I'm around a lot of entrepreneurs. There is something about people who strive and build, who create something from nothing and understand the joy and struggle that goes along with it. We all have dreams, those goals we want to attain that come in many forms. Some of us love to design, others to build, some love the thrill of watching an organization grow. We all have different things that we pursue for varying reasons, but there is one universal need we all have. All entrepreneurs need guidance and support, we need wisdom from people who have walked that path before. As I walk my own path, with all of these connections and knowledge, today I got some time with Jim Wasson and he knows how to build.
Jim's story is incredible and there are some interesting overlaps between the two of us and our paths. He is a builder, a true builder, of machines, processes and businesses. He loves it. Jim is the kind of guy who works with his hands and his mind, they are joined in this incredible dance. As a young man he started with Ham radios at the age of 12, built and raced drag cars and found his way to the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics. There he studied aviation and the maintenance of aircraft systems. We share this background, I served as a crew chief on heavy cargo aircraft in the Air Force. I love maintainers, we are just a different breed, people who know the truly losing battle of trying to make a machine under so much stress perfect, but also people who know what it is to truly have made something fly. We are the lesser known names, the hands and eyes, blood and sweat that make those marvelous machines glide across the sky.
Hearing Jim talk about his time working in the Virgin Islands on the Grumman Goose, a seaplane for the uninitiated, first on the structure itself and then on the avionics components is listening to someone whose adventures combined with something that made them happy. Builders want to build, to work with their hands, to see things come to life. Jim wanted more, and soon found himself in California at Northrup University with the same job because of a wonderful convergence where his employer in the Virgin Islands owned a company in California as well. He studied Engineering Technology and then went on an amazing journey in aviation working at Northrup on the F-18, then McDonnell Douglass on the Apache and on down the road of a brilliant career, culminating in his role as CTO of BAE systems. During his career, Jim wrote textbooks as well, and with the knowledge he has it is no surprise, he acquired an MBA and PhD during this time as well. Currently, he is a consultant at the SBA Small Business Development Center, helping people build and develop their businesses. Jim is a builder, a true builder.
All of that would be impressive by itself, and it certainly tests the limits of my word count for this particular blog, but it is that, while working and studying, Jim founded two companies, and his third upon leaving BAE, that makes him even more amazing. His first company dealt with avionics installation, forming a strategic partnership with Leerjet to help upgrade avionics components in business aircraft. He was in school at the time. That company is still in business. He is proud of that, his eyes gleam and his smile gets a bit wider, he is a builder, he builds things to last.
His second company involved the application of GPS technology for golf courses, using the network, which was new at the time, to help scout the geography of holes and provide that information via a golf cart screen. The ProLink GPS system, their product, is actually deployed at the Patriots Point glof course in Charleston as well as over 1500 other golf courses in the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan. The story of this product is, like the story of so many products, not linear. It involved moving forward, learning of a difficulty, reapproaching and then moving back. From the product itself, to pricing, to raising capital for the company, the journey was not simple, it involved a great deal of learning. Jim loves to learn, he's an engineer, he's a builder, this work is in his DNA. This company was sold as the market evolved and the founders came out very well. They stuck in there, they fought, they listened and they learned.
Maybe that is the greatest lesson that can be taken from Jim, that we need to be open and learn. Giving up is not the answer, nor is limitless, blind, false optimism. Sometimes things are going wrong, sometimes things are difficult. it is important for you to ask why these things are happening, to explore for the cause and find a way to fix it. Process is important, Jim will tell you this often, but it is also important to understand your constraints. Only through understanding those can you begin to figure out what you need to do to improve.
Jim is a builder, a true builder, and I am very happy with the time I spent with him today. I wish I had more space to do his story justice, but those are the constraints of this story. Walking to my car from our meeting I feel like I have learned a lot and had the fact that I must be prepared to adapt reinforced. It is good to hear things from people who have traveled the road you are on earlier, to learn from those who have walked it and try your best to apply that knowledge.
Favorite Dinosaur: T Rex
Why: He was aggressive