Jim Kennedy – Founder and CEO of The Network Support Company

I have a strong aversion to repetitive work, and doing anything one way when I believe there is a better way to do it. Whether it’s forecasting for the company or mowing my lawn, I’m going to try to find a faster, better way to do it, and I am willing to make substantial investments in time and money to accomplish that.

Jim Kennedy is the founder and CEO of The Network Support Company, a leading provider of IT services to small and mid-sized businesses in Connecticut, New York, and Florida. Jim brings more than 30 years of technology experience and client-centered service to his role as CEO. Prior to launching TNSC in 1996, Jim’s entrepreneurial spirit and passion for technology led him to co-found Personal Computer Technology Group in 1983, the first computer rental company in Connecticut, where he served as president until 1992. From 1993 until 1996, Jim was Vice President of Network Technology for Maplecrest Software Development, where he initiated, developed, and led their IT infrastructure practice.

The Network Support Company, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, has been named one of North America’s Top 100 Managed Service Providers every year since 2012. It’s also been selected by Hearst Media as one of the Top Workplaces in southern Connecticut for three years running and was also named to 2015 Marcum Tech Top 40, a list of the fastest growing technology companies in Connecticut.

Jim has an extensive record of active volunteerism in the community and with faith-based organizations. He is a past Chairman of the Board of Danbury Hospital and has served as chair of multiple committees. He is a member of the Western Connecticut State University Ancell School of Business Advisory Council and serves on the IT Advisory Board for Ability Beyond Disability. In addition, Jim is the founding chairman of the Samaritan Health Center, a free pediatric clinic in Danbury that has served the primary care needs of more than 3,000 uninsured and underinsured children. He is also a director of Newtown Savings Bank. Each year, more than 500 business and civic leaders attend the Western Connecticut Prayer Breakfast, which Jim founded and chairs.

In 2013, Jim was awarded the Western CT State University Ancell School of Business Macricostas Entrepreneur of the Year Award. A frequent public speaker on issues of technology, leadership, ethics and organizational growth, Jim earned his B.A. in economics from Amherst College.

Where did the idea for The Network Support Company come from?

I’ve always loved technology and got involved, early in the 1980s, with first programming, then renting and then networking computers. Networking PCs was a novel idea back then and the early applications did not work very well but you could see the potential. When I started my own company in 1996, though, it was to explore – and debunk – this whole idea, culturally, that nice guys finished last. I just never believed it and wanted to demonstrate that good guys could actually finish first – even in business. So, TNSC was born out of a desire to pursue my interest in technology and networking, along with my desire to forge a different kind of business culture.

What does your typical day look like and how to do you make it productive?

I think productivity is as much or more a function of deciding what NOT to do as much as deciding what to do. My general prioritization process is as follows: First, I take on things that might be holding someone else up. Then I tackle the things I can do quickly that will produce the most benefit. In terms of the bigger rocks to move, because things that fall into the “important but not urgent” category often require more intense focus and longer periods of uninterrupted concentration, I schedule time either in my office behind a closed door, do them on business trips to our quieter remote offices or do them on weekends.

How do you bring ideas to life?

When the company was just starting out, bringing ideas to life was easy – I just did it myself. As the company has grown, the process of bringing an idea to life has become much more complicated. For example, a new product needs thorough reality testing, a clear definition, market analysis, pricing and cost projections, branding, contracts, a go-to-market strategy, an internal buy-in strategy, accounting procedures, and more. It has become critical to get buy-in from key managers in the early stages and then a well-defined process and great execution to ultimately bring something to market.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I love the idea of technology transforming education. Our education system has become way too expensive at every level. Technology has tremendous potential to simultaneously lower the cost and increase the benefit of our education. Right now, though, there are so many entrenched interest groups (teacher’s unions, palatial college campuses, bloated administrations, etc.) threatened by this that change won’t come easily. But it’s going to happen. We’ll get there.

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

I have a strong aversion to repetitive work, and doing anything one way when I believe there is a better way to do it. Whether it’s forecasting for the company or mowing my lawn, I’m going to try to find a faster, better way to do it, and I am willing to make substantial investments in time and money to accomplish that.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

Right out of school, I bummed around the country a bit, doing odd jobs. At one point, I swung a hammer for about six months doing framing in and around Brewster, NY. I love building things – and learned a lot about building things that summer – but it was really hard work. People that work with their hands really earn their money and I appreciate what they do. But what I learned for myself is that there had to be an easier way to make a living.

