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Gary W. James Featured

9:57am EDT July 22, 2002

All Brian Hess needed was a little encouragement. He’d already heard the negatives from people who said his idea for a wireless security system wouldn’t fly. That was until he met Gary W. James, president of Dynalab Inc. in Reynoldsburg

Through networking, Hess learned about James, who founded Dynalab, an electronics manufacturing company in Reynoldsburg 26 years ago. James’ knowledge of assembly and electronics might help, Hess heard.

So Hess piqued James’ interest with his idea and shared his desire to take his alarm system to market within three months.

“He said, ‘You probably could do that,’” Hess remembers. “He doesn’t realize it, but he empowered me with his opinion. Little did he know it took $700,000 and three years later, but the way he told me — it was power. People go to someone for advice because they respect them. That person has the power to do them in or make them great.”

James ended up not only helping Hess think through the possible pitfalls of his invention, but he became an investor, too. That was in 1995. Today, Hess’ Tattle Tale Portable Alarm Systems Inc. has sold more than 100 units, and Hess is seeking more forms of distribution.

James has opened the door to many entrepreneurs like Hess. In fact, he’s a board member of the Business Technology Center, which serves as an incubator for more than a dozen start-up technology companies.

Perhaps its James’ own entrepreneurial experience that taught him to leave doors open. He founded Dynalab in 1973, two years after he graduated from college. When he sold the company five years later, he didn’t close the door on the relationships he built there — even after he left to start another company, G.W. James & Associates. Good thing. For in the mid-’80s, when Dynalab was sold again and that company went under, James was in a position to regain control of the Dynalab name.

James has since grown Dynalab to 135 employees and $16 million in annual revenues with big-name customers such as ABB, Harley Davidson, TWA and Maytag. Still, this 1988 Entrepreneur of the Year award recipient continues to look for more opportunities.

“We literally could be a $50 million company in five years if things go right,” he says.

To reach that goal, James knows Dynalab will need additional management direction and leadership.

“I’m not sure I’m that person,” he says, confessing he would rather be working on manufacturing and mechanical aspects of the business than on “people issues.”

“We need a strong CEO/manager that can pull a lot of this together.”

James has already shifted responsibilities such as purchasing, quality control and materials and engineering management to others, a task of “letting go” that has brought him a personal struggle.

“It’s frustrating because people don’t, obviously, do things the way I would,” he says. “That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s just difficult to sit back and bite your tongue. It’s very necessary to let people spread their wings and learn to grow.”

James says he hopes his role will turn to long-range planning, following trends and plotting a general course for the company while letting his management team sweat the details.

If it works, this arrangement will allow James to continue pursuing other activities. Already, he’s secretary of the board of trustees of Franklin University, where he was named 1988 Outstanding Alumnus of the Year; a member of the Reynoldsburg Community Improvement Corp.; a member of Gahanna Kiwanis; a member of the board of advisers at Shepherd Church of Nazarene in Gahanna; and a member of Columbus Flight Watch, a nonprofit organization that keeps an eye on changes affecting local pilots like himself. As if that’s not enough, James is also making plans to volunteer for Junior Achievement.

Another door James is leaving open: politics.

“I could get up on a desk and rant and rave for an hour for what the government is doing to us,” he says. He specifically slams tax laws that repress small business — and politicians who, he argues, don’t hold themselves to the same standards of ethics and the same policies they set for their constituents.

“There may be a time when I do it,” he says of a move into politics. “I guess I’m afraid of being sucked in and labeled along with a group I have such disdain for.”

Meanwhile, he says, he’s adjusting to a new phase in his business life, one that progresses from an entrepreneurial to a professional mode. He’s taken lessons from two former co-workers he calls mentors: Joe DeHays, who worked at Delphi Automotive Systems Corp., formerly known as the Fisher Body plant, in West Columbus; and Robert Davis, who owned a Lancaster company called Fairfield Screw Products. Both men passed away in the last several years, leaving James to rethink his own role.

“It helps make way for doing more mentoring of your own,” he says. “When you’re in the shadow of your mentors, you hold back on doing that. When they’re gone, you realize you’ve got a stronger challenge to pass on what you are.”

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is a reporter for SBN.