The corporate world can be difficult to navigate. It is a constantly changing landscape that requires disciplined leaders who are able and willing to change with it. James Assali has been a part of this world for nearly three decades, and in that time, he has created several businesses designed to satiate the demands of consumers and other companies alike.
Originally born in Manchester, New Hampshire, James Assali was always something of a risk-taker. He came to California on a bus with nothing more than a backpack full of possessions when he was only 13 years old. As a young man, he worked diligently to cultivate his scholastic career. Upon leaving school, he immediately found a niche in the private financial sector. Eventually, he would become the CEO of a prominent mortgage company; Meridian Financial Corporation. Unfortunately, when the 2008 financial crisis struck, he was diagnosed with the stress-related nerve disorder, Spasmodic Dysphonia, which caused him to lose the power of speech.
Unable to manage the company, its operations were left to the president and a team of executives to oversee. Meridian Financial Corp began to fail almost immediately, and eventually ceased operations altogether with all blame falling on James. After regulatory agencies investigated the situation, James was cleared of all wrongdoing, but this was a devastating blow to him, as decades of hard work and dedication were lost. As a devout Christian, James turned to God to regain trust, faith, and strength. He is ever thankful to God, his wife, and his children. After undergoing an intense open throat surgery with Dr. Gerald Burke at UCLA Medical Center, followed by years of recovery, James began to regain his voice. Unfortunately, though, he will be disabled for life.
With God at his back, he has rekindled his entrepreneurial spirit and regained momentum. James Assali is now the CEO of multiple firms, managing business operations and strategic marketing profiles for a conglomerate of US and internationally-based companies in multiple verticals, including FIMAC, which is one of the worlds largest digital marketing and branding firms. As the President and CEO of FIMAC, James Assali’s precise approach to business has helped him grow his career over the last several years. Using military-like methods, he has created a work culture built on creativity and accountability, where each team member has their role and does it well. Through a strong work ethic and the ability to multitask, James Assali oversees the day-to-day operations of FIMAC. With tireless energy and a uniquely-designed task management system, he is able to constantly keep an eye on every project, as well as the overall health of the company.
James Assali currently resides in Orange County, California. A father of five, he spends his free time coaching his children’s baseball and soccer teams. He also enjoys playing golf and spending time at the beach with his wife and children. As a Christian and philanthropist, he contributes to many charitable organizations, with his strongest support directed towards foundations supporting Spasmodic Dysphonia, Epilepsy, and abused women and children.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
The best entrepreneur becomes successful because they see a need and find a way to fill it. FIMAC was created because there was a genuine need for a marketing and branding firm that actually delivered on its promises. These days, as the internet and social media dominate so much of our personal and professional lives, it is necessary to work with people who understand it. I have witnessed several companies that weren’t able to change with the times and have suffered or disappeared completely because of that resistance to change. FIMAC bases its strategies on successful campaigns. We can create and manage marketing like no other firm.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Starting early is the first step to being productive. I enjoy a quiet morning where I can begin my day with prayer. Three or four days a week, I work out in the mornings. It helps to clear my mind and helps me focus. When I am ready, I will check my calendar for that day’s agenda. The work day is full of department meetings and client calls. I have a hand in every aspect of the company, so anything that comes up during the day, I will take care of it as needed. I am a big believer in taking responsibility for the daily operations of the company, and that keeps me quite busy.
How do you bring ideas to life?
There is always a backbone and infrastructure to every good idea. At FIMAC, we have perfected a very successful method. Once an idea is formulated, it goes through a vetting process. We will generate a detailed outline as to how the idea can be brought to fruition. During this time, we review any requirements that will be needed. Sometimes, we have to wait for things to line up properly. If everything looks good and the operational requirements are there, we will lay out the plan and structure for bringing it to life. We then create a responsibility board specifying who in the organization is going to handle what elements of the project. We will assign a timeline to each aspect of the plan, setting sprints for each of the milestones that we want to hit. Finally, we will go through a testing phase to ensure everything is in place and ready to go. Once we finish the testing phase, we will launch.
What’s one trend that excites you?
