This month’s EO Member spotlight is on Michael Hoag, President of James Instruments Inc., a manufacturer that specializes in non-destructive test equipment for concrete and other construction materials. Michael is an alumnus of the University of Illinois, Chicago where he received his degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Michael shared with us how he started on his entrepreneurial journey, some challenges he faces and the things he enjoys most about his work.
EO Member: Michael Hoag
Company: James Instruments Inc.
Years in business: 20
How long have you been a member of EO Chicago and why did you join the organization?
I joined in 2008 after recognizing I was working in a bubble and was not getting any real feedback to improve my performance. I wanted to learn from other entrepreneurs and build my network in Chicago, which is why EO Chicago seemed like a natural next step.
Can you describe your entrepreneurial journey? Where did you start and where do you hope to go in the future?
I was always open to taking jobs where I essentially worked on my own. After joining James Instruments for engineering work, I took over international sales. I got the opportunity to buy out the company with a partner and that partnership lasted three years. Then, I exercised some leverage to further buy out the partner, and we have since opened an office in Europe. I went on to also support my wife in establishing her own law practice.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Two things, first is the international business. Particularly, I enjoy working with our really culturally different customers. I have made friends around the globe from this job. The cities of Hong Kong, Singapore, Birmingham, Madrid, Buenos Aires all have close friends and customers of mine. The second fascinating part of the business is product development. We do not just design software but we also integrate in real-time to the instruments we manufacture.
What’s the coolest thing you’re working on right now?
Apart from the cool pieces of electronics, metal, and code that are our normal bread and butter, we have implemented lean manufacturing and it has been a total game-changer. We are currently really excited about this.
What daily challenges do you face at work?
I hate paperwork. That is always my biggest hurdle. I would much rather write code, sketch an idea, or work directly with customers than have to look at anything bureaucratic.
What is the best career advice you ever received?
Have a ‘Plan ‘B’. I took on a lot of new ideas as a ‘Plan B’ that either saved the business or made it grow. It has certainly kept us successful all these years.
What are your goals for the future of your business?
We are currently working on a new generation of equipment. Technology has come so far and the visualization of data is definitely here. We are getting our technology to work so the customer can ‘see’ the results of their test rather than looking at rows of numbers. We are also establishing a low production run machine shop or job shop. It is in the initial phases, but we already have customers via word of mouth.
Who or what inspires you?
I think I follow my own path. I am always surprised about what is possible these days.
If you could go back in time five years and share advice with your past self, what advice would you share?
Probably, keep working out! To really help other people you need to take care of yourself first. I feel like I’m my best self when I know I’m taking care of my body.
What is the greatest challenge you have overcome?
Handling medical Issues with my children has been a challenge for me and it takes a very heavy emotional strain on me. It’s one thing when it’s your aging parents and you might expect some things to come up, but it’s different when it’s your kid.
What brought you to Chicago?
I knew I wanted to go to an engineering school in an urban environment and Chicago was that perfect combination of what I was looking for.
How do you find work-life balance?
That is a constant juggling act. I am very close with my wife and kids, but they recognize I need to be on business phone calls when we are on vacation sometimes. I do, however, call myself lucky to have had the flexibility to be involved in all their lives rather than be an absentee spouse or parent.
What are your favorite things to do outside of work?
I am involved in the BSA (what we call Boy Scouts, but it is open to girls now too). I scuba, ski, ride my motorcycles, play guitar, and take a lot of pictures. Also, my wife and I have foster parented a few children and volunteer with Hephzibah Home for Children.
If you could recommend one podcast, what would it be?
‘Stuff You Missed in History Class’ because don’t you need to know who Tupac Amaru II was?
What’s your favorite restaurant in Chicago?
Gibson’s. Chicago still has the best steak in the world. These guys never fail to deliver a great steak and a great martini. We enjoy it so much, my wife and I had our wedding reception there.
What are you reading currently?
“The Long Ships” by Frans G. Bengtsson. My son bought it for me for Christmas—probably the only thing he thought I would like at the bookstore on his way back from university. Still, it is pretty good.
We’re delighted to highlight Michael Hoag in this month’s Chicago membership spotlight. The Entrepreneurs’ Organization is a global business network of over 14,000 entrepreneurs in 195 chapters and 62 countries. EO is the catalyst that enables entrepreneurs to learn and grow from each other, leading to greater business success and an enriched personal life.
Are you interested in becoming an EO Chicago member? Take a look at our membership requirements and submit an application to join today.