Jori International: The Challenges of Succession

Step #1 - Rick Woods has spent years building Jori International. Now he wants to pass it to his 20-something son

COMPANY Jori International
OWNER Rick Woods

Rick Woods built Jori international, and is now working to hand it over to his son, Sam
Photograph Pederson

The Company
Alberta’s business landscape is defined by its iconic families. And although the Shaws, Southerns and Riddells have managed to build multibillion-dollar businesses while maintaining the family’s control, they’re the exception, not the rule. But that’s not going to stop Rick Woods. He’s the president of Jori International, a fast-growing logistics company from Calgary. He wants to add his surname to that list. He’s ready to retire and wants to pass control to his 20-something son, Sam. Can he make the hand-off successfully? Or will someone drop the baton in the process?

The History
Rick got into the logistics business right out of university, in 1971. “It was kind of a fluke that I got into the business, but I really did like it – you’re the go-between for government and companies that want to get stuff done.” Twenty years later, after working for five different companies, Rick decided to start his own business. “I think it was probably about the fourth company where I realized I was going to own my own business someday.” Today, his customs brokerage service helps companies connect to international markets. It takes care of all the work that comes with that, from dealing with duties and tariffs to regulations and documentation. It also offers full-service freight service worldwide, and has built up a network that allows importers and exporters to get their goods to market by air, ground or sea quickly and cost-effectively.

The Numbers
Jori International has grown steadily over the last two decades. Aside from a few recession-related slumps, it’s never posted an annual loss. Last year the 29-person outfit generated $6.7 million in revenue, while its five-year growth rate of 130 per cent placed it at 362nd spot on the most recent Profit 500 list of Canada’s fastest-growing companies.

Future Hurdle
It may still be a ways off in the future, but Sam and Rick Woods are keenly aware of the threat that 3D printing poses to their business. “3D printers aren’t our friend,” Sam says. That’s one of the reasons, he says, that they’ve started to focus more on the commodity business. “The transportation of commodities is going to be around for a long time, so it’s prudent for us to get in there early.”

The Challenge
It’s hard enough to build a successful business. But passing it on to the next generation with minimum disruption and disaffection might be nearly as difficult. Still, Rick is intent on finding a way to pass the business to his son, Sam, without destroying it. He intends to retire within the next five years. “It’s a father’s dream that the kids carry on the business that they started,” he says. “Just like my grandfather passed on his farm to his boys, I’d like to be able to pass this on to the rest of the family.”

The problem? While Sam has bachelor of commerce, his CCS (Certified Customs Specialist) designation and is working towards his CIFFA (Canadian International Freight Forwarding Association) certification, he’s also a bit wet behind the ears. He’s just a few years out of university, still in his 20s and not ready or qualified to take over the reins. Yet.

He’s already feeling the pressure, too. “It’s not just me being responsible for me. It’s me being responsible for the whole family. A lot of people have a lot at stake with the company,” Sam says.

The Market
Whether it’s the rise of e-commerce, the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement or the recent surge in crude-by-rail, Jori International has had to contend with a rapidly changing and growing industry. U.S. exports to Canada are up 191 per cent since the company started. Goods and services flowing the other way have increased by 192 per cent (and 55 per cent since 2002). All told, the amount of goods and services crossing the world’s longest undefended border total nearly $700 billion a year. It’s a sizable market, and one that Jori has managed to capitalize on.

Crude-by-rail is an increasing part of that figure. Canadian Pacific’s oil shipment increased by 150 per cent last year alone. Jori is getting in on that action. “It’s a new emerging market, and we want to be a part of that,” Rick says.

The Goal
Hand the business over to the next generation while continuing to grow it at a healthy pace. According to Sam, that’s a goal that will require buy-in from people at every level. “How do we get the employees to have more of a stake in the company? How do we get them to want to go out there and negotiate better deals with carriers and see new market opportunities? If we want to be bigger, it can’t just come from the family.”

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