Jim Bob McAllister is the President and Co-Founder of KEYSYS, a software development company founded in 2007. Jim and his team specialize in web app development, mobile app development, data integration, custom reporting & dashboards, and website development. Based in Birmingham Alabama, the KEYSYS client list includes national, regional, and local companies spanning multiple business industries. KEYSYS was founded with a focus on client successes and the creation of a culture where great people can fully reach their potential while providing for their families.
Jim Bob graduated from the University of Alabama (where he always wanted to go) with a degree in Finance. He landed his first job at IBM in Atlanta, where he worked for six years before moving to Birmingham in 2004. In 2004, Jim Bob met (now) KEYSYS Vice President, Jarick Rager, and together, they started KEYSYS in 2007.
Jim Bob and his wife have 3 children.
Ray: Hello everyone, this is Ray Hilbert and I am your host here at Bottom Line Faith. I am excited to be back. I call this city kind of my home away from home. If you’re a regular listener of Bottom Line Faith, you know God has really opened up some amazing doors and some amazing conversations here in the city of Birmingham, Alabama. So I am here today, and I am speaking with Jim Bob McAllister. Now that is a Southern boy name. I love it. Jim Bob McAllister, who is the president and cofounder at Key Systems Consulting. Jim Bob, welcome to Bottom Line Faith.
Jim Bob: Thank you. And you know, you say that’s a Southern name, but I have to tell you that growing up in Tennessee and then going to college in Alabama, I still get sideways looks whenever I say my name is Jim Bob. So typically the response is Jim and I have to say, well there’s a Bob on there too, but you know, some people are uncomfortable saying both even now, or I should say even then. So it’s JB, you know, for all your future people that I’m going to meet. If you don’t want to say Jim Bob, just call me JB.
Ray: I’m going to call you Jim Bob.
Jim Bob: Yeah that works. Cause I’m, but my mama calls me–
Ray: Oh, I’m feeling, I’m feeling real at home here in the south with Jim Bob today. So, in preparation for this conversation, I’ve learned a little bit about your background and so forth. So would you be kind enough to, first give us a framework, Jim Bob of your company and really call it KEYSYS, right? And so help us understand key pieces, what you do later on. We’re going to learn how it got started and in the entrepreneurial journey, but just give us a snapshot of the company.
Jim Bob: Sure. Right now KEYSYS is 25 coworkers who mainly focus on writing custom software applications, business analytics dashboards, key performance indicators, data visualizations, custom workflows, things like that, for medium to enterprise size businesses. So if you have a database or an application or a software system that isn’t playing well with others, we can typically integrate those things and give you, one kind of seamless experience where your data is, where you need it, where you can, you know, make decisions based on data, things like that.
Ray: So a really kind of any custom software solution you might need, medium to enterprise business?
Jim Bob: We would take a look at that.
Ray: Okay, and so of course without naming or whatever, but maybe give us an example of a solution to a problem that a client has had, and a solution that you brought to the table. The difference it’s made for their business.
Jim Bob: Sure. So we run into this quite a bit where businesses over the years capture data based on sales or they capture data on how efficient they are operating. So there’s data about all the lines of business that a company may have. But if you’re not boiling that data up and presenting it in a way that makes sense to a business person or someone who can make decisions, it’s kind of, you know, just latent or potential data. Whereas if you bring it to the top and you visualize it in a way that makes sense to someone and they can make intuitive decisions based on, you know, those trends and those things that they’re seeing maybe in a dashboard or something like that. What we’ve seen is that in a meeting we took data that a company of our, a client of ours had since 2000, and we put that and we trended it and we made it where they could filter it and report by group and organization and things like that. And he lit up, the CEO of the company lit up and just said, I’ve never seen our business this way before. This allows me to kind of see how we’re doing and then make decisions based on the data that I’m seeing. And so that was really, that one’s one of those that feels really good when that happens.
Ray: That brings great value. As I’m listening to what you’re sharing here, Jim Bob, I’m thinking about a good friend of mine who’s about a 40 year professor in a major university in their business school and I was recently having lunch with him and he said, the two most dangerous words in marketing are the words we think. So as I’m listening to what you’re describing, it seems to me like you help a business go from we think to we know. Is that fair?
