“Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
That’s what Jim Ries’ father used to say.
Carey Ries likely had a solid handle on what building an empire requires. Before his passing in 2020 at the age of 90, he had spearheaded his family’s national shoe distribution business D. Myers & Sons, Inc. for more than 50 years, up until its closing and the culmination of a legacy nearly a century in the making.
His son Jim still recalls his dad’s fondness for the phrase. The advice has helped him endlessly throughout his storied career.
Jim had served as company president for 10 years when the doors ultimately closed.
Today, Jim is the Director of Business Development for burgeoning law firm Offit Kurman. A master networker, he is responsible for identifying and developing strategic partnerships and opportunities that drive revenue growth.
While continuing to follow his dad’s sage words, he’s adopted his own, similar, motto.
“The expression I use daily is, ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint,’” he says.
Whether dealing with lawyers or ladies’ footwear, patience, persistence, and good, old-fashioned legwork are the keys to success, he says.
“And I’m living proof.”
Jim Ries was always a likable guy.
“In any business development role, people need to know you, like you, and trust you,” he says. “And, for me, those boxes had been checked for many, many years.”
In school, he was a natural leader, a loyal friend, and a social go-getter. He captained the lacrosse team in high school and in college and excelled in whatever he put his hand to.
“People always looked to me for leadership,” he says. “Even when I was older, in my mid-50s, I captained the tennis team at my tennis club and took it pretty seriously. We won championships for five or six years straight.”
Ries recalls having plenty of friends as a young man, all of whom he says were smarter and more intellectual.
“But they’d call me up and ask, ‘Hey, Jim, how do you do this?’ ‘How do you do that?’ You know, things that should have been obvious to them – but they just couldn’t figure it out.”
In college, he was a business major, and in his sophomore year, when he had breaks, he opted to work in his family’s business back on Erdman Avenue in Baltimore.
“We were wholesale distributors of ladies’ shoes,” he says. “It was the late 70s. I worked there for a couple of summers and winter breaks. When I graduated college, I took about a week off and then started working there permanently. That lasted for 31 years.”
Jim steadily began working his way up the ranks, until assuming the presidency of D. Myers in 1999.
Ten years later, the financial crisis closed the business, ending a Baltimore shoe empire that began back in 1910.
“My dad and I walked away from a 99-year-old family business in August of 2009, and I found myself in career transition for the first time, ever.”
Being forced to switch careers midstream is a sink-or-swim proposition, Jim says.
“You sink if you do nothing, stay in bed all day, and complain about how the world has treated you.”
Or, he says, you start heading for shore.
“You get up and you say, ‘Today is going to be my day. I’m going to find my next career.’”
Sure, Jim had been the captain of the lacrosse team, but his breaststroke was pretty impressive, too.
Still, times were pretty awful. A bad recession had hit, and in the years between 2008 and 2010 pickings were nonexistent.
“No one was looking to hire someone who was the prior owner and president of his company,” Jim says.
But Jim had never been one to sit quietly on the sidelines waiting to be called to the field.
“When you’re in career transition, you can’t be quiet about it. You can’t sit at home,” he says. “I was out there promoting myself: ‘Hi, I’m Jim Ries and I’m in career transition, looking for my next opportunity to kill it.’”
“I took two jobs that were, you know, OK,” he continues.
In the interim, he made connections with many high-level professionals and Centers of Influence who remain part of his network to this day.
“I’ll talk to people who say, ‘I remember when your company closed, you came to see me for a job. I wish I’d have hired you back then because look at you now.’”
With two additional professional experiences under his belt, Jim says he had learned how to effectively “drip” on people, keeping his name – and face – front of mind.
And just in time. A new empire was on the rise.
Some Fancy Footwork
Founded in 1987 by brothers Maurice and Ted Offit, along with childhood friend Howard Kurman, Offit Kurman had been featured as one of Maryland’s fastest growing businesses by SmartCEO’s Future 50 in 2013.
“Ted was a peer of mine, growing up in Pikesville,” Jim says. “My brother knew him better. He’s an attorney and the attorneys all know each other. But Ted is my age. We definitely had mutual friends growing up.”
So, Jim – always friendly, always popular – reached out to an old friend.
“I said, ‘Congrats on your recent honor,’” he recalls. “‘I’m in career transition looking for an opportunity in management or business development. Who can you introduce me to?’”
Ted’s response was, in a word, promising.
“He said, ‘We actually may have a spot for you,’” Jim recalls.
Jim was hired in February 2013 as part of a professional management team to help manage the firm, which at the time boasted 90 attorneys and at least a half dozen offices on the East Coast.
“To Offit Kurman’s credit, they realized 10 years ago that attorneys managing law firms was a bad model. A broken model,” Jim says. “So, they hired me and two other professionals to run the firm. We oversaw the practice groups and managed the attorneys in those practice groups.”
But Jim’s natural inclination to mingle was making an impression.
