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A Mississippi Business Journal Q&A

James brings big-business background to AmeriMail Direct

Jackson — AmeriMail Direct Inc. has a new owner and president/CEO, Ernest S. James. James purchased the direct mail company, which employs 50 workers, in November 2005.

While this marks James’ first foray into the direct mail industry and entrepreneurship, he brings a stellar background. He earned his master’s degree in management from Wake Forest University, and subsequently completed the Harvard University School of Business Executive Program in strategic marketing management. James then went on to a distinguished and award-winning 29-year career with International Paper Company. Beginning as a sales and marketing trainee in 1974, he retired in 2003 as vice president of corporate sales. James has spent the last two years consulting with Fortune 50 companies on sales and marketing strategies.

James is also a noted contributor to his community. He is a former board member of International Paper’s Capital Foundation Inc., and he has worked with both the Urban League and the United Way. James is also a former member of a number of professional and trade organizations, including the American Paper and Forest Products Association, for which he served as national chairman of one of its subcommittees.

The MBJ recently asked James why he was drawn to AmeriMail, what he brings from his prior experience to his new role and his vision for the company.

Mississippi Business Journal: What was it about AmeriMail that attracted you to the company?

Ernest James: I’ve actually been involved in the process of looking for the right business purchase opportunity since mid-2003. So I’ve had the opportunity to give this question a lot of consideration. Initially, you become confident with the market and customers. I had the experience of spending most of my career with a Fortune 50 company where I had the opportunity to work in various disciplines, businesses and roles. I wanted to make certain that I chose a market with a customer base that would allow me the opportunity to take full benefit of that experience.

In the final analysis, I was confident that direct mail would allow me to accomplish this. With AmeriMail specifically, I went through the normal exercise of evaluating the company’s strengths and weaknesses, the hardware and kicking the tires, etc. Once I satisfied myself from this perspective, I then moved forward to another very important evaluation — the people. The former owners have done an excellent job of building a formable team. Most of the key employees and managers, who oftentimes have closer contact with customers and their needs, were used to working in an environment where they had the freedom and accountability to perform their jobs. The current management team has been with the company for several years. They have a unique understanding of the industry, and have been grounded in a customer-focused culture based on entrepreneurial spirit and exceptional customer service. Their orientation for success was the same as mine. They clearly focused on understanding their customers needs and expectations and meeting them.

MBJ: You have a solid educational background and résumé, but this is your first foray into direct mail. What do you bring from your prior experience to AmeriMail?

EJ: I have spent 29 years in corporate industry in various positions of increasing management responsibility in sales, marketing and general management. I do believe that I can successfully merge my corporate experience with the entrepreneurial spirit of AmeriMail Direct to make it an even more successful company. I intend to bring a leadership style to the company that is based on delivering results through teamwork and the latest business best practices.

MBJ: How is the direct mail industry changing, and what is AmeriMail doing to meet these new challenges, if any?

EJ: Technological change in the direct mail industry is high, with use of computers to collect, store and retrieve data from clients’ databases, which have been collected from e-mails, Web sites, promotions and competitions, etc., or from specialist list companies. AmeriMail, not like a lot of its competitors, is well positioned to continue to take advantage of this trend.

Its reputation as a provider of true turnkey and value-added services is based a lot on AmeriMail’s integration of technology into its businesses processes. Hence, we will continue to monitor, and be on the leading edge of industry technology changes because it’s the cornerstone of AmeriMail’s customer value delivery capability.

MBJ: How do you measure success?

EJ: If you are in business, and you have plans for improvement, you absolutely have to have a scorecard. It’s the only way you can effectively measure the company’s progress. When I was with International Paper, we measured the company’s success or failure by focusing on the following core business areas — customers, financial, human resources and operational excellence. I found these to work exceptionally well and encompass all of the critical performance metrics. Hence, I don’t see any reason for change. These from my perspective are tried and true. I (also) expect AmeriMail to be a positive influence in the local community.

MBJ: What’s your future vision for AmeriMail?

EJ: My future vision for AmeriMail Direct is, within the next three- to five-year horizon, to become the premiere direct mail company in the southeast region. It will be the vendor of choice for our select group of customers. We will have grown our employee base, will be providing a stable and conducive work environment for them to be successful and be viable contributors to the community.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

About Wally Northway

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