Jim Bob: That is fair. Typically something will start out as a hunch, you know. If someone thinks something is going on, what we typically can do is give that person the ability to go find out. As a local mentor of mine said when I moved to Birmingham, he said it many times and in many meetings. In God we trust; all others bring data. So for me, our goal is to help someone to get from, we think to we know, and we can do those types of things. Visualizing data.
Ray: Excellent. That’s a great foundation. A great start for us to understand a little bit about the company, what you do at KEYSIS. But you’re not from Birmingham, Alabama. You grew up just North of Nashville. And so how did you end up here in Alabama? What’s that story all about?
Jim Bob: So my dad is from Dothan, Alabama, which is down in lower Alabama as we call it. And so my dad was an Alabama fan. He raised me an Alabama fan. And essentially I made my very important college decision based on the color of the football jersey. So I changed, you know, what I was interested in probably four times, so that I could go to Alabama. So I was really wise in that decision. You know, I don’t regret it. It’s, you know, got me where I am today. But certainly I could have had a better decision criteria heading into that decision. So went to the university of Alabama in Tuscaloosa for four and a half years, moved to Atlanta to work for IBM for about six years, and then got hired by a custom software company here in Birmingham, Alabama.
Ray: That’s how you ended up in Birmingham.
Jim Bob: And that’s how I ended up here in 2004. So we’ve been here for whatever that is, 14 or 15 years. And it’s been a pretty windy path since I got to Birmingham. But one that I think was, you know, worth going down.
Ray: So you had been working at IBM, moved to Birmingham, took a job with a custom software environment, and you’re working in a client for, for one of those. And then you met your current partner. Walk us through that story, how that kind of played out.
Jim Bob: Yeah, so I got hired here and I met Derek who is my business partner in the lobby of Honda in Lincoln, Alabama. So he was there as a consultant from the company that I had just taken a position with. And so there was a big meeting that, you know, had been on the books for a really long time. Basically day number one, I walk in, I meet the person that I’m going to be working with at the company, and then we have this big meeting during which the executives were so unhappy with the information being shared with them that they got up and left the meeting in the middle of it. So day number one was not strong. But I did meet Derek that day, which turns out to be a life changer. So that I can take as something that really happened positively that day. So we worked there for two years together and then we worked at another place together for about a year before we started KEYSYS.
Ray: And so you certainly didn’t move here to Birmingham thinking you were going to be an entrepreneur or thinking you were going to have this business, correct?
Jim Bob: I did not. I’m actually, there is a general store in my family since 1901 and in 1901, it was the local, you know, farm supply. It was the local post office. The area that I grew up in, Hendersonville, Tennessee, used to be called Worsham, Tennessee, which is my mom’s maiden name. And it was basically because we had that store. So when I was growing up, my uncle and grandmother owned and operated that store. However, I never had an entrepreneurial thought. I didn’t have business ownership as a goal or even a thought. And that’s kind of a theme in my life because I also had no interest in, which was my first, you know, which is what I got into in my first job. I didn’t even have a computer at my house or high speed internet until 2003 so I’m kind of not, you know, on the path that I would’ve ever imagined that, you know, when I was younger.
Ray: God’s crafting a story here then. And so you’re finding new things and you start this company in what, 11 years ago roughly.
Jim Bob: That’s right.
Ray: So as you kind of reflect back over the better part of the last decade what have you learned about yourself as an entrepreneur that you would have never guessed to be true?
Jim Bob: That I would never have guessed to be true? I learned that it’s very difficult to kind of reconcile operating a business and making decisions based on what God would want based on putting others first. Then it would have seemed, it’s easy to say I’m a Christian and I have a business and you know, but if you’re not careful, earthly business wisdom is something that can grow inside of you and inside of your company that, you know, you may not even know it for a really long time. And so it’s very easy to kind of compromise your faith in favor of going with earthly business wisdom that might be repeated over, and over, and over again. That seems like at the point it gets repeated so much that it’s truth. And so, you know, you kind of have to be a sentinel on the wall waiting and watching for these kinds of their lies basically, or misrepresentations of how we should be living our lives and operating our businesses. They’re lies. I call them that because they appear to be truth, but in fact, you know, it’s basically just some earth-based, flesh-based, you know, something that’s called wisdom or you know, something like that that, you know, ends up if unchecked it can grow and then kind of separate you from God and what God wants you to be doing.