As we know, technology is advancing at an amazing rate these days. I am a conservative individual. The darker side of social media and how our children interact with it worries me, however, I am excited by the artificial intelligence aspect of marketing. You can study the behaviorisms and buying trends of consumers. I have a goal to be a part of every consumer’s business dealings in some way. The ability to track important information is a huge help in achieving that goal. Being able to analyze data-driven analytics—to see what people want and when they want it—can be used as a guide to finding the next steps. Imagine being ahead of a trend and being able to market directly, just as it is becoming popular. That’s what artificial intelligence is helping us with right now and it’s exciting to be a part of it.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
My ability to multitask has really helped me throughout my career. I have four monitors in my office. At any moment, I may be on two or three phone calls. I can do more in a day than most people because I have learned to handle several things at once. It can be draining and taxing on your body, but I have gotten used to it. As long as I have my task management system and a clear outline of what needs to be accomplished, I am able to keep up with what needs to be done. It takes a lot of discipline, but it can make a big difference in your productivity.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Shut up and listen. Listen more, talk less. So many young entrepreneurs think they know how to get what they want. You may know what you want, but it is always a good idea to listen to those who have already been through it. God blesses all of us, and gives us what we need at the right time. We just have to be willing to listen. Find a mentor or a group of peers you can trust. Don’t assume you know everything. Be willing to learn and open to suggestions, especially from those who have more experience.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Many people believe a military-like mindset is too aggressive. I appreciate a straightforward chain of command and the discipline it takes to follow orders. Adopting such a methodology makes things runs like clockwork and I have found success running my companies in the same way. Everyone always knows what is expected of them and when it needs to be done. It creates an atmosphere of both confidence and accountability. Each role is filled with the best person for the job they are assigned. As each task is completed, the next person is ready to jump in and take care of their part. It has been a very successful method for us. We hit our targets and timelines consistently, and our clients know that if we give them a deadline, we will make it without fail.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Always be on the lookout for new ideas. You want to stay current and relevant in a constantly changing world—not just in the acquisition of new opportunities, but in all aspects of your life. Don’t be content with what you have. Keep looking for ways to improve yourself, in business and in life.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
One of the best strategies we have adopted is that we don’t look solely at how much profit we make. I am constantly trying to refine and improve the cost efficiency of our companies. Success in business is as much about how much you save as it is about how much you earn. We look at every aspect of our spending, from vendors to personnel, in quarterly and annual reviews. We actively look for ways to cut costs wherever possible. I believe that is as much of a factor in a company’s success as earnings are.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Accountability is a big part of how I run my companies. This is one of the reasons I insist on having such a large part in every decision that is made. At the end of the day, failure or success falls on my shoulders. In the past, I had to step back from such involvement and my company suffered. It was difficult, but also a great learning experience. I believe that God gives us challenges so we can learn from them. When I was able to come back, I made important changes in how I approached things. These changes have led me to more success. The root of these changes is that I want to be an integral part of everything that we do. From human resources to new acquisitions, I am right there making decisions with my team.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Again, I have to say follow the tech. The Amazon ideology has been so successful because it allows consumers to find nearly everything they need in one place. Anyone looking to start a business would do well to follow their lead. Find out what product or service you can create, or even just improve on, then market it in such a way that it reaches the target audience. Make it affordable for the consumer and market it well, and you will find success.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently gave $100 to one of my daughters because of her scholastic achievements. I do so on a regular basis, as she’s been on the superintendent’s list for 18 semesters, and I reward her for that. I’m so grateful and blessed to have a child that’s so disciplined with her work ethic. She’s definitely going to be a world-changer.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I wrote a task management system that lists all of the ongoing, repetitive responsibilities for my staff. It creates a structure of what needs to be done to reach each goal we set. It has become a critical piece of technology for me. I even use it to record meetings so I can review them later to make sure we have included everything that was discussed. Humans can only retain so much information. Having a system in place that allows us to go back and review has been a game-changer. We can update the task management system with the correct assignments for each member of the team. It keeps us on track.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
There are two that I highly recommend. The first is Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio. This book focuses on the discipline needed for a successful work structure. It can help give some clarity to the importance of both work and life ethics. The second is The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. This book focuses on the fact that everyone wants to find the purpose of their life. This text provides an understanding of how you can find that purpose.
What is your favorite quote?
“Keep moving forward. It may not be leaps and bounds. It may be a tiny step, but keep moving forward.”
- Count your blessings.
- Be accountable.
- Be disciplined.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.