward the end of my first two careers. I’d done some volunteer work in the public school system and wanted to teach for a while. Teaching technology and networking and MS Office at Albany High School led to starting my consulting, teaching and repairing business.
Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?
A. Actually I had one before I started my career that probably influenced my whole approach and my work ethic. Wallace Waters owned the independent grocery store that I worked in for all my teen years until I went to college. He taught me about hard work, integrity and was the inspiration for my developing customer service skills. We took phone orders, delivered groceries; I even put the milk and eggs in some customers’ refrigerators. He never allowed me to loaf while at work and I came to know that there was always something to do in any kind of business. Dealing honestly and fairly with people was evident in our loyal customer base. Later in life, much later I turned to the Bible for role models and still pay attention to them today.
Q. What is the biggest lesson you, as a business leader, learned from the recent recession?
A. Nurturing client relationships in the good times pays with their loyalty in the lean times. There is no better marketing plan than to service one client at a time with integrity, fairness and good customer service skills. Word of mouth is a very powerful means for increasing business.
Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology — examples email, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. — what would you most like to see go away?
A. Automated phone systems and off-shore tech service are two of my pet peeves. In situations where they are necessary, they can both be improved by review from the customer perspective. Supervisors/managers should examine services as customers use them and make changes to make them more user friendly. User testing is an important part of putting any new technology in place and it is often overlooked by mediocre management.
Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?
A. My smart phone, which happens to be an iPhone. In addition to helping me communicate by phone and email, it keeps my contacts handy, my calendar and even helps me find a new client’s location with its GPS features.
Q. What is your favorite tradition?
A. My wife Bonnie and I always go to the beach for our anniversary and we usually meet the same group of close friends who have birthdays and anniversaries about that time. Great fellowship and the seafood is wonderful.
Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?
A. I read parts of the Bible daily for increased wisdom and knowledge. Even after reading the Bible over a dozen times, I find newness and inspiration and a better understanding of my place in the world. I usually start my day with the Bible. For recreational reading I love the spy novel and murder mystery genres. Currently reading “The Scarecrow” by Michael Connelly.
Q. I’m up and going by? And what is your morning routine?
A. I’m up at 5 a.m. Have my usual coffee and English muffin with peanut butter. Read the Bible thoughtfully and meditatively. Read my emails and look at news on my laptop. Then my treat for the day and daily mind exercise; work the crossword in The Albany Herald. Exercise comes after that on the days that I exercise and I’m at work no later than 8 a.m. One nice thing about working from my home is that I can start projects at 6 a.m. if I like and I have freedom to multitask throughout the day. Oh, I almost forgot, I always serve Bonnie her coffee before she leaves for work.
Q. What famous person would you like to meet and why?
A. Most of the ones I would like to meet are dead. Don’t know if that says something about me or about our times. There are founding fathers that I admire and would like to have met, like John Adams, Ben Franklin and more recently Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. All of them shared a sense of what’s right and a love for our country that they were willing to sacrifice for. From the literary world I would have loved to meet Mark Twain and Robert Frost, both artists with words and great conversationalists.
Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?
A. Cooking is my favorite hobby. I love the preparation, the smells and the tastes as well as the fellowship of sharing a special meal. Italian cooking is my specialty. I run for exercise and love the outdoors. Will be going on my annual overnight canoe trip with some fellow nature lovers in May. This year’s trip will feature the Cahaba River in Alabama. Bonnie and I are both certified divers and have been down about 100 feet off Panama City.
Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?
A. I have made many mistakes over a lifetime spanning four careers, but I wish I had taken a turn toward a career in technology a little sooner. I waited until almost retirement time and often wonder where my career would have gone had I started down this path earlier.
Q. Best thing about your job?
A. Being my own boss and being able to see how what I do helps my clients do what they want to better or more productively or with more enjoyment.
Q. Worst thing about your job?
A. I hate preparing invoices. I would prefer doing something creative with technology or helping someone solve a tech issue.
Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?
A. All of my chemical engineering classes prepared me for problem solving. Get the facts, find out what resources are available, what technologies apply, bring all the resources together and manage the outcomes. I also learned a lot in my first job from college as a young process engineer. It was like a lab in practical application of all I had learned in college.
Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?
A. I kind of like what I’m doing now. Most of the time it’s not really work. Solving technical problems is sort of like working the crossword. There are challenges, but very rewarding.
Q. Finish this thought: “On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself ...
A. Swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, having a little seafood and watching the sun go down with my wife and friends.
Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?
A. Integrity. Without that as a foundation, no amount of knowledge or skills can make a leader successful.
Q. Crystal ball time: What’s your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?
A. I’m not confident that we’ll see economic recovery in full swing in my lifetime. We are proceeding down some proven failed paths, being led by many leaders who are lacking in wisdom.
Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?
A. Light rock, ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll and opera, especially Verdi and Puccini.
Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?
A. Continued loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector and increasing dependence on Federal government employment, either directly or indirectly.
Q. What was the best vacation you’ve taken? Why?
A. Any trip to New York City is memorable; one in particular involved taking in an Opera with good friends and enjoying the multitude of restaurants and shopping venues.
Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business during the past few years?
A. Miniaturization has been big. We’ve moved from room sized Main Frame computers to powerful pocket devices that we take everywhere. The evolution of wireless connectivity has also been huge, making us more portable and leading to the mobile era we enjoy today. The arrival of touch as an input method has also had significant impact.