Ray: I want to drill in on a little bit earlier in the conversation, and I really, really like this statement, this quote, he says, you kind of had learned this from one of your mentors, is that in God we trust; for all others bring data, right? So being in the business that you’re in, you’re around data-driven solutions, helping people make fact-based decisions, right? How does that jive, how does that reconcile with trying to be a Christ follower where the essence of being a Christ follower is faith? You know, it says in Hebrews 11 that faith is the evidence of things not yet seen. Right? So as a follower of Christ in business, how do you jive that living in a data-driven world and trying to live on faith? Does that make sense what I’m asking?
Jim Bob: It does for me, that hasn’t been an issue because I’m not one of the technical people at my company who can actually do some of this stuff. So I have some very, you know, left-brain people who work at cases. So they are very data-driven. They are very black and white. For me, I’ve always been in the relationship side of the business, but I’ve never sought to kind of reconcile a data-driven, fact-based, you know, approach to what we do as a company to how I interact. So, because I’ve always been kind of focused on the relationship side of it. You know, when you’re dealing with relationships, then it becomes more… you can more easily reconcile, you know, that. But I will say in what I do for a living, you know, there’s kind of a wall between those people who are technical and then, you know, the salespeople as they’re called. And so that becomes more difficult I think, to reconcile. So the mindset. There is a we they. Technical people typically, you know, think that salespeople are just out there, you know, wild, wild West, you know, making commitments on their behalves and then, you know, coming back and just laying it on them and saying, you know, here’s what you have to do, and here’s the time you have to do it, and sorry if you don’t like it. Too late, you know? So we try to avoid that as much as possible, because that is not good for relationships. But I think that that is a more difficult thing, I guess to reconcile is.
Ray: It really is. And it’s a tension. And anyone who’s listening to this conversation as an entrepreneur, someone who started a business or leading a business, they certainly understand faith and that tension because they’re constantly living in faith about where’s our next opportunity going to come from? Where’s our next client? How am I going to meet payroll? I mean, all of these are real issues of faith that we wrestle with as followers of Christ. And it gives God a chance to manifest himself. I think that’s true for you, right?
Jim Bob: It is true for me. So, you know, recently in one of the Tuesday morning men’s groups that I do, someone described themselves as having a wolf at the door mentality for their whole career. And they were saying that as kind of, almost like a positive thing. Like, Hey, that’s what drives me to do the things that I do on a daily basis because I have a wolf at the door mentality. You know, I don’t know where my next sale’s going to come from. I don’t, you know, nothing’s guaranteed. So I would challenge that and say a wolf at the door mentality is a fear-based mentality. The Lord doesn’t say anywhere in the world that we should have a wolf at the door mentality and operate out of fear. So that’s an example of some of the kind of like earthly wisdom that can creep in if unchecked. You know, you start thinking like, you know, wolf at the door mentality. That’s what drives me. So the reconciliation between the black and white and the gray is kind of like Jesus came and he was both truth and grace. So I explained to my partner who is a lot more black and white. You’re kind of more on the truth side and I’m more on the grace side and thank goodness, you know, we’re 50/50 owners in this company because you’re going to demand truth and I’m going to be seeking, you know, and giving grace. And so somewhere in the middle, that combination, which Jesus was the perfect combination of those two things is where we should be.
Ray: I really find that very interesting. I was talking recently with a a fellow, well in another business, a Christ follower in business, and we were having this conversation, the difference between a critical eye and a critical spirit in the conversation. I use this very simple analogy. We’re looking at a brochure, a critical eye looks at the typos, looks at the font, looks at the look, the feel, the messaging and looks to solve the issue or the problem. A critical spirit has commentary and a negative viewpoint that the person who did that made mistakes and there’s something wrong with that person or their character. Is that hitting the mark at all with some of the things you worked through as a believer?
