Entrepreneur

Cut from a Different Cloth

There’s a pattern to the success of Jay Harris ’73.

A love of sailing and being on the water brought Jay Harris to MMA, where he captained the sailing team to one of its highest levels of competitive achievement.

Today, he sails in the tumultuous winds of commerce as President of Komar Distribution Services, a supply chain management company that is an offshoot of Komar Designs, an apparel production giant with more than 100 branded licenses and 174 factories in 12 countries that produces more than 110 million garments annually.

From his time at MMA, Harris carries many lessons that have helped him navigate life and business. “It was the stories of leadership,” he recalls. “There were some really savvy old salts who had been through World War II, who were torpedoed and survived, and those stories were very motivating.

“I remember in particular the advice of Captain Hathaway who drilled into us: ‘Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.’

“And I learned the power of storytelling—such incredible life experiences were related to me at MMA—putting things in context with a beginning, a challenging middle and a triumphant end. I’ve used that model to set the tone for where we wanted to go with the direction of the company or a particular problem.”

Sailing to Solutions

Harris shipped out with Hess Oil after MMA, but was soon drawn back into the world of competitive sailboat racing, serving as captain of several avant garde boats in the mid-’70s that eventually brought him to the attention of the executives of North Sails. “They were successful selling to custom racing programs, but not so strong with weekend sailors in the Cal boats, Swans and the like,” says Harris. “I didn’t think I was a very good salesperson at the time, but it turned out I was very good.”

He became the number-one salesperson and eventually director of a major sail program. Harris then tried out as crew aboard an America’s Cup challenge boat, but when he didn’t make it, he “realized it was time to get a real job.”

He joined Komar in 1982, at first in sales, but eventually excelling in the company’s operational area. “I enjoy problem-solving and working with data,” he says. “It all leads back to MMA, where you learn the art of finding simple solutions for complex problems.”

Photos: Billy Sims

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