James Cummiskey – Managing Director of Cima Coffee Farms

[quote style=”boxed”]If I were to start again, I would hire a bit slower and more deliberately. Companies don’t make profits. People do. Take care of your people first and only hire people that truly inspire you. Regardless, leaders eat last.[/quote]

James Cummiskey has over thirty years of achievement and executive responsibility in the defense, aerospace and high technology industries. While living in Colombia and seeking his next adventure, James became interested in coffee and learned about the industry and its inefficiencies. With previous executive experience from multiple start-up businesses funded by Microsoft, Qualcomm & Sprint, James used his entrepreneurial background to start Cima and introduce the coffee industry to Socially Sustainable® practices. His far-reaching influence has earned the attention of Bill Gates, who has invited James on various occasions to be a key-note speaker at CES (formerly COMDEX).

Additionally, James is the CEO of Sustainable Investments, an incubator for Latin America businesses that provides a direct channel for diversified and high return foreign investments headquartered in Medellin, Colombia. He is also a licensed Q-Grader.

Where did the idea for Cima Coffee Farms come from? What does your typical day look like?

Cima Coffee Farms was born when its two founders, Roger Roland and James Cummiskey, decided to live and work in Colombia full-time. We discovered that coffee farmers are suffering from a real crisis in making a sustainable living while growing coffee, and we created a integrated value-chain business model to do something about it.

A typical day involves travelling to various regions throughout Latin America searching for the best farmland with great unrealized potential. We buy these farms and transition them from commercial coffee properties to specialty coffee farms.

How do you bring ideas to life?

We bring ideas to life with dedication to our core principals of “Ethical Behavior and Outstanding Execution.” We derive many aspects of our business culture from the principles that the two founders acquired while serving as officers in the U.S. Marine Corps. Never settle for mediocrity. Be impatient about achieving outstanding results. There is great value in constructive impatience. But, never micro-manage. Set goals and objectives and get the hell out of the way. Provide necessary resources and continual feedback to employees. BTW, there is a difference between micro-management and simply giving a damn about an employee’s performance.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The trend in specialty coffee growth really excites us. Coffee is a $40 billion industry in the U.S. alone and specialty coffee is a rapidly growing double-digit subset of this. We see an explosion in interest in agri-investment of specialty products such as coffee, chocolate, liquor, etc.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

My productivity as an entrepreneur has increased through my habit of instilling integrity into everything the company does. Integrity can be as simple as saying what’s on your mind. However, integrity often leads to conflict. And conflict inevitability leads to passion. But, passion is the only thing that can lead to greatness. Hence: “Integrity. Conflict. Passion. Greatness.” We run our business on that model. And since customer and business relationships are based on mutual trust, we never lie, cheat, steal or do anything you wouldn’t want to read about in the newspaper the next morning.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

If I were to start again, I would hire a bit slower and more deliberately. Companies don’t make profits. People do. Take care of your people first and only hire people that truly inspire you. Regardless, leaders eat last.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

The one thing that I do over and over again is to take responsibility, accept risks and I am willing to be extremely flexible about changing the plan in a rapidly evolving business environment. A sunk cost is just that. You ain’t getting that money back. Don’t fall in love with the plan. The plan is nothing. Planning is everything. Leaders are responsible for everything the company does or fails to do. But that doesn’t mean that leaders can or should do everything. Responsibility vs. Authority vs. Accountability. Those with the responsibility can delegate authority, but never accountability. The buck must stop with the leader.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

One strategy that has helped grow our business is the direct connection of the producer of a food product with the consumer of that product. Being able to literally have a conversation with the guy that grew your food, as well as virtually experience the farm with technology is empowering and game-changing.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Like any business, we have had a number of failures of various projects and initiatives over the years. From tourism to fish importation to coffee, we have learned many hard-won lessons. However, vice thinking of each episode as a failure, we like to think of it as learning. If you are not failing occasionally, you aren’t pushing hard enough. Risk-taking must be part of the culture. No paralysis by analysis. Use data wherever possible to make decisions. But in a fast-moving environment, instinctive and intuitive decision-making plays a large role. Any plan, executed immediately and violently, is better than the perfect plan executed too late. Thus, we incentivize bold and aggressive behavior. We never punish initiative no matter what the result. Push to the edge of the envelope. And, then tear through the envelope. But, never surrender. That’s the Marine way and it works in business.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Colombia is wide open for entrepreneurs. There are several food franchises that would do very well in Colombia (e.g., Taco Bell), but don’t exist here. Virtually any product or service that is low-cost at reasonable quality could do very well here.

What software and web services do you use?/ What do you love about them?

I use Wintel laptops and iPad/iPhone mobile devices. We use Google as our cloud services provider and Campaigner as our CRM tool. I love Google’s low cost, innovation, and constantly improving software development model.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela is a book I recommend to all entrepreneurs. The key lesson: it is darkest just before the dawn. You will fail and fail again, and you have to keep picking yourself up and try again. Perspiration makes you lucky.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Sun Tzu and Teddy Roosevelt have both had a profound influence on my thinking. Beyond the “Art of War,” I recommend my colleague, Mark McNeilly’s book “Sun Tzu and the Art of Business” and David McCullough’s biography of Teddy Rossevelt and his family, “Mornings on


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