Jim Bob: This morning. So we’re dealing with an issue like this little yesterday afternoon and into this morning where as you said, and I think you say it well, a critical eye sees issues on the paper. You know, a critical eye sees issues in the code. A critical spirit sees the issues with the person who created the paper or sees issues with the person who you know, wrote the code. And so yesterday afternoon we, I called it summit at a climb. We have been working on an issue for all day. At the end of the day we summited the climb, we got it done, and it was really great. And you know, the critical spirit came in and said, you know, we should have had this done by now. You know, no one did what they should have done at the beginning of this. And and then in this morning, it kind of carried on. So I have a current issue that needs to be addressed that has to do with having a critical eye, which is constructive and productive versus having a critical spirit, which is destructive and you know, not productive.
Ray: Who knows? Maybe maybe part of the reason God brought our conversation together.
Jim Bob: I totally agree. I’m really focusing hard right now to remember this.
Ray: That’s fantastic, Jim Bob. If someone wants to learn about the company, learn more about you and what you guys are doing, how can they find you?
Jim Bob: KEYSYS.IO
Ray: Fantastic. And so what I’d like to do is talk now a little bit about some practical best practices your faith plays out. And we were kind of been talking about that, but if you had to pick maybe a biblical principle that really drives your methodology, your decision making, what would that be? What’s that look like?
Jim Bob: That’s a large scope question, but I would start with what is written on my whiteboard and I’m not very good with the address of verses, but the verse is, so long as it is up to you be at peace with all. And I think that people who start businesses or work in small businesses, they have a very, they can have a fighter based mentality. And I mean that in a positive sense. And so there are so many issues that come across my desk that I could chase. But if I think about being at peace with all, so long as it is up to me, and it’s my decision that keeps me from chasing a lot of issues that will typically only serve as distractions. So maybe I’ve been wronged and I would actually be justified in pursuing some action, some conversation, some unkind word, you know. But ultimately those are things that you can chase, which take your eye off of what God actually wants you to be, wants you to be doing. So for me, my current verse is so much as it is up to you and I have you written in all caps, be at peace with all.
Ray: I love that. I love that. And that gives you peace too, right?
Jim Bob: It does. It really does. So I’m released from having to chase every car that comes by my driveway as the dog in that metaphor. So, you know, I don’t have to do that. So that to me is what freedom feels like.
Ray: I think that’s great insight and I’m sure that’s a word of encouragement to someone who’s listening here to the conversation. As you look back over the course of your… you talked earlier about what you’ve learned about yourself as an entrepreneur and those sorts of things, but could you take us back to a point in your life when maybe something not so pleasant was going on or maybe you were in a tough season of life and what God revealed to you or showed you as a result of that? Does anything come to mind?
Jim Bob: Sure. I would say that when we started cases, I was very cavalier about the whole experience. So starting our own company seemed like a good idea at the time. Not a lot of thought went into it. I can think of the verse that basically says, who doesn’t count the cost before they start lest you get halfway done and not finish, and then everyone essentially laughs at you. That very well could have been us because I didn’t count the cost. I entered into the whole experience with two young children and a wife that was at home and not working. So I was the sole provider. You know, I just kind of, if you’ve ever seen a little boy as far away as possible and then run as fast as he can into the ocean, that’s what I look like starting this company. And so, you know, lots of bad could have happened. Fortunately, you know, God has provided even though I was pretty ignorant about the whole thing when we did it. But I say that to say we started in 2007 we had some difficulties. In 2008 and really nine when, you know, we basically started our company in the worst business climate my father-in-law says he’s ever seen. So, but in 2012, we had a main client who gave us no notice, ended their contracts and their project. And so we were thrown into this, you know, situation where cash flow was an issue. You know, getting new business was an issue. And so in that situation, over time I was hiding how negative the situation was. I was hiding how negative the situation was becoming. And so we owed people for time that they had worked on our behalf at places. We ended up owing the government money. And it was like the worst kind of money that you can owe the government. But I was ignorant about that at the time.
Ray: You must be talking about payroll taxes.
