On the surface, James Howard is a typical recent college graduate: He’s tall and slim with jeans, boots and a ready smile. He’s smart, confident and engaging. Behind that smile, however, is a mind churning with what the startup community calls ideation—and a fierce intentionality: He’s constantly scanning his own backyard for immediate opportunities and surveying the larger landscape for innovative projects with longer timelines. He’s a multitasker: He can simultaneously manage his own well-defined artisan woodworking business while pursuing and implementing his part in partnership projects. And Howard obviously understands that every human connection in his network may pay future dividends.
We met today to discuss Howard’s startup, The Modern Log, in which he handcrafts custom wood pieces ranging from tables to 3D wall art. He calls them “river tables.” Made of locally-sourced wood artfully combined with resin and other natural elements, Howard creates the appearance of water flowing through the table. The tables are finished with marine-grade epoxy and are extremely durable. A 20-by-45 inch coffee table with the flow element sells for $1,000.
Tables that are made using a computer numerical control (CNC) wood router to transfer a dimensional design into the wood can feature an exact map of a body of water or a custom logo, recessed with the flow material forming the level surface. Such a piece would be a perfect addition to a hunting lodge or rustic commercial applications, but would also add a unique accent to casual home design.
So how is business at The Modern Log? Howard smiles. “If I can show them, I can sell them.” He has access to an abundant supply of local cedar, so many of his first-year projects have incorporated that material, but he can order virtually any type of wood. If a customer can conceive it, Howard can probably include most ideas in a project. He’s recently brought his brother on board to assist with social media marketing of his creations.
Howard was born in Australia to parents who were vocational missionaries, but later lived in Pendergrass, Georgia. A finance major in the Paul R. Carter College of Business Administration, he ran track for Harding and later married the former Hayley Tobias, who teaches special education at Riverview Judsonia Elementary. They live in Searcy, where he does part of the work for The Modern Log in his garage and part in the borrowed shop of a friend.
Ellis Sloan, assistant professor of business, taught Howard in finance classes. “James’s innate business IQ is higher than most students. He seemed more engaged in class discussion. He asked penetrating, relevant questions. His grades were good—but what really struck me was his maturity, his energy, and his ambition. When I say ambition, I mean that he wants to accomplish.”
We hear so much in the media about self-doubt and fear of failure among Gen Z, but that seems not to afflict Howard. “James is not afraid,” Sloan confirms. “He doesn’t just want to study and understand—he wants to put things into motion. He wants to make it happen, and in the process, to make money. He’s the personification of an entrepreneur. With this table project he’s a craftsman, but he has connections at a gaming resort in Montana from working up there for several summers, and he also has ideas to create a business around those connections as well.”
Sloan introduced Howard to real estate developer and entrepreneur Adam Hart, “who is also an idea guy—and they’ve since created a partnership. James is interested in nontraditional housing and in real estate development. You get a sense about some people that they are going to be very successful, and James is one of those people.”
Howard’s Instagram profile simply says “Entrepreneur.” We think that’s perfect, and The Waldron Center will follow his future projects with interest.
If you’re intrigued by the idea of a custom piece for your home or business, you can find Howard’s creations online.
Are you a Harding alumnus who owns a business? The Waldron Center is always looking for new stories to tell. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.