Talking Shop with Jim Riley, founder, Red Letter Communications

Monday, January 4, 2010
Jim Riley of Red Letter Communications, Inc. in Cape Girardeau. (Kit Doyle)

He's hit holes-in-one at three golf courses in the area, written children's books and started a marketing company that continues to grow. But despite his success, Jim Riley says he's remained grounded thanks to his father and his Midwestern values. Brian Blackwell recently visited with Riley to learn more about his many hobbies and his inspiration for Red Letter Communications, the company he founded in 1981. A native of St. Louis, Riley spent most of his life in Cape Girardeau. Married to Michaele for 17 years, Riley has several children, including his son, Anthony, who works with his dad.

Q: You travel quite a bit with your job. What locations stand out the most?

A: Certainly Scotland. I love it there. There is tremendous amount of history. It's hard not to love people once you spend a little time with them. I love the history, the people, the smoked fish. The landscape is of course remarkable. And it's the birthplace of golf. It's beautiful. We also visit Vermont and spend a week on Lake Champlain every year or two. One year we went in an RV and saw beautiful state parks there. And I love New York and Chicago. I love the great cities of this country. Chicago and New York are hard to beat. They're like the world headquarters for advertising.

Q: For quite some time you've been pressing for revitalization of downtown Cape Girardeau. Why does that mean so much to you?

A: I'm big on downtown and our riverfront and the potential that is laying dormant down here. DREAMbig was an effort. There has to be some catalyst for this downtown to really reawaken it. And so one possibility is a gaming facility. But there are other opportunities downtown. I think there is a real opportunity for a new kind of residential community down here, one that attracts the biggest group of people and biggest and one of most desirable groups of people to ever live in America, and that is what I call the business boomers or the baby boomers. They'll be the richest generation in the world, the healthiest generation in the history of the world, and I hope that over the next five years we can coax two to three thousand of them to move here. I really think we have a lot to offer.

Jim Riley of Red Letter Communications, Inc. in Cape Girardeau. (Kit Doyle)

Q: In addition to your involvement with Red Letter Communications, you also have a side business writing children's books. You are committed to writing five books and the third book is in the works right now. Why is this such a love of yours?

A: After writing ads for 30 years I found a new vocation in creating content that attempts to make ideals, principles and good living habits attractive to kids and their pet dogs, cats and rabbits. It's really a fascinating and attractive deal. I'm really energized in this whole effort and will try to reach for the stars. I don't know what will come of it, but we're having a good time doing it.

Q: How are you are hoping to transform Red Letter Communications from a local to a national business?

A: Our whole industry is at an interesting point. The business models are being changed. Anytime you shuffle the deck on an industry you can create a disaster or, more importantly, tremendous opportunity. We have the skills and the talent to do business just about anywhere. Red Letter is sort of reinventing itself. We are maintaining and continue to develop our core competencies. It's a new world. It's very exciting. Our business is robust. But it's challenging.

Q: Who has influenced you the most in your lifetime?

A: I am a big fan of the people who have gone before and made what appear to me incredible sacrifices so that we can enjoy this privileged life we have today. On my wall are pictures of ancestors that emigrated from Germany and Ireland. My father and several other people who have served as mentors to me really provided a tremendous amount of direction in my life. My dad was a salesman all his life and worked for independent businesses. He spent his career working on behalf of independent grocers. I've spent my career working for independent outdoor power equipment retailers. My dad taught me about sales, relationships and authenticity, which is vital in sales.

The other great mentor I have is Herb Taylor, who was my great friend and mentor and creative partner of 30 years. I met Herb at the university. I really benefited from a close association with a great teacher. That's one of the best benefits of life. When an older person takes the time to pass along what they've learned, that's one of the most generous acts of life. I've been on the receiving end of this from many, many individuals.

Q: Why do you enjoy golf so much?

A: Any time you have a camaraderie with others who share something they enjoy, it immediately establishes that relationship with a group of people. Golf is available to almost anyone in terms of athletic ability. It's really wonderful. If you have some basic athletic ability and you practice a little bit you excel. You do things on a golf course that are very fulfilling. I'm fond of Dalhousie, where I was the first paying member. It's not only a remarkable golf course, it's a genuinely beautiful place to be.

Q: It's obvious you have an admiration for your father. I know you walked many years with him around the course at the Cape Girardeau Country Club. Did your relationship with him on the golf course affect your interest in golf?

A: I'm sure. That and I learned to play it at an early age. Any kid grows to something he finds success in. That, and I'm one of the best golfers in North America, so why wouldn't I like it? I grew up at the Cape Country Club. I have very fond memories walking around those hills with my father and other friends. Those are things I never will forget. I played with my dad and thought I was playing with Superman. It wasn't until much later in life that I realized the sacrifices he was making. It was a very nice way to grow up.

Q: You've scored a hole in one at the Cape Girardeau Country Club, Dalhousie Golf Club and Perryville Country Club. What is it like making a hole in one?

A: It's surprising. When it happens you're like 'wow.' But I'm not real big on individual moments. Obviously a hole in one is a big thrill that lasts. But I remember certain rounds of golf. Golf is the kind of thing that every time you play there is a level of enjoyment that's kind of significant. It's like printing something or publishing something. We publish a lot of brochures here. When the finished product arrives there is that moment of 'wow, we got it.' One of the secrets in life is enjoying every step along the way.

Q: A few months ago many people in the community were talking about rumors of St. Louis Cardinal Albert Pujols purchasing a home at Dalhousie Manor. While it's still just a rumor as far as I'm aware, it's certainly created a buzz. What is your knowledge of the matter?

A: Imagine being Albert Pujols. What you want to do is occasionally play a round of golf with guys who treat you like Albert and not Albert Pujols. If people want to get Albert Pujols to Cape Girardeau, the best thing to do is to let it be. Let him be attracted. One of the things he'd be attracted here is people wouldn't make a big deal out of him. If I do play with Albert out there I'd love to take his lunch money just as much as anyone else out there.

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