Be Super.September 15, 2021
That’s Jim Malone standing in front of a painting of Superman.
It was a great piece of art that hung in our various Qorval offices over the years, and it hung finally in Jim’s home office, where he spent his last days.
Last days, welcoming family, friends, colleagues, taking visitors, meetings, calls.
Jim passed on April 21, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t draw from his lessons.
He laughed when I first met him and saw the painting and said, “is that you? Your hair looks lighter LOL.”
Jim’s response: “Nope. Too much pressure, too big shoes to fill. I am afraid of heights, other than in a plane, which is where I can be found Monday through Friday.” (Accompanied by his characteristic somewhat mischievous smile.)
I’ve learned many things in my many years in many situations in many industries dealing with many kinds of people. There’s a lot of arrogance and egoism in the business world nowadays, and there are too few super men like Jim Malone.
As a young manager, you’re off blazing a trail and you can fall into the trap of ignoring other people’s feelings, values, contributions, organization value. You think you’re Superman. It’s a rookie mistake. Jim never forgot about others.
Jim was called on often in his life, professional and personal, to be Superman. More than people realize and in more “real” situations than most people can process.
I learned so very much from my late friend, partner, and mentor.
Jim ran SIX Fortune 500 companies as a CEO. Transformed and turned around more than 75 situations. Worked on hundreds of challenging problems for clients.
Jim could have easily let his success, and the caliber of people in his inner circle, his friends, the roster of clients that called on him and Qorval, get to his head.
He never did.
Rather, he’d focus on what he didn’t know, hadn’t learned, or the people he needed to meet and speak with, so he could gather information and use it to improve a situation or an outcome.
Jim was always a gentleman. Jim was always a professional. Jim could run circles around many of the egomaniacs that are often found on one or more sides of a deal nowadays.
I met Jim Malone in the autumn of his career, and the summer of mine, and regardless of the seasons we were in, we became fast friends and ultimately business partners. Our job, simply stated, is to clean up messes and help people going through challenging times and circumstances.
For Jim this role didn’t end at the office or in the board room, his work to help others with a burning sense of altruism marked everything he did. I was fortunate to work with him, learn from him and see him in action.
Many things about Jim astounded me, but the most was the extent to which he could connect with virtually everyone. When he was Chairman and CEO of Nautic Global Group, I saw him firsthand humbly address a group of employees in a “town meeting” where he gave them a candid assessment of the current scenario, asking for their help in transforming the company, telling them that they’d forgotten more about making boats than he’d ever know, and how important they were. He told them his job was to learn from them and they’d figure out together how to make the difficult decisions to transform the business and make it more profitable. And if they all worked together, most of them would be there, and if they couldn’t get it on track, none of us will be here.
Of course, Nautic was successfully transformed, turned around, and was sold to Bennington Marine, which further refined their model and integrated the business, then sold it to Polaris.
And employees thanked Jim, for treating them well, and for a super outcome, compared to what might have been.
Many employees livelihoods are ensured through the hard work of Super men and women like Jim Malone who fix companies — they are the unsung heroes of corporate renewal, turnaround, organizational transformation.
Many turnaround people, private equity operating principals, and many new managers and executives fall into the trap of thinking they can shrink to greatness and cut to profitability.
It doesn’t work that way. It can be done quickly, but more often than not, it’s a clearly thought out, careful process of working through people, empowering change, and leveraging innovation, that drives profit and growth.
Jim was deeply respected because he treated everyone with respect, at all stations in life. I saw him treat global CEO’s and world leaders the same as he would a service employee opening a door or serving a meal. Jim never forgot where he came from, and never stopped learning, connecting, improving, to make sure he’d be prepared when he got to where he was going. I think of the two lines of the Rudyard Kipling poem IF, which reads: “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch…” I joked about him sharing his name with Sean Connery’s character, the fiery Irish policeman in The Untouchables, and said Jim would have been a great police officer — because he cared about people, was fearless, and had incredible deductive reasoning.
In business he’d work fiercely and tirelessly to find the clues to successfully solve the puzzles that organizational transformations and turnarounds can be. He was a quick study, was firm and fair, and direct. When Jim spoke it was like the old famous EF Hutton commercials, the room would get quiet and people would be drawn to his midwestern sensibility, down home prudence and reality, and collaborative nature that would bring out the absolute best in people.
He was a big force in my life and I consider the time spent with him an invaluable gift, for which I’m eternally grateful. He loved his family, his friends, and his work. He’s gone too soon but never forgotten.
It wasn’t what he did, it’s who he was. Jim told me he took the name “QORVAL” based on core values — which for him were integrity, profit, growth and fun. Beyond business mission and vision language, Jim embodied countless admirable core values and passionately drove transformation and bringing out the best in people in every corner of his existence.
Jim really was, a super man.
There’s a lot of organizational Kryptonite out there that needs to be solved for, dealt with, right now. There are employee shortages, liquidity issues — either too much or too little — depending on where a business is, there are supply chain problems.
We’ve learned that employee retention is far better than employee detention.
We’ve learned that we need some just in case delivery and relationships, just in case “just in time” runs out of time.
We need to be human. Humane. Caring. Compassionate.
We need to be professional.
We need to be responsive.
We need to embrace the notion that we have responsibility for the trail we traverse, and the trace we leave behind.
We can’t always be Superman. We can be super men and women. Super people.
Pandemic aside, much of this is fixable, by changing the way we see things. We need to leverage our superpowers. We need to bend, not break things, and relationships. We need to use our x-ray vision to see what’s really going on. We need to fly above things to get a clearer view and better perspective.
You don’t need red and blue pajamas and a cape to be a hero for someone, you can just start by using your special hearing and eyesight to be a better listener and viewer, and help your client, your colleague, your stakeholders.
Up, up and away.
Look for Jim Malone’s book, by John Hamill and Jim Malone, which will be published in 2022.