“Five years later, they came to me, and they said, ‘Everybody knows you and likes you. We hear you’re everywhere. You network even though it’s not part of your role as a manager. You bring in new clients, even though it’s not part of your role as a manager. So, what if you did that full-time?”
Jim’s reply was, in another word, immediate.
“I said, ‘Absolutely, I’m ready to go.’”
Walking and Talking (and Learning)
Jim transitioned from his management role to director of business development and never looked back.
“You can imagine going from managing 40 attorneys and six practice groups to managing nobody. It’s what I consider a red-letter date,” he says.
Today, his externally-facing role requires him to do what he does best: be out and about attracting new clients – and attorneys – to the firm.
“Attorneys do not have non-competes,” Jim says. “So, we’re looking for partner-level attorneys with portable books of business who want to work at a different firm, a more entrepreneurial firm, a more growth-oriented firm, a firm with greater opportunities and a different compensation model. And they can bring their clients with them.”
Jim is also consistently building relationships and partnerships with other professional service firms that serve the same small- to mid-market owner-managed businesses. “They’re all potential referral sources for each other,” he says.
A typical day can include a half dozen Zoom meetings or phone calls, a virtual networking group or two, and maybe even an in-person event.
“I like to talk to business owners more than anything because it makes me smarter,” he says. “I want to understand how the supply chain is affecting them, how COVID affected them, how inflation is affecting them. At the end of the day, I just want to have conversations with people. I usually ask a lot of questions and the other person is doing all of the talking, and that’s a good thing. I’m doing the listening, and that gets me to ask the next question and the next question.”
Good listeners make great inroads.
“Typically, with only five minutes left in a meeting, the other person will say, ‘Hey, I’ve been doing all the talking, tell me more about Offit Kurman. What’s going on there?’ Now, I have their permission to tell them all about our firm and what we’re doing.”
Leaping Into a New Age
When COVID struck in March 2020, everything changed. Especially in-person networking, which became a no-no for quite some time.
“A couple of months ago, a guy came up to me after an event and said, ‘Man, I’ve been thinking about you. I bet COVID has been really tough for what you do.’ I looked him in the eye and said, ‘Don’t feel sorry for me. I’m doing just fine.’”
Just like a career transition, Jim saw COVID as an opportunity to adapt.
“When the pandemic happened, again, you had a choice. You could sit around and whine and say, ‘What am I going to do? The only way I can do my job is to network and now I can’t do that.’ Or you figure out how to beat it. And that’s what I did – I figured out a way to beat it.”
His solution, Virtual Rebels, is an online “Community for Thinkers” that Jim founded with colleague Josef Martens, Ph.D. Meeting every other Thursday, the Zoom networking event allows businesspeople to dig deeper into topics that matter while initiating conversations that elevate and educate.
“It’s a learning event,” Jim says. “It pries your mind open for out-of-the-box thinking. We talk about life and business and how they intersect. It’s high-level conversations with interesting people.”
Now a membership organization, Virtual Rebels welcomes 40 regular attendees and is always looking to add more.
While Jim is glad to have face-to-face time once again, he says the hybrid situation has yielded so much good within the industry.
“There is networking where people are glad not to get in their car and do a 60- or 90-minute networking group once or twice a month. And then there are other events where it’s really nice to be back in person. You get the best of both worlds. And I don’t see the pendulum swinging back and forth. I think it’s somewhere in the middle and that’s where it’s going to stay.”
A Larger Footprint
Offit Kurman is currently doing business in nine states, spanning South Carolina to New York, and Los Angeles.
“I’m blessed to have the role that I do,” Jim says. “The firm gives me every opportunity imaginable to be successful.”
Offit Kurman is unique, he adds.
“It’s run very much like a commercial business, with professional managers including our CEO and COO. We’ve got a corporate structure with five-year growth plans – and we’re hitting them.”
Rome wasn’t built in a day. But step by step, it got there.
“We now have an office in LA, and we plan to fill in the rest of the country with Offit Kurman offices in every major city.”
Patience and persistence always pay off, he says. Professionally, personally, and everywhere in between.
“I’ve been planting seeds. It took three years before everything started to bloom at the same time. If people know you, like you, and trust you – and if you’re in the right place at the right time and continue to drip – all of that gets you top of mind with people.”
When in Rome
When he’s not networking with power players, Jim says what he loves most is engaging with the main Centers of Influence in his life, his four grandkids.
“They’re just 10 minutes away, so I get to see them every weekend,” he says. “It gives me great joy.”
He and his wife, now empty nesters, also love spending time together recreationally.
“And I try to stay in shape. I stretch and work out every morning. I try to get outside and walk every day, and I still love my tennis.”
Life and business aren’t so different.
“It’s all about relationships, not transactions,” he says. “At D. Myers & Sons, we were selling a product. But other footwear importers had similar goods at similar prices. And at that point, it was about the trust that buyers had in me and my company. And that is still very true today.”