But Jay Myers, founder and CEO of Interactive Solutions, Inc. (ISI), headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee, took a different approach. Myers and his company made a conscious decision in 2007 that they were “not going to participate in the recession” and weathered both personal and professional crisis to not only strengthen the company but grow ISI’s business like never before.
A storyteller at heart, Myers offers readers plenty of solid tips and practical advice that any entrepreneur and small business owner can appreciate and apply. But he also challenges these same entrepreneurs and small business owners to get “out of their comfort zone” and embrace creative new strategies such as employee accountability and second chances, niche marketing, and using your book as your hook. Myers shows small business owners and entrepreneurs to not only hit the curveballs that are thrown their way, but actually use them to grow their business like never before.
|Morgan James Publishing
|5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.41(d)
About the Author
Jay Myers is the Founder/CEO of Interactive Solutions, Inc. (ISI), a Memphis-based firm that specializes in videoconferencing, telemedicine, distance learning, and audiovisual systems sales and support. Interactive Solutions has been named to Inc. magazine’s list of fastest-growing companies in the United States seven times in the past eleven years. Myers’ first book, Keep Swinging: An Entrepreneur’s Story of Overcoming Adversity and Achieving Small Business Success (Morgan James, 2007), won the 2010 Ethan Award for success as an entrepreneurial author.
Read an Excerpt
THE SUMMER FROM HELL
In my book Keep Swinging, I wrote about the day my business almost died, when we discovered our trusted employee had stolen more than $257,000 from my company. Yet we survived. In fact, my company, ISI, even doubled business to $10 million the year after the embezzlement. Not that there wasn't a cost. When someone violates your trust, it takes a long time to get it back.
Even so, emerging from that experience left me with a feeling of incredible gratitude. I was grateful for my wife, grateful for my children, and grateful to live in a country that allows goofballs like me to build a business out of dirt. Since 1996, ISI had grown like a weed, from $262,000 in sales to a little more than $11 million, despite the many market challenges in the technology industry as well as the poor rural territory that the company covers. By the summer of 2007, we thought we had seen it all.
June 26, 2007
I was at my desk when I got the call. It was from my vice president of design and engineering, Derek Plummer, my right-hand man and most trusted employee. "Did you check your voice mail?" Derek asked.
"Not yet," I replied.
"You might want to do that," Derek suggested.
"Is everything okay?" I asked.
"Just check your voice mail," he said.
When I accessed my voice mail, it was a message from ISI's CTO (Chief Technology Officer) and leading salesman. "Resigning from the company" is all I really heard even though he also mentioned something about starting his own company.
I slammed down the phone. Are you kidding me? The guy has been with me more than nine years, and this is how he leaves me? By leaving a voice mail message? I could barely talk, I was so mad. What the hell just happened? This guy had been making good money for a number of years. Really good money. What was the issue? And what went wrong?
Yes, our CTO was also ISI's leading salesman (he had that kind of talent). He produced 50 percent of our revenue and was part of the original success of the company in the late 1990s. He had sold more than $20 million since he started with me in 1998 and had really helped grow the company. And I never missed the chance to tell him how much I appreciated the work he had done for us. When I thought of him, I thought of the old days. All of us bootstrapping our way to success. All about teamwork.
We had accomplished a lot since we started in 1996, making the Inc. magazine list of fastest-growing private companies in the United States twice, in 2001 and 2003, and earning numerous other awards that we should be proud of. How about the fact that only 4 percent of start-ups make it to the tenth year? Shouldn't everyone at ISI feel grateful for all the success we were continuing to have? Didn't our CTO know what a good deal he had? Apparently not everyone shared that sentiment. Our CTO was the second to leave that eventful summer, following the vice president of customer service three weeks earlier.
Losing support personnel was one thing, but losing a guy who produced more than $4 million in revenue every year was a horse of a different color. This was definitely going to be a challenge. And then the mind games started. What was going on? And what was next? Would there be more to come? As I pondered those thoughts, I was also trying to stay positive. It definitely hurt me both personally and professionally to lose a tenured employee, but I had to soldier on. Then again, I didn't really have a choice, did I? I went home that night, thinking that maybe this was just a big misunderstanding and I'd wake up the next day and we'd work it all out.
After tossing and turning all night long and getting absolutely no sleep, the next morning I called our CTO to question him. "What's the deal?" I asked. "Are you really resigning after all these years?"
He said very little and then finally muttered an apology. "I guess I should have treated you better," he said. "We have been together a long time and I've always had a lot of respect for you."
"You have a helluva way of showing it," I respond. And thus a wonderful nine-and-a-half-year relationship ended with one phone call.
July 4, 2007
Outside of the chaos at the office, at home it seemed like a regular old summer, until we got a call from a good friend on vacation with her family down in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Her husband, Mike, had gotten really sick with some flulike symptoms while they were on the beach one day and had gotten steadily worse — so much so that she had to drive him to a larger hospital in Meridian, Mississippi. Some doctors there were better equipped to treat him, she was told. It was all happening too fast to comprehend, but it looked like he wasn't going to make it.
Mike and I had been close for a number of years. He was a good friend and fellow baseball fanatic. In fact, just a few months ago we had played golf with Tom Tresh, the former Yankee who had played ball with Mickey Mantle in the 1960s. The event was the 2006 Redbirds Classic, hosted by the Memphis Redbirds AAA baseball team, which was held each year to benefit the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program in Memphis. RBI donates bats, balls, and gloves to needy children interested in playing baseball. It was a worthy cause, and we had such a great time that day, meeting old baseball legends like Ken Griffey, Tommy John, and Manny Sanguillén. Neither of us wanted to go home. (That's the sign of a true baseball fan. You love the game so much you soak up every second you can just to be around it.)
