Chief executive officer, World Wide Technology
Born: 1963, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Education: St. Louis University, BA, 1986.
Career: Major Indoor Soccer League, 1986–1987, player; Future Electronics, 1988–1990, sales manager; World Wide Technology, 1990–1999, president; Telcobuy.com, 1999–2002, CEO; World Wide Technology, 2002–, CEO.
Awards: 40 Under 40, St. Louis Business Journal , 1998.
Address: World Wide Technology, 60 Weldon Parkway, St. Louis, Missouri 63043-3101; http://www.wwt.com.
■ Jim Kavanaugh cofounded Word Wide Technology, the information-technology service provider, in 1990 along with David L. Steward and acted as its president until 1999. World Wide Technology, a leading reseller for companies such as Cisco, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and Sun, combined procurement services and logistics functions with powerful Internet-based information-systems technology. From 1999 to 2002 Kavanaugh served as the chief executive officer of Telcobuy.com, the other operating company run by World Wide Technology Holding Company; in 2002 he returned to become the CEO of World Wide Technology. During his tenure at his various positions under the World Wide Technology Holding Company umbrella Kavanaugh developed a reputation as a savvy Internet strategist. He was known as a leader who fostered an atmosphere of teamwork among his employees.
Kavanaugh always called St. Louis, Missouri, home. He grew up in that Midwestern city and then attended St. Louis University, where he played collegiate soccer. Guided by his drive to excel at the sport, he tried out for and was accepted to the U.S. Olympic men's soccer team in 1984, with which he traveled around the world for 18 months. Kavanaugh credited much of his leadership and management style to the lessons he learned about teamwork through sports.
After returning home, Kavanaugh graduated from St. Louis University with a bachelor's degree in marketing in 1986. Again following his love of soccer, he became the number-two pick in the Major Indoor Soccer League draft. He played one year for the Los Angeles franchise and was then traded to the St. Louis Steamers. After a year with the Steamers, Kavanaugh decided to leave professional sports altogether.
Kavanaugh began his business career as a sales manager for Future Electronics, the manufacturer and distributor of electronics components. While he enjoyed learning about technology at Future, he knew that he wanted to be more entrepreneurial. In 1990 Kavanaugh left Future to cofound World Wide Technology with his friend and colleague David Steward.
David Steward saw in Kavanaugh an expertise in electronics distribution, software development, and component manufacturing. Kavanaugh's broad range of knowledge led to his running of day-to-day operations at World Wide Technology. The company's goal was to provide information-technology services such as network design and installation, systems and application integration, and procurement.
During its first few years of existence, World Wide Technology and its founders struggled to move out of debt. Kavanaugh and Steward grew concerned about the company's prospects for long-term success; by 1993 it had accumulated $2 million in debt. Kavanaugh explained in a Black Enterprise interview, "Poor financial discipline and structure resulted in our having problems financing products" (June 1999). In fact at one point Kavanaugh used $15,000 from his own personal savings to pay for a product so that World Wide could deliver it to a customer.
Reassessing World Wide's methodology, Kavanaugh sought to develop a more team-oriented approach to the company's growth; he also pushed to deliver the highest-quality customer service in the industry. His strategies pulled World Wide Technology out of its slump, and the company began to make a name for itself. One particularly successful tactic was to spend portions of World Wide's capital on new-technology research and development. In the Black Enterprise interview Kavanaugh stated, "It's been a conscious strategy to build products internally on our nickel with the intent to make them robust enough to sell to the commercial marketplace" (June 1999).
In 1999 Kavanaugh and Steward decided to spin off World Wide Technology's telecommunications division, creating Telcobuy.com; Kavanaugh was elected chief executive officer. At Telcobuy he sought to help telecommunications companies build out and improve infrastructures more efficiently by facilitating communication between sellers and buyers.
During his tenure as the Telcobuy CEO, Kavanaugh became known for his ability to recognize and use emerging, cutting-edge technology; he was also skilled at employing smart Internet strategies for both his own company and customers. Kavanaugh knew that Internet start-ups needed help in developing strong foundations and then in continuing to expand; through Telcobuy he enabled them to establish back-to-basics platforms to quickly attract customers and investors.
After three years of leading Telcobuy to becoming a successful operating company Kavanaugh returned to World Wide Technology to become the chief executive officer. In 2004 World Wide Technology notched over $1 billion in sales with 550 employees, making it one of the largest privately held companies in the Midwest.
As an Olympic and professional soccer player and then as a corporate executive Kavanaugh learned much about the value of leadership in spurring the success of sports teams and businesses alike. Taking lessons from his varied experiences, he developed a system of teamwork that involved all of World Wide Technology's employees, customers, and partners. Kavanaugh's basic philosophy—"Be creative, take chances, make mistakes"—was propagated throughout the organization, motivating employees to feel confident and empowered.
Kavanaugh believed strongly in trusting his workers. He assembled leadership teams from within his companies composed of people from a variety of backgrounds. His teams were involved in all aspects of business decisions, such as identifying new business opportunities and recognizing and handling potential problems.
While Kavanaugh saw the importance of utilizing the skills of his fellow leaders in particular, he encouraged all employees to participate in company decision making. World Wide Technology employee retirement plans relied on the company's solid financial performance, instilling workers with a greater sense of responsibility for both their own and the company's success. To encourage communication between different levels within World Wide, Kavanaugh developed online employee suggestion boxes and held special meetings where employees could propose ways to make improvements.
Kavanaugh strove to make all World Wide Technology employees feel as though they were an integral part of the company's infrastructure. He provided workers with state-of-the-art equipment with which to perform their jobs, comfortable office spaces, full medical coverage, and retirement plans that demonstrated their value to the organization.
Kavanaugh, James, "On Top of the World," interview by Tariq Muhammad, Black Enterprise , June 1999, p. 118.
Manning, Margie, "World Wide Booms," St. Louis Business Journal , February 23, 2001.
Sieckmann, Amy, "Jim Kavanaugh of Telcobuy.com," St. Louis Business Journal , June 22, 2001.