Jim Larsen: Unstoppable
By James Florence, Staff Writer
HAYWARD – For some, the road to success is smoothly paved, but for others, it’s a path fraught with harrowing obstacles. For Jim Larsen, owner of Larsen Construction, it involved a veritable life-and-death struggle—one that, while leaving an indelible mark, also served as a catalyst toward a higher achievement.
It was in the midst of a burgeoning career as a window salesman that the unthinkable struck: Jim was diagnosed with cancer. The subsequent year of his life would consist of an excruciating treatment and recovery process, but even though he was physically out of commission, he didn’t just sit idly by. “While I was in the hospital, I started to put together a business plan,” he recounts. “I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before, not only in combining the window and door industries, but also in creating a company that generated most of its business through customer referrals.”
As a window salesman, Jim found that customer referrals were difficult to come by, so he knew he needed to find a way to make them consistent for his business model to work. After much contemplation, he finally hit upon the crucial element. “I realized installation was the key,” he says. “Even if I had the greatest salespeople and office staff in the world, if I didn’t have quality installers, I wasn’t going to get the referrals.” With his newfound focus, he immediately set to assembling a team of expert installers.
Building a business from the ground up wasn’t easy, particularly in the wake of his medical ordeal, but Jim’s indomitable spirit proved equal to the task. “Since my hospital bills had created a significant financial setback, I had to start this business on a shoestring budget,” he explains. “Fortunately, I was able to connect with people who believed in what I was trying to do and were willing to invest in it.” Jim’s hard work and determination paid off, and so did his business model—Larsen Construction is still going strong nearly two decades later, and almost half of its business is produced by customer referrals.
In addition to his business, one of Jim’s great passions in life is traveling. Having been all over the European continent, he says he feels a particular affinity with the people of Italy. “They’re just so full of life. I like how dinner in Italy isn’t something you do quickly before moving on to the next thing—it’s an all-evening affair.” Jim also takes an annual trip to the Florida Keys, where he spends a week fishing on the flats. Yet as much as he enjoys relaxing, he also feels the need to maintain a livelihood. “I don’t think I’ll ever actually retire,” he says. “I’ll always want to be involved in something, even if it’s just part-time consulting.”
Looking back on his life and career and the obstacles he’s overcome along the way, Jim attributes his success to his positive outlook. “The cancer may have changed me physically, but I didn’t let it change who I was,” he says. “Some people who have been afflicted with cancer just give up on life, but it really comes down to a choice—you can sit and feel sorry for yourself, or you can wake up every morning to a new day and keep living your life.”
Ask Me Anything!
Q: What was your first pet?
A: A cat named Crescendo.
Q: Do you have a favorite restaurant?
A: Yes, but unfortunately it has closed. It was a place in San Francisco called Little Joe’s, and they made the best veal parmesan I ever had.
Q: Did you play any high school sports?
A: I played football—I was a halfback and linebacker.
Q: If you could speak any language fluently, which would you choose?
A: Italian, since I love to visit that country.
Q: Do you have any nicknames?
Q: What’s your favorite tree?
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A: It’s a toss-up between the red maple and the California redwood.