And it wasn't just baseball. Our wives and our kids have been friends for years. In fact, all four kids had been on the country club swim team together since they were little. Wasn't it just yesterday we were all hanging around the pool cheering for the kids, rooting them on, watching them win all those ribbons and trophies, celebrating with cookouts at our house? We had been close for so many years. Mike was in his early fifties and in good shape — at least, I thought he was. Yet my friend was dying.
Several hours later we got the call that confirmed our worst fears. Mike had died. Just a few days ago, he was enjoying his vacation on the beautiful white sandy beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama, and then he was gone. My family and I were all too stunned to know what to do next. Ironically enough, Mike died on Independence Day. The all-American guy, baseball fan, exMarine, and patriot died on our country's birthday. He was a good man who left us way too early.
As my family and I tried to wrap ourselves around our emotions and shared grief, we didn't know another jolt was coming. This one was closer to home.
July 14, 2007
10 days later, I was in my closet changing my shirt so I could go to Mike's memorial service when the phone rang, and I answered the call from one of my managers. "Doesn't look like Danney's going to make it," he said.
"Oh my God," I replied. "How long does he have?"
"Maybe not but a few days or so," came the reply.
I'm trying to compose myself but having a hard time of it. How can this be happening?
I knew Danney was in for a tough haul when he had first gotten sick. It was some kind of liver problem, and he was going to need to be off work for quite a while. We'd been told he would need some serious surgery and likely a transplant. Several ISI employees had already donated blood to help him out. They knew how serious it was. We had never faced life-and-death issues with an employee of ISI before, and it was scary. A transplant? Tough news, and I was concerned. Danney was my employee, but he was also a part of the ISI family. And we take that very seriously. We are all in it together, whatever it is — good, bad, or otherwise.
Danney was also one of the best technicians we had and had built a helluva reputation for not only his hard work but also his ability to do some amazing things installing our technology. Danney was also one of my favorite employees for a lot of reasons, but mainly because he was so low maintenance, just an old-fashioned worker bee. In all the years he worked for me, I never once heard him whine or complain. He just put his head down and got 'er done. He was a good guy with a great work ethic.
I wished I had twenty installers like him. And now Danney was in trouble. Big trouble. I felt helpless. I may have been just the business owner, but I wanted to do something more for him. I felt responsible for him. I wanted to fix this. That's what I do at ISI. I fix stuff. But as I would discover, this was something way beyond what I could fix.
In the days that followed, I kept telling our staff that it's very simple with me and ISI: When one hurts, we all hurt. And we were all concerned about Danney.
It was hard to concentrate on anything after that. Work doesn't seem to matter when you have an employee in such a tough situation.
One of our guys did some research. I was told that Danney should have a good chance for survival. In fact, in 2007, 6,493 liver transplants were performed worldwide, while 16,761 patients continued to be on the waiting list for transplantation. Chances of survival following orthotopic liver transplantation are generally good, with a five-year survival rate of 72 percent. The most common causes of death in liver transplant patients (beyond the early in-hospital transplant period) are infection, rejection, and malignancy. His chances looked pretty good, or at least we thought so.
However, after his transplant operation, the doctors were concerned about rejection. Danney struggled for days and didn't get any better. As more days went by, the situation looked more and more bleak. Then I was told, "Danney is definitely not going to make it. In fact, he is probably not going to live through the night."
My mind was spinning at that point. I thought he was getting better. Liver transplants are done every day, right?
Then we got the call that Danney had passed away. How could this be? Why Danney? What day is it, anyway? Didn't we just bury Mike, and now we're going to have to bury Danney, too?
As an entrepreneur, you learn how to do a lot of things to get a business started and to grow it. Sales, service, finance, marketing, recruiting — that's the fun part about being an entrepreneur and starting a business, and it's something I know and understand.
But losing an employee is definitely not in the playbook. I'll never forget the look of grief on my employees' faces at Danney's funeral service. We had all been through so much, and now this. What do I tell them? How can I comfort them? Yes, I'm a control freak. That's one of the reasons that ISI runs a tight ship. I'm in control. But now? I have no idea what to do next.
It really felt like God was piling on at this point. So many bad things happened in such a short period of time that I kept thinking, Is 2007 another 2003? To be honest, I was afraid to turn out the lights at night. Why? Because I was scared about what the next day will bring.
It didn't take long to find out.
July 23, 2007
For a month or so my wife Maureen had been going to the doctor to follow up on some mammogram tests that didn't look right. Although we were both concerned, there didn't seem to be any reason for worry, until the latest visit. We learned that the suspicious images on the mammogram were early stage breast cancer. Not the type of news you want to hear. In fact, when we got the news at the doctor's office that day I remember Maureen said my face turned ashen. I wasn't thinking about me; I was thinking about her, and I was worried. Both Maureen and I knew what a breast cancer diagnosis looks like, having experienced it with both her mother, Jean, and my mother, Dorothy, in the late 1980s.
Although science has made a lot of progress in treatment, hearing the word "cancer" can be scary for a lot of reasons. It's scary for the things you know and scary for the things you don't know. Being a melanoma survivor myself, I know a cancer diagnosis can play tricks with your head. You tend to fast-forward to a doomsday scenario even with limited information. This isn't rational thinking; it's fear. Granted, with breast cancer, the statistics are scary. For women in the United States, breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer besides lung cancer. Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. Just under