Entrepreneur-Accountant Jim Mitrakos,CFO to COO to President-Pt.1

Reach Your GoalsImagine reaching your career goals at the tender age of twenty-eight – an age when most people are just starting to establish themselves or even identify their goals. Many of us dream about what it would be like to realize our professional ambitions earlier rather than later in our lives. Yet few of us could conceive the kinds of challenges with which Jim Mitrakos found himself faced, as a precocious, twenty-eight year old Vice-President of Finance. Jim’s incredible talent, drive, and willingness to take risks, which have always been the equal of even his most senior peers, have propelled him along a path few have been able to follow – from CFO to COO to President.

Why did you choose to pursue a career in Accounting and Finance?
To be honest, I’ve always been a numbers-driven type of person. So I knew that I could make a successful career for myself in finance, with the right determination and drive. I got my work ethic from my parents, who were both employed in production and had to work incredibly hard to provide for our family; they impressed upon me the value of hard work.

What was your toughest moment, in the first decade of your career?
Certainly, the one moment that sticks out most memorably in my mind was when I trying to get the buy-in at IFCO, as a twenty-eight year old VP of Finance. I was younger than everyone else, and there were a lot of very sceptical people who were fairly set in their ways and felt that I was too inexperienced. Then, in 2005, we acquired the business, and I found myself owning a part of the company for whose finances I had been responsible up to that point. I spent a good deal of time dealing with banks and explaining our business to them and others, in the course of which I realized that I had to have personal guarantees on everything. Generally speaking, those were some challenging times. We suffered through a lot of sleepless nights – there was an economic downturn, and we knew that our business had to adapt in order to succeed.

We suffered through a lot of sleepless nights – there was an economic downturn, and we knew our business had to adapt.

How did you overcome these challenges?
A lot of it came down simply to communication. I needed to be certain that the management team fully understood the struggles we were going through, and that we were all on the same page. They, in turn, needed to hear it directly from me, not someone else. But above all, I think we overcame our problems by turning to our client base: we asked them how they themselves were dealing with the economic downturn. Our clients told us that they were looking to save money wherever they could, and that in order to remain competitive in this difficult new climate, they needed different solutions from what the market was offering them at the time. More than anything else, then, our clients wanted cost-effective solutions – and that drove our product development forward.

Our clients wanted cost-effective solutions – and that drove our product development forward.

Tell me about your company, Paramount Pallet. What is a pallet?
A pallet (also called a “skid”) is the portable wooden platform or base on which different products can be stacked for shipping; they’re usually about 48”x40” in size. Our company, Paramount Pallet, isCanada’s nationwide pallet solution – if you want to rent or buy a pallet, you come to us. We employ 250 people across 8 different facilities. We are, in short, the country’s one-stop shop for pallets. And we also refurbish or cannibalize older materials in order to reuse the components, which many of our clients have found to be a far more cost-friendly way to meet their needs. That’s just one of the many reasons why we’re the leader in our industry.

You’ve been there for a while.  Why did you choose Paramount Pallet?
I had decided early in my audit career to join Arthur Andersen. I was working with various clients, including Paramount Pallet (formerly IFCO Systems Canada). As a result, I came to learn their business inside and out. When it fell into some trouble, I saw a golden opportunity to restructure the company and make it stronger than ever. Clint Sharples atParamount, asked me to join the company as the VP Finance; he wanted me to help him run and rebuild the business. Then, in 2005, we decided to buy the company. In January 2008, I moved out of the CFO role and into the position of COO. I had seen the financials, and knew that it was a good business with the potential to turn things around dramatically.

That must have been a risky move, from your perspective. How did you approach the decision?
Well, it was partly driven by my own inner entrepreneurial spirit – my individual desire to succeed and excel. My CA background had also given me the tools to make smart and confident business decisions. I’d had the chance [as a CA] to see some great, successful organizations and study how they operate, and I saw a lot of the same qualities in this business; they only needed an opportunity to right the ship.

For myself, however, it was definitely a bit of a gamble. But I was just married and didn’t have any children at the time, which made my decision a little easier to live with.

I’d had the chance to see and study some great, successful organizations, and I saw a lot of the same qualities in this business.

 Read Part 2 of Jim’s Story Here