Jim Crane | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jim Crane

Background:  

Jim Crane founded Houston-based freight company Eagle USA Air Freight in 1984 with a $10,000 loan from his sister. In 2007, he sold what had become EGL Inc. to Apollo Global Management-backed CEVA Logistics for $2 billion. The next year he started Crane Worldwide Logistics, which has become a top provider of customized transportation and logistics services. It bought DAVACO Inc. in March for an undisclosed sum. In 2011, Crane fed his love of baseball – he pitched while a student at the University of Central Missouri – by leading a group that bought the Houston Astros from billionaire Drayton McLane for around $600 million. The team recently clinched its first division title in 15 years. Last month Crane, other team owners and the club’s foundation committed $4 million to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

The Mistake:

Not making personnel changes quickly.

In 2001, my company Eagle bought Circle International. I hadn’t done a deal that big before and it was the biggest company I had ever run – with 10,000 employees, 400 offices in 100 countries and $2 billion in sales.

I knew I had to move really fast to integrate them, but I didn’t move fast enough. We combined their offices, but we didn’t always have one person running a single office or we had someone who wasn’t fitting in with the team. We let it go on too long, let things fester, and it affected the staff and the offices financially.

The key, whether it’s hiring people or starting a line of business, is that once you’ve made a mistake, make sure you’re willing to change it and change quickly. People may not like your decision, but they like clarity.

People may not like your decision, but they like clarity.

The Lesson:

Move quickly. All of my company’s growth before that was internal, so it really helped me learn. I later started Crane Worldwide. I bought Champion Energy and sold it, and I bought the Astros. I’ve learned how to put together teams quickly, and if I have a problem with any of my businesses, I move quickly and put things into action.

At the Astros, we hired a general manager who was good at developing talent [Jeff Luhnow from the St. Louis Cardinals]. We built a team around him and gave him the support he needed. He’s done a good job turning the team around.

So even though I’m older, I move a lot faster. I’m not afraid to make a decision. When you’re not experienced, you don’t want to make a decision because you don’t want to make a mistake.

But sometimes you have to make a decision quickly, even if it’s wrong.

Follow the Houston Astros on Twitter at @astros and Crane Worldwide Logistic at @CWWLogistics.

Photo courtesy of Jim Crane

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