Jim Williams: Worldwide Telecommunications CEO
The compelling presence of a Rolls-Royce Phantom demands the demure notes of a classical composition. Jim Williams knows this, but he’s not in sync with it. His motto, ‘Go Big or Go Home,’ is the chorus to his soundtrack. A worldwide telecommunications CEO and one of Canada’s most prestigious car collectors, he’d rather whip through the open road after a long day at work with the top down and the sun in his face, blasting Jay Z. He may cut a few corners and leave a handful of drivers rasping in his dust, but Williams knows the importance of keeping both feet balanced on the racecourse of life.
Jim Williams is a man who has it all – he runs a top-of-the-line company, flashes a fleet of coveted cars, walks around in designer possessions and resides in a magical mansion, complete with an envious courtyard blooming with annuals on a landscape he designed himself. But these accomplishments hold minor importance for Williams, whose greatest treasure is his loved ones. “I have the perfect family,” says Williams, who has three teenage children with his wife of 20 years, Kim.
Williams is sitting with his legs crossed, casual in a brown corduroy blazer and jeans, on a dark leathered chair in a private, spacious office of his enterprise, Williams Telecommunications Corp., which is headquartered west of Toronto. The company is a global – and out-of-this-world – distributor of equipment, information and customer service in the telecommunications industry. Williams also owns the U.S.-based Frontrunner Network Systems. Before he delved into this industry, he was 19, working as a private gardener on the estate of mining magnate Stephen Roman. “I had winters off and one day a neighbour approached me and said he was looking for someone to help him start a company. I thought I was only going to be staying there a few weeks. In four years, it went from five guys to 2,500 employees, and zero to $150 million.” It may have been a case of being in the right place at the right time, but Williams’ work ethic – he plugs in 60 hours a week at the office – is the real reason he has catapulted towards success. “I’m running at 100 miles an hour all the time,” says Williams, who in the midst of his busy work schedule, car launches, family meals and entertaining guests, makes time for everyone. “There was this one kid who once sent me an e-mail saying, ‘Hey Mr. Williams, you don’t know me but I pass your office every day when I go to school. I see your beautiful cars and I love cars, and I was wondering if you could do me a favour. On the bus, we bet on what type of car you’re going to drive the next day. Could you let me know in advance what type of car you will drive so I can win?’” Williams didn’t hesitate to e-mail the young boy back, which helped him win the bet. “When that kid gets out of public school, he should send me his resumé.”
While Williams’ entrepreneurial feats paved the way for his charmed life, they have also heightened the importance of staying connected with those we cherish. Last year, a videoconference link was set up at Williams Telecommunications that allowed a Canadian astronaut floating in space speak to a friend. “We’ve installed phone systems for the Trump Organization, New York’s The Plaza Hotel and recently a system for the Olympics in Vancouver. The Fairmont Southhampton Hotel in Bermuda is also one of our clients,” says Williams, who put the hotel back in operation after it was damaged by a hurricane. “We put together a whole system, placed it in a limo, and in a matter of minutes, it was on a plane the very same day.”
Williams was raised in a poor neighbourhood, the second youngest of five children. Through hard work and determination he has achieved capitalist success while ticking off most of his bucket-list wishes. He coasted right by Mario Andretti during a car rally in Los Angeles. He has dined with Bill Clinton – “the coolest guy in the world.” He’s been a member of Donald Trump’s The Mar-a-Lago Club since 1995, a place where he formed a bond with the real estate mogul. “Jim is a wonderful member of Mar-a-Lago Club and a great guy,” says Trump. “Donald is a big car guy – I’m not sure if you all know that,” explains Williams. “When we first met, I had a 1997 Lamborghini Roadster. We had the exact same car and I kept mine [at Mar-a-Lago Club] for the winter and because there weren’t a lot of members at the time, he would let me keep it in his garage. I think I had a Bentley there at the same time so through the car thing we kind of all bonded. It’s funny because he would be there and say, ‘Whose car is that?’ and people would say, ‘Oh, that’s Jim Williams’ car,’ and he would say, ‘Oh, I have an order on a car like that but they told me I had to wait three months and I’m a billionaire!’ One time, Regis Philbin was there and he walked up to Donald and said, ‘Hey, Donald, is this your new car?’ And Donald said, ‘No, it’s Jim Williams’ car.’ So he turned and said, ‘Jim, is this your car? And I said ‘yes’ and he turns to Donald and says: ‘I’m not hanging out with you anymore, I’m hanging out with Jim!’” recalls Williams with a laugh.
To Williams, thinking in the fast lane is like breathing, and his fleet of desirable cars symbolizes his insatiable need for speed. “Car manufacturers know me because I buy a lot of cars. I had the very first Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren convertible, the very first [Lamborghini] Murciélago – I usually get the cars when they first come out so I can try them.”
From stealthy Lamborghinis and Ferraris, to luxe Rolls-Royces, Mercedes-Benzes, including the exquisite SLR McLaren model – his most expensive treat, valued at $500,000 US – Williams’ collection is a documentary of his life, housed in a designer garage showroom with red-carpet ropes. His cars express his ever-evolving taste, his feelings and his moods. “At one point I had over 20 cars and for a time after that I had 13 or 14, so it fluctuates at times. I sometimes want something different so I’ll sell two to get the one I want,” says William frugally. “For a while I thought I wanted to collect exotics and muscle cars, so I bought a 1969 Firebird Convertible and a 1930 Hot Rod.” Next on his list? The Bugatti Veyron.
“My uncle Roy inspired me,” says Williams. “He was a successful guy and collected cars, so when I was a kid I always thought that to be like him I would have to do the same thing. He didn’t drink or smoke so I don’t. My guilty pleasures are cars, cars, cars.”
With that said, Williams keeps his seatbelt on in the fast lane of life. “This isn’t a dress rehearsal, this is the real thing. I wanted to make the most of it. I’ve done everything from hanging out at the Playboy Mansion to participating in race car rallies in Europe. I could go on; I’ve done things people only dream about. But when one of my children got sick, you realize you’re not invincible and you do have to live life to the fullest, but you also have to remember that life is precious,” says Williams, his glistening eyes showing the unconditional love of a father. “She’s well but it’s still one of the hardest times of my life.”
Another man who has influenced Williams is his friend Michael Milken, an American financier mostly known for inventing the junk bond. Williams admires his strength, not just in business but for conquering prostate cancer and devoting his life to helping others through his various charity initiatives. “Michael is a very wealthy man – monetarily and in family life,” says Williams, who is a fervent supporter of the SickKids Foundation, and charities founded by Milken and Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons. “I think you have to remember where you came from,” advises Williams. “And if there is one thing my parents taught me, it’s to stop and smell the roses. I’m a regular guy that became fortunate. Obviously this didn’t come for free, I worked at it, and didn’t let all of this get to my head.”
As the sun streams through the windows of Williams’ office, illuminating dozens of framed photos of him embracing world dignitaries, celebrities, athletes, politicians and philanthropists, it’s clear that Williams continues to reach for the finish line first. www.williamsglobal.com