Jim Bob: I was talking about payroll taxes. Specifically money that you withhold from the people who work there so that you can send it to the government on their behalf. It’s the worst cause they are very touchy about that. Not a lot of grace, a lot of truth, very heavy on the truth, very, very light on the grace. And so the good thing that happened though is that became a very, very difficult situation. So difficult that it got so bad and I was saved at this point. But this is, if you could be born again, this would be one of those times.
Ray: So you’re needing deliverance.
Jim Bob: Just born again. I don’t know what happened. I was born again and then I molted or something significant happened in this situation. So we were doing 21 days of prayer at my church and I was going every morning at 6:00 AM and this was probably, you know, the third time that I had done this. But to say that it took on a new meaning this time around would be an understatement. The situation got so bad that I just got on my face every morning and confessed to God that I had totally messed everything up, that I had driven this thing that he gave me straight into the dirt.
And you know, it was preceded by this thought that I had and I can remember exactly where I was on the road. I thought that I was doing something very godly by thinking, you know, God, if having cases is not your will for me, I will give it up if you, if this is not what I’m supposed to be doing. And that felt, like I said, very godly to me. But after this experience, what God said to me was, you’re aware I want you. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be there. So I had this thing that we were going through difficulty in the company, right? So I felt somewhat separated from God. And so my reaction was, Oh, I must be in the wrong place. Well God will bless you in the desert. He blessed his chosen people in the desert over and over and over again. So because you’re going into difficulty, because you’re having difficulty, because God seems far away, that doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong place. It means that you need to run to him. It means that you need to be looking for things to be thankful for. So in that situation, what it took was me to say to God, I have messed this thing up to the degree that I now know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can’t fix this. I have to have you. I can’t change people’s hearts. I can’t make the IRS have grace. I can’t, you know, make it where I don’t owe people this money. So what I basically prayed one morning was, I need you to do this because I can’t. And also I need peace so that I can just seek you. So if you’re not going to take my hand off the hot burner, then just make it where I can’t feel it.
It doesn’t matter to me. So at the time, taking my hand off the burner meant he’s not going to deliver me from this situation. Like nothing is magically going to happen where the IRS is like, you don’t know that money anymore. I still had to go through what I had to go through, but what he gave me was peace so that I could seek him first and let him add all the other things to me and let him take care of the IRS, extending a deadline, which they did a few times completely inexplicably and counter to their nature. It made it where people would, you know, extend grace and extend timelines. And so inch by inch, day by day, we as a company, I’ve confessed to my partner who didn’t really know much about this because that’s not his thing. I had to confess to my wife that, you know, I was messed everything up.
And so, and all of that though, the positive thing that happened is, you know, your pride really has to die in that situation. It was all on me. I had to go to everyone I knew and say, I haven’t been a great business person. I haven’t been a great father. I haven’t been a great husband, I haven’t been a great son. I haven’t been a great brother. I haven’t been a great anything. I have been off the path for some time, you know, hiding things and covering things and things like that. And so I think that, you know, what God said was get on your face and I’ll help you, but continue on the road that you’re on and try to fix this yourself, you won’t have any blessing. So as a result of that situation, everything in my life over time, because I, ignorantly, I didn’t even consider shutting cases down.
I didn’t, you know, maybe I should have, but I was kind of, you know, not smart about, you know, many business things at the time when I was delivered and when we kind of made it out. I pointed out to my wife that everything that matters to me got better as a result of that very negative situation. My faith was stronger. My confidence in the Lord was stronger. I trusted in him more. I relied on him more. I took my comfort from him. I got my peace from him. My communication with my wife is way better. I’m typically a very, very open book for fear of, you know, going back into a situation where I’m prideful or try to, you know, cover things up. My relationships with my friends are better. I’m more authentic. Like anything that you want to say outside of financial standing was improved by going through that process.
Ray: And that is absolutely a, I don’t want to say a happy story necessarily, but it’s a powerful one and it’s a true one and I’m really encouraged by that. We consider success here at Bottom Line Faith. If one person who’s listening to our conversation who is discouraged, despondent, maybe not sure that next thing God’s got for whatever the case may be. But if just one person would hear this conversation and be encouraged to take that step of obedience to move one step closer to who and what God’s calling them to be as a Christ follower in marketplace and in business, then this conversation’s a success. So would you take a moment? What word of encouragement could you offer to that person who’s maybe going through something? What would you have to say to them?
