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Jim Sobeck on acquisitions, boards of directors, and staying ahead of the competition

Episode: 26

Well, I think it’s the author Jim Collins that talks about two business models: the genius with a thousand helpers model versus a solid management team. And, you know, when you’re a genius with a thousand helpers, you have nothing to sell because when you walk out the door, the business is worthless. ~Jim Sobeck

Jim Sobeck, CEO of New South Construction Supply out of Greenville, South Carolina, is a long-range thinker whose ideas have consistently placed him well ahead of the market. And, he’s got a way with words! We had the kind of conversation that makes you want to lean in and take notes.

I was kicked off allowance at age 12 and had to start working in the warehouse sweeping. So begins the story of how Jim got his start in the business, sweeping, loading trucks, and doing anything and everything a boy could do in his father’s construction company.

After college, he made his way to Chicago and eventually Dallas. I had the sales and marketing responsibility over six branches of Owens Corning, about $125 million of P-and-L responsibility at age 23. You know, you either grow or die when you’re thrown into the deep end of the pool at that age.

Grow he did. At 29, he got into the computer software business for lumberyards and contractors. He went on to grow that company into a $30 million business which he sold fifteen years later during the height of the internet bubble for a ridiculous amount.

Today, his company New South Construction Supply has nine outlets, most with rebar fabrication shops in house, with locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

What I love about it the most, he says about the business, [is] we all learned in school there were only three needs: food, clothing, and shelter. Everything else is a want. And so, it’s not a fad business. It’s not a hula hoop. It’s not a pet rock. People will always need shelter, so it’s never going to go out of style. And I love that.


Distribution Talk is produced by The Distribution Team, a consulting services firm dedicated to helping wholesale distribution clients remove barriers to profitability, generate wealth and achieve personal goals.

This episode was edited & mixed by The Creative Impostor Studios.

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He also loves finding new ways to sell smarter, often years ahead of his competition. In once instance, Jim championed an app rollout that his son was less keen on. I said, I don’t care if anyone uses the app… I don’t want to be late to the party. Last year, New South reached a goal of 22,000 orders via their mobile app.

Jim is equally canny in his ability to successfully manage acquisition outcomes. By his count, he’s purchased eight companies on his own and several more in his days with the software firm.

Most acquisitions that fail failed due to a poor cultural fit, he says, recalling a study which marked the failure rate as high as 72%. The most important thing by far is the cultural fit. That’s the thing I always look for. You know, do we mesh?

Beyond culture, he’s unwavering in his stance that audited financials are the only financials worth reviewing in an acquisition. I was schooled by one of my early mentors: Run it like you’re going to sell it.

To that end, he also advises companies worth more than $5 million to put together a board — and to pay attention to their advice. Why not surround yourself with five other people that are smarter than you and shut up and listen!

That’s my cue to step aside so you can listen in. Jim is one of the smarter people in the business. In fact, he wrote the book on it: The Real Business 101: Lessons From The Trenches.

If you’re in need of tips for successfully navigating a branch expansion, an acquisition, or a generational transition, Jim’s the man with well-tested plans.

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