On May 6, 2017, the ECDI family had to say a tough goodbye to beloved colleague James Grills, who lost his battle with cancer. One of ECDI’s most admired employees, Grills brought an infectious energy and dedication to his work environment that left a lasting impression on anyone that was fortunate enough to cross paths with him in life.
Brought on as a relationship manager in June 2013 with a background in finance and banking, Grills’ professionalism was a great fit for ECDI. He closed his first lending deal in August 2013 for Replenish, a family-owned spa located in the Discovery District of Columbus. Over the next three years he worked with fifty different businesses; everything from early education centers to food trucks. Grills always kept an eye out for a small business owner who looked like they could use a helping hand, whether he was “on the clock” or out and about with his family on the weekends. He also worked diligently with past banking associates, keeping tabs on clients they turned away to make sure that any entrepreneur with a sound business plan could access the capital needed to make their business dream a reality.
Grills’ last loan closing occurred in December 2016 as he was in the midst of his strenuous fight against lung cancer. Choosing to work through his treatment as long as he was of able body and mind embodied the professional aptitude he brought with him to work each morning. Grills dispersed over 154 loans, deploying over $3.6 million to entrepreneurs across Central Ohio.
However, to simply measure the legacy he left behind in the amount of lending deals he secured would do a disservice to Grills as a person. His no-nonsense work ethic coupled with his “don’t take yourself too seriously” attitude charmed the hearts of his clients and colleagues alike.
Grills possessed the rare gift of making one feel at ease upon their very first conversation. Clients often remarked that when they struck up a conversation with Grills, it was as if he had been a longtime friend for years:
“James made us happy; he was a good shoulder at ECDI to cry on when times were rough. He listened and responded to all our problems and had answers to whatever situation we faced. James was like a computer. He entered our lives, saved us in his heart, formatted our problems, shifted us to new opportunities, and never deleted us from his memory. He came to visit us at our business and would always walk in with a big smile, which will be highly missed. James, we love very much but God loves you more. Rest in Peace.”
– Josie Talieh, Owner of Easton Home Healthcare Agency
“I’d been working with James Grills for the past two years. He had a genuine interest to uplift his community and sought other leaders to share the same goals. His spirit will be celebrated and carried on.”
– Alex Phommasathit, Owner of DHM Agency
“I first met James in 2015 and at that time, I was in the middle of trying to do renovations for the expansion of our restaurant and was getting no where when trying to get funding. James pretty much forced me to listen to him and made me believe that he could help me when my feeling towards trying to get funding had became hard. Needless to say, James became my angel and restored my faith. We became friends and anything I needed after that was only a phone call away.”
– Antoinette Parks, CEO of Creole Kitchen
“James was my banker at Chase before he worked at ECDI and once he started at ECDI he came to me saying, ‘I’ve got some money for you.’ He walked me through the lending process at my salon, helping me fill out all of the paperwork because he genuinely wanted to help my business grow. James always stopped in to check on my business and had great suggestions on ways that I could expand. He wasn’t merely my lender, he was my friend. I often looked to him for new ideas because he was so witty and smart. Eventually people in my salon began to know who James was because whenever he visited, he’d strike up a conversation with whoever was there. He made everyone around him feel hopeful. He believed in me and whatever new dream I had, he dreamed it with me.”
– Rhonda Green, Owner of Girl & Guy Republic
“Brilliance doesn’t shine through everyone. James was the man with a game plan. He had a way of making sense of even the toughest challenges and could make magic happen with complete style and charm. We are so grateful to have crossed paths with a courageous human who truly stood for people’s greatness. Especially ours. A true gem. We will miss his heart of gold.”
– Deja & Chanelle Redman, and Wauvette Duncan, Co-Creators of
Replenish: The Spa Co-Op
“When I think about James, the first things that come to mind are his big smile, shiny watch, love for clothes, and a passion for people and life itself. James loved to go out in the community to help small business owners. He often would bring paperwork that needed signed or picked up. He made me feel that I was valued as a client and as a business owner in this community. He will forever be a part of our start-up story.”
– Lisa Gutierrez, Owner of Dos Hermanos
Never shying away from telling others what they needed to hear, Grills’ candid yet heartfelt honesty was as refreshing to his clients as it was to his colleagues he interacted with daily at ECDI:
“You never know where you might find a mentor in life, and it often happens when you’re not looking. James Grills was that person for me, he snuck into my world and continuously taught me valuable lessons about people, how to treat people and how to get along with people.”
– Steve Fireman, President & General Counsel, ECDI
“Of all of the people I have worked with, James was the probably the most unlike me in so many ways. We were a generation apart in age and could not have come from more different backgrounds, but from my first interaction with him, he always treated me as an equal and a peer. Relying on James for help was so easy because he would never let you down. I learned so much from working with him and I know I am a better person in life after knowing him.”
– Tim Kehoe, Director of Client Services, ECDI
“I don’t recall a time that I ever saw James down. He was always so positive, upbeat and had a smile that would just turn your day around. James would always say to me, ‘Can you change it? Well then do what you can.’ He will be deeply missed.”
– Ellen Harvey, Director of ECDI’s Women’s Business Center
“Whenever I needed to decompress, James was always my first stop. Regardless of the day I was having, I know I could go shoot the breeze with him for just a few minutes and my mood would quickly do a 180. He had a natural calming charm, a quick wit, and an answer for everything, regardless of if you agreed with it. These qualities were deeply valued by both his clients and his colleagues.”
– Kevin Brennan, Development Manager, ECDI
These days, the lending office feels a bit emptier. When stress was at an all-time high, Grills’ bellowing laugh could cut through the tension like a knife. He was so full of life, which makes his passing that much sadder for all of us. He would want the work to continue. He wouldn’t want any credit, and the mere idea of this piece being written for him would likely have been met with something along the lines of, “Don’t you guys have anything better to write about?” But today, we do not. Grills has earned this recognition and all we can do is carry on his legacy through the work we do that meant so much to him.
To honor his memory, ECDI plans to create a loan fund titled, “The Grills Mobility Loan” to be launched with the MBE Financing Program, giving minority subcontractors access to needed capital to take on large construction projects, as mentioned in last fall’s Metropreneur article. If you’d like to make a donation in James Grills’ honor to support ECDI programs, you can do so by clicking here.
Since 2004, ECDI has assisted Ohio’s entrepreneurs through their one-stop-shop business services model, suited to meet the needs of all entrepreneurs, regardless of what business stage they’re in. From providing capital to entrepreneurs looking to expand their businesses, to providing focused, business-specific educational opportunities to enhance entrepreneurial skill sets, ECDI works with their clients to meet their specific needs. Whether you merely have a business idea or are opening up your fifth location, ECDI’s “never say no” approach has allowed over ten thousand entrepreneurs to take advantage of the services they provide. Visit www.ecdi.org today to learn more.