JMARK Business Solutions, Inc. – Springfield
“It’s always best when we’re underway,” says Springfield businessman Tom Douglas.
He is referring to his seafaring time in the Navy, but Tom could just as easily have been talking about the computer network service firm he leads, JMARK Business Solutions, Inc.
James Montgomery, Jr., started the company in 1988 in Cabool as a small computer service business. Ten years later JMARK moved to Springfield to better serve its expanding list of clients who needed help maintaining their computer equipment.
The following year, a young Bolivar native fresh from four years in the Navy joined the firm as a level-one engineer. Tom Douglas brought youth, energy, enthusiasm and a determination to get things done for his new employer.
Tom grew up on 30 acres in rural Polk County. He helped his younger brother and parents — his father is a lawyer, his mom was a high school guidance counselor — maintain their place while he attended public school and worked part time at the local Western Auto. Early in his life Tom developed an appreciation for hard work and good management.
“Dad instilled a solid work ethic in me,” recalls Tom. “We did everything ourselves on our 30 acres, even mending our own fences. Mom gave me an understanding of people, how to work with them and motivate them.”
After graduating from Bolivar High School in 1990, Tom headed to Mizzou. He studied for two-and-a-half years until he admitted to himself he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. So he joined the Navy.
Tom found exhilaration in sea duty. He experienced a feeling of freedom when his ship was underway. The endless expanse of water ahead of the ship and the limitless brilliance of the stars overhead at night gave him a sense of boundless possibilities.
The Navy also gave Tom an opportunity to observe a variety of management styles: “I saw some good managers and I saw several different bad approaches to management. The range of management styles really helped me understand the importance of managing people the right way.”
He put that knowledge to good use when he started at JMARK in 1997. By 2000, Tom became president of the small firm and eventually its majority owner. Two years later he instituted a new approach to customer billing: a flat-fee service system.
“The flat-fee approach covered all service calls,” says Tom. “It saved a lot of headaches and made our customers much happier.”
By 2007, JMARK had grown to 15 employees. The next year Tom set his sights on expanding the company through acquisition. But to buy out another company, JMARK had to locate capital. Tom sought the advice of the staff at the Missouri State University SBTDC to help assemble a loan package. Isabel Eisenhauer, small business counselor at the MSU SBTDC, helped Tom put together the loan request.
“Because of the work Isabel did, the loan process worked smoothly,” says Tom.
The Bank of Bolivar provided the backing. The resulting loan allowed JMARK to buy out two local competitors, NetWorks, Inc., and NetManage, Inc. That doubled JMARK’s workforce. Additional growth, including two deals that closed in January 2012, allowed Tom to open company offices in Fayetteville, AR, which resulted from a buyout of Integris Tech, and in Colorado Springs, CO, a hotbed of engineering talent JMARK plans to attract for expansion.
With an employee roster now exceeding 50, JMARK’s president plans a formal recruiting and training program that may begin as early as this summer. Seeking talented graduates from area high schools, Tom foresees establishing a JMARK University. It will offer a series of intense nine-month training sessions to indoctrinate two to four trainees at a time in the methods, goals and philosophy of the company.
“My business partners (Doug Deetz, senior vice president of sales, and Brenda Blades, who is responsible for telecommunications sales and management) and I want to provide prospective employees a potential career and to create the level of loyalty found in JMARK’s first two employees, Jeremy Hill and Darren Taff, who continue working with our company today, after more than 19 years.”
With a definite vision and well-established plans for expansion, Tom Douglas knows where he is taking the company.
“Despite the economic downturn during the past several years, JMARK is growing,” the firm’s president says. “One of the big reasons for that is the new foundation we laid when we made the original acquisitions in 2008. And helping make that all possible is the outstanding working relationship we have with Isabel and Rayanna Anderson at the SBTDC.
“It has been a pleasure to work with them. They continue to offer ideas that have worked well for us and have helped promote JMARK.”
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