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

When I set out with my original thought that good guys could finish first, I believed that if you did all the right things, healthy profits would be a natural by-product. If you treated employees with dignity and respect and gave great customer service, and if you ran the business well and with integrity, you’d never have to be concerned about profit. But it turns out that making a profit is not as easy as that. In doing all the right things, we’ve succeeded in creating a great company, but, today, I think we’re not as profitable as we COULD be – probably middle of the pack relative to our peers. I’ve learned you can’t just build, you’ve got to build in a way to intentionally grow profitability, and reap rewards there.

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

I think you always have to ask “why?” questions. Why are we doing that? Why are we doing it that way? Why is this person or that person doing it? We don’t talk about the pursuit of excellence at TNSC because ‘excellent’ is a relative term. Continuous improvement, however, can be measurable and objective. And the “why?” questions are what drive continuous improvement. I think another thing is to invest in others. This is not something I do particularly well, but as an entrepreneur, while you can often do things maybe better or quicker than others, you have to intentionally invest in other people so they can take on some of the load. I’m not talking about just dumping things on them, but effectively delegating to people you have mentored or trained, so that they can get better.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Really focusing on the long term. It’s so easy to make shortsighted decisions that have an immediate return, but ultimately hurt your ability to grow and scale efficiently. You have to be willing to make short-term sacrifices for long-term returns. When we launched our managed services product, we could have had a product out the door in two or three months, but it would not have been as broad or as scalable, or as effective as we needed it to be. And the short-cuts we would have taken to get a faster release would have crippled our ability to accomplish the above goals and, even more importantly, to differentiate ourselves. We invested two years of development in it before we launched – and it’s paid enormous dividends. But we endured having to pull resources from the field to focus on something that was generating zero revenue. Today, we have a huge advantage over every competitor in our market space because they either outsourced their managed services or did it poorly in-house.

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

I can get enamored with technology, and over the advice and good judgment of a lot of my managers, I got into home automation for the mid-market.; It was a nascent market and I tried to create a market that didn’t exist. I lost a lot of money. Had I listened to my people, I’d have avoided the loss. Interestingly, that market is just now coming online – we were 12 years ahead.

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

My first thought is an easy interface for home automation, with standardized protocols, but people are already working on that. Someone needs to find a better way to get leaves off the ground in the fall. There’s gotta be a better way than what I do.

What is the best $100 you recently spent?

I just got a SodaStream as a gift. I can make my own diet caffeine-free soda at home and it doesn’t take up as much shelf space as cases of soda. My wife (married almost 30 years – by far the best decision I ever made) is not particularly pleased about me drinking soda, but since it was a present from her, her complaints are muted. That and my Magic Bullet are two things I use all the time and combined they cost less than $100.

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

I get the Wall Street Journal and USA Today on my tablets, and I also use it to follow several blogs, which allows me to keep up with the news anywhere, and without having to recycle newspapers. I use a Fitbit and My Fitness Pal, a food-calorie counter app, and they both help me stay on track health-wise. At work, I use both OneNote and Evernote for organizing documents and information (or disorganizing it as I find I replicate my organizational dysfunctions with paper in the cyber world – but at least I have it with me and I can find it if absolutely required), and we use Information Builders WebFocus for business analytics and business intelligence functions – for our own business and for our clients, too.

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

I can’t really name just one. Two business books that have had the greatest impact on me are Corporate LifeCycles, How and Why Corporations Grow and Die and What to Do about It by Ichak Adizes, and Good to Great by Jim Collins. The first book outlines different stages of growth for companies and the characteristics of each. From that, I got reassurance that problems are normal – the key question then is, “are the problems you are having normal for your stage of growth?” It also explains what is required to move from one stage to the next. Good to Great is just an excellent primer on how to build a successful company. Overall, though, as far as providing solid advice for business, for life, for family and for finances, The Bible is the best thing going.

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

Several leaders that I’ve worked closely with in my own community in Connecticut have had a very significant impact on me by modeling excellent leadership and vision and demonstrating what a truly excellent, well-run organization looks like Pastor Ray Lightcap of First Baptist Church of Brewster, Rev. Dr. Clive Calver, Senior Pastor of Walnut Hill Community Church, and Dr. John Murphy, CEO of Danbury Hospital and the Western CT Health Network, are three that come immediately to mind. Although these specific leaders are probably not available to you, the principle of getting involved in successful community organizations, both religious and secular, is a good developmental practice to follow. I’ve also been exposed to a lot of really significant things and people through Vistage, an executive coaching organization. Rochelle Carrington, a Sandler Sales Trainer (one of the best in the nation), was very transformational for The Network Support Company. And there’s my wife, Laura, whose constant love and support make everything seem possible.


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