Fail Often. Fail Fast. Fail Cheap

July 6, 2016

Game-changing advice from a savvy CEO

“You can be successful without an original idea, there are no original ideas, it’s all about the implementation.” J. Estill

Jim Estill started his wildly successful business career accidentally, in 1979, as a university student designing circuit boards in his spare time. He would buy a couple of computers for parts, then buy two more and sell the surplus from the trunk of his gas-guzzling Oldsmobile Cutlass. (Today, he’s eager to distance himself from the ‘Olds days’… “I’m an environmentalist now,” Estill says, “I drive a Prius.”) By 2004, his self-made computer distribution start-up, EMJ Data, had reached $350 million in sales.

Later, under his leadership as CEO of Synnex Canada, that company’s sales grew from $800 million to two billion dollars. So what did he do next? Wrote a book, of course, to share the wealth – Zero to $2 Billion: The Marketing and Branding Story Behind the Growth.

Admittedly having a “core competency” with distressed companies, Estill has invested in more than 150 angel venture deals; served on 5 to 6 boards at a time since 1990; and made 175 acquisitions ranging from one dollar to $600 million. He was a board member of RIM, in the glory days before they went public. He left the board 7 years ago and moved to NY, and jokes that BlackBerry imploded soon after. After a 2nd attempt at retirement, Estill is now back in the C-suite – at the helm of Danby Appliances. But you’ll rarely find him behind a desk.

“I do have an office,” Estill notes, “because there are times when you have to talk with someone privately. But I like to be out working with the staff. If you’re in an office by yourself you miss out on the vibe, you miss out on the energy.” He isn’t thrilled with meetings, either. “When I have a meeting with a lot of people, I keep it to an hour – no more. Meetings, a lot of the time, are a waste of time. I’d rather be out walking and talking one-on-one. It’s equalizing and we both feel comfortable.”

For all his financial success, Estill lives modestly, and is a philanthropist who believes in “doing the right thing” in business and in his personal life. In 2015, he led the effort to bring 50 Syrian refugee families, roughly 250 people, to Canada. “It’s a humanitarian crisis… imagine your house gone, your business gone, no safe place to go. Countries around the world were not working fast enough, so I had to do my part.”

Jim Estill creates fortunes based on savvy time management, close ties with employees, and a select menu of good habits. Here is his sage advice for a successful work/life balance, no matter what your bank balance:

  • Be inspired to take up a new success habit for one year. Create a habit by anchoring it to something else – like taking the stairs at work, instead of the elevator.
  • Create your own energy and stamina. Things you like, give you energy. Things you don’t, sap your energy. Give those ones up.
  • Eat fresh, healthy foods. Keep fit. Have walking meetings; walking phone calls; listen to audio books while exercising. Spend, at the very least, 20 minutes a day outside. Gardening is great therapy. Meditate.
  • Study people who are doing more. Ask “What do I need to change in me to get to the next level?” Let go of things you can’t change; work on what you can.
  • Don’t get arrogant. The more famous you become, the less people tell you the truth. They say what they think you want to hear.
  • Define success. My own purpose is to help as many people as possible achieve their greatest potential. For the company, success is goal-focused on measurable numbers. I have many wealthy friends, billionaires, who have lost the definition of success. They have too much money. I donate everything over a certain amount every year to base causes, like the Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity, but I don’t make it public.
  • Fail often. Fail fast. Fail cheap. It means you’ve tried. Having a failure does not make you a failure. The true wisdom is learning from other people’s failures.

Follow Jim Estill online at


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