Jim Bob: First, I would have to say if you’re going through some kind of difficulty and you feel like you’re outside of God’s blessing, don’t spin your wheels thinking about if you’re in the right place. Wherever you are, however you are, God can use you and will use you if you will submit to him and seek him first. So that’s the first. I got distracted and thought a lot about, well, I must not be in the right spot. And you know what spot should I be in? That’s not it. God cares about the condition of your heart, not your physical location so much. And if you were supposed to be in another place, you would be. He is sovereign. So I would say one, don’t be distracted about your surroundings or worrying about whether or not you’re doing what you were made to do at that time. Secondly, I would say that it was an incredibly difficult time.
There is no part of me that can honestly tell you that I want to do it again. But I got a call from my sister going through this in the middle of it, basically. So really hadn’t had any deliverance or freedom from this situation, but she randomly called me one morning. I was praying in the parking lot before I walked into work and she said, I think that you’re going through this so that you can help someone else who goes through this. And since then, I’ve had the opportunity to speak directly into two to three people’s lives who are going through something similar with their business, with their personal finances and when things like that. And so what happens to you may seem bad, but there’s something that God has, it has in there for you. What he wants you to do is to submit to him and seek him first and be grateful and praise him and recognize how blessed you are.
And he’ll show you what those things are and he’ll improve your life and put you where you need to be and basically deliver you from that situation. So there wasn’t a lot of hope for a really long time in that we’ve talked about the type of money that I owed. That kind of stuff comes with meeting an IRS, you know, in person and them cataloging your personal assets and you know, all kinds of really negative things. So it can be bleak, but God has a purpose and he has a purpose for you. What you need to do is seek him and ask him for the things that you need. Give him control of your situation and he’ll reveal that purpose to you. I think what my sister said to me was, there’s purpose in this for you. This isn’t something random that’s happening to you and it’s so that you can help someone else. And so I hope that as time goes on, I can relate to people who were going through difficult things. I can tell them that I empathize with them truly because I’ve been through it and that hopefully that will serve as a foundation to speak wisdom and to speak God’s truth into their lives and help them be delivered the same way I was.
Ray: I want to thank you for being very transparent in that and being obedient. And this is the last question that I ask every guest, and our longterm listeners know that they would be disappointed if I didn’t ask you this question, cause they know it’s part of what we do here at Bottom Line Faith. And that’s this question. It’s based out of Proverbs 4:23 where Solomon writes these words, he says above all else, guard your heart for it determines the course of your life. So I want to imagine you have a chance towards the tail end of your time, this side of eternity, you have a chance to gather your family, your friends, your loved ones, those who are most precious to you and what’s going to be the most important piece of advice that you would want to share with them that now you have a chance to share with our audience here at Bottom Line Faith? Above all else…
Jim Bob: I would say be thankful and always seek to honor and glorify God in all that you do.
Ray: Be thankful and seek to glorify God in all that you do. Great words, great words. I want to say thank you for taking the time to be with us today on Bottom Line Faith. It’s an honor to get to hear your story and your journey. This story is going to be an encouragement to so many and I just want to say thanks.
Jim Bob: I really hope so and I appreciate the opportunity to share my story and you know, have confidence and trust that at least one person hopefully will hear this and will, you know, take steps towards God because that’s the start of something really great happening.
Ray: That’s right. That’s right. Folks, we have been speaking with Jim Bob McAllister, who’s the president, and cofounder of KEYSYS. You can learn more about KEYSYS at KEYSYS.IO. If you are a Christ follower and you are a business owner or leader, you’re looking for community with your peers of Christ followers in business, check out truthatwork.org it’s truthatwork.org. We are the host ministry for Bottom Line Faith. Learn about the Round Table program that is available to you and in communities all across the country where you can connect on a regular basis and learn to leverage and grow your business in a way that honors and glorifies God in the marketplace. And that’s what we’re about here at Bottom Line Faith. And so until next time, I am your host, Ray Hilbert, encouraging you to live out your faith in the marketplace every day. God bless and we’ll see you next time.