John Bell is the owner and CEO of Matrix Department Inc. in Leesburg.
John Bell is a transplant from New Jersey, moving south in his senior year of high school. In 2001 he deepened his regional roots with Matrix Department, a digital graphics company in Leesburg.
To unwind after long hours making banners, vehicle wraps and the like, Bell likes to hunt and fish. In fact, if he weren’t in the graphics business he’d be a professional bass fisherman.
He considers courage to be the first and basic building block of business and admires Albert Einstein for his unique and effective ways of solving problems.
Bell shared a question-and-answer session with Herald reporter Jim West.
Q. What was your first job?
A. My first real job was working for West Milford Pharmacy in New Jersey. I was about 14 years old and basically just a cleaner. Four hours a day, three days I week I washed the windows, vacuumed, dusted, stocked the soda machine. Anything that needed cleaning I was the man to clean it up. I did excel in that company and ended up as a cashier before I moved down to Georgia.
NAME: John S. Bell II
POSITION: Owner and CEO, Matrix Department Inc., Leesburg
FAMILY: Married to Kaye with three children, ages 3, 5, 11
EDUCATION: Albany Technical College, Drafting and Design
Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?
A. If I remember correctly it was a fishing pole and reel. I think the brand was a Mitchell 500 with a Daiwa rod.
Q. What’s the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?
A. I’d say a kind of relaxed and laid-back atmosphere. Not being super strict, but still having guidelines to do our day-to-day activities. Listening to our employees and their issues and at the same time making them understand the way I want things done. I guess that motivates them the most. Just being a nice boss. People keep saying that, so I don’t know.
Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to operate your own business?
A. I’ve always had a passion for fine art. I met my ex-partner, who helped me start Matrix. He used to do signage and basic vinyl lettering and at the time was getting ready to marry my sister. He had an idea and I thought it was good so we started this. We went out together and got a loan and made a business plan. It worked, and then just baby steps to where we are today.
Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?
A. That would be my father. He was executive director for a large company and I’d always seen him work so hard all his life. Everything he has, he got himself. I’ve always wanted to be just like him.
Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?
A. I’d say “don’t quit.” Always look for ways to make that money. I’ve learned that business always changes from year to year. You’ve got to figure out what that change is and change to it. You don’t like that, but sometimes you don’t have choice if you want to stay in business. You’ve got to tighten up accounts payable and make your customers pay you back when you have accounts out there.
Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology – examples e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. – what would you most like to see go away?
A. They all have their place. I don’t say anything negative about any of them. I use them all. My family uses them all. They all have a use.
Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?
A. Probably my cell phone. It’s interesting to me that something so small can do so much — make appointments, surf the web. I can get access to my server here at the company. It just helps me with my day to day functions. Without it I probably would be lost.
Q. What is your favorite tradition?
A. Getting together with family during the holidays. On Thanksgiving we always spend a lot of time with my wife’s family. During Christmas and Christmas Eve we spend a lot of time with my family. We both have pretty large families.
Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?
A. I’m not a big reader. I never have been. My last book was “Liberty and Tyranny” by Mark Levin.
Q. I’m up and going by? And what is your morning routine?
A. I pretty much up by 6:30 a.m. I do the normal stuff — shower, eat breakfast. I help my wife get our three kids ready for school and I’m usually out the door by 7:15 and on my way to open this place up.
Q. What famous person would you like to meet, and Why?
A. That’s a hard question. How about Albert Einstein? He was a creator, a real interesting guy. I did a report on him in school once. He looked at things a different way, figured out his problems. That’s what I like.
Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?
A. Hunting and fishing. My employees would say duck hunting because I’m always talking about it. That’s been my thing lately. It’s a lot of fun and helps me with the stress of business.
Q. Best thing about your job?
A. I’m my own boss. I make what happens. I make sure the days goes through and things get done. I don’t have to worry about being fired. If I don’t make it, it’s my own fault.
Q. Worst thing about your job?
A. Being my own boss. If I don’t make it, it’s my own fault. It’s kind of a love/hate relationship there.
Q. “The most beneficial course I took in school was ...”
A. Probably my drafting and design class. It taught me a lot about detail and how important it is.
Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?
A. How about a professional bass fisherman? They get to do something they enjoy every day. They get to go to different lakes all over the place and catch big bass. I think I’d like to do that for a while. That would be fun.
Q. Finish this thought: “On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself …”
A. Sitting on my front porch, overlooking my 10-acre pond, on my 50 acres of land, drinking a cup of coffee.
Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?
A. Courage. You’ve got to have a lot of courage. To me that’s probably the building block of a business. You can’t be afraid to get your feet wet. You can’t be afraid to make financial decisions. You can’t be afraid to take a risk. You’ve got to learn to take the consequences with those risks.
Q. Crystal ball time: What’s your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?
A. In my opinion, if we don’t do something about manufacturing we’re never going to see a financial recovery. There aren’t a lot of wealth-producing jobs out there. That would be my biggest thing. All it can do is get worse.
Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?
A. Heavy metal. Your Metallica, your Megadeth. I grew up with it. I guess it was a Northern thing up there.
Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?
A. Albany worries me. It always has. They try very hard to make Albany a better place. It always seems to go forward but then two steps back. I don’t really know.
Q. What was the best vacation you’ve ever taken? Why?
A. I went to Satellite Beach, Fla., to visit my grandma and stay at her house. It was toward the end of her life and we decided to go down there and see her. But it turned out to be one of the best vacations. My wife and my first child had a great time at the beach, visiting my grandma. We ate at some different little funny restaurants and actually got to see a rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. It was just a fun time and that vacation has always stuck in my head.
Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?
A. All kinds. My industry is constantly changing. The biggest change would be ink formulations. “Greener” inks that are not so harsh on the environment. Inks use a lot of solvents. Now they’re going more toward UV curable. Also bio inks where they use different vegetable bases. There are also latex-type inks.