FEATURED MEMBER - Jim 'Coach' Hunter
Interview - July 30, 2003
Jim Hunter has spent his career managing global IT projects in Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Micronesia, Philippines, France and the United States. With more than 25 years in the information technology industry, Jim has a wide range of experience including project management, strategic planning, business process improvement and development of business technology solutions.
After a 3-year stint (during 1997-2000) as the Senior Project Manager for an IT consulting company in Tokyo, Jim co-founded PMP-Japan. He was also a founding member of Stanford University's Advanced Project Management program in 1998, which has evolved into the present Stanford Certified Project Manger (SCPM) project management mastery program. Jim has been a member of the international Project Management Institute (PMI) since 1989 and a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) since 1993..
When did you start your first business? What was it? What lessons did you take away from that experience?
[[Coach]] My first company was Hunter Communications, Inc. started in 1986, a California corporation. This was my first independent IT consulting adventure. My best lesson learned was, "Know your customer". After spending several days putting together a "winning" proposal for an auto parts retailing franchise, I was formally presenting the high points of the proposal to the CEO of the franchise. In my summation, I confidently stated, "This hardware configuration will provide full inventory processing support for your business operation. In fact, it is the most economical solution possibly. You don't need a Cadillac when a Ford will do the job." My client responded, "What's wrong with a Cadillac? I've been driving Cadillac's for 20 years." I lost the account.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in starting your business(es) and how did you overcome them?
[[Coach]] Fear of success. After receiving payment for my first invoice, I discovered that my confidence and faith in my own ability as an entrepreneur was very low. When I received that first payment, I was stunned that someone would really pay for my advice! An entrepreneur needs to get comfortable with the reality that other people are willing to pay for good advice and services. Doing business in Japan has reinforced this premise and helped me position PMP-Japan as a leading Japanese project management consulting company. Quality and 'value-add' services are the biggest challenges doing business with Japanese companies. We all experience some kind of culture shock when relocating to a new country or region. However, I never anticipated the "shock" of learning that my western 'best practices' were, in fact, 'worst practices' in Japan. I developed my consulting skills while working with some of the now defunct 'Big-8' accounting and consulting firms where 'value-add' and quality are only buzzwords and hype. With the help of my diligent PMP-Japan partners, I've adjusted my sense of quality up several notches.
How did you form your business(es)? (Yugen Kaisha, Kabushiki Kaisha, etc.) How long did the start-up process take?
[[Coach]] My two partners, (Soichiro Iwamoto and Jason Frank) and I started PMP-Japan as an informal general partnership for the first nine months. Then, after losing a couple of opportunities with Japanese companies who required government corporate status, we realized we needed to incorporate. We incorporated as a Y.K. with the help of a superb outsourcing legal and accounting organization, Strata Works. With their help, the process was painless and quick (two months). They provided a very low cost method of incorporating using an existing Japanese corporation that was going out of business. We are in the process of converting to a full K.K. by the end of this year.
Where do you see your business(es) in 5 years?
[[Coach]] PMP-Japan will be the leading project and business management consulting and training company in Japan. We will have approximately 40-60 senior-level consultants with another 20-30 interns working their way up the ladder. Our alliances and partnerships with other companies be enlarged to include more global technology and consulting organizations like SAP, Microsoft and other premier institutions like Stanford University. In addition to Japan, we will have operations in California,China and other exotic locations.
Do you see yourself as an entrepreneur? Why?
[[Coach]] Absolutely. As a young man, my big goal was to become a Vice President of an engineering company. After a couple of years shuffling papers sitting behind a V.P. desk at an engineering company in Southern California, I discovered what I really wanted were the 3F's. Freedom, fun and funds!
What is your definition of an entrepreneur?
[[Coach]] A risk taker who enjoys the work he/she is doing and has a fully integrated personal and professional life. Entrepreneurs are not only representatives of their their company, they are the company. They are the image; they possess the skills and knowledge and they own the capacity of the company.
What piece of advice would you give to a person wanting to start his or her own business in Japan?
Rule#1: "You don't have to do it alone." It is OK to reach out, ask for help, outsource your mundane activities and team up with people you like to work with.
Rule#2: "The pie is big enough for everyone." Establish alliances and partnership with complimenting organizations and institutions. The most effective marketing strategy is based on referrals from partnerships and alliances.
Rule #3: "A 5-year business plan is a box you don't want to live in." If you think you need venture capital to succeed, you will be marching to the beat of someone else's drum.
Rule #4: "Recognize your successes." Success comes from your personal assessment and acceptance of accomplishments. You must take the time to sit back and enjoy what you are doing and what your have accomplished. Even the small things like giving your first public speech or volunteering to appear on a TV program or finishing a major proposal. It all adds up.
Can you recommend any resources such as books, websites, or support centers for entrepreneurs in Japan?
[[Coach]] Professional associations in Tokyo, like the Entrepreneur Association of Tokyo, are valuable resources. These associations are great forums for networking with diverse people. Diversity is a key ingredient to an entrepreneur's diet. Business focus is critical, but the entrepreneur needs to live out-of-the-box to survive. Other associations are:
ICA ; ACCJ ; JPMF Global SIG ; ASJ ; ESUJ.
Who are your mentors in business?
[[Coach]] Over the years I've had many wonderful, giving people who shared their knowledge with me. My first mentor was my father who died when I was three years old. His legacy gave me a foundation to launch from: Interestingly, since I arrived in Japan, my mentors have been younger than me. Normally, we think of mentors as someone older and wiser. Someone with more experience and the wisdom of years. This was true during my formative years in the IT industry. However, I now have a handful of 'young' people who are 'mentoring' me. In some cases, we operate in a teacher->student and student->teacher relationship where, depending on the situation, I assume the role of teacher or mentor. Then, for other situations, I take role of student and learn from them. At the top of my current list of mentors are my two PMP-Japan partners, Jason and Soichiro. Next are two very successful entrepreneurs in Japan who have helped me realize several goals, (like taiko drumming and publishing), Cathy Bernatt and Ann Sado Honjo. I consider Mr. Hiroshi Tanaka, president of the Japan Project Management Association, an important ally and mentor. My all-time favorite is my former boss at Fusion Systems Japan, Mike Alfant who is known as the "Entrepreneur's Entrepreneur". Then, there is Mark Ford, a former NASA rocket scientist who helps me stay true to my visions.
What makes you happy?
[[Coach]] A sushi restaurant on every corner! Living in Japan is literally the highlight of my life. I dreamed of living here for many years. Friends are another great source of happiness. As an entrepreneur, the end-of-the-month is a great time of happiness when the rewards, (aka, revenue), are booked. I still get a buzz from getting paid for doing what I love to do, as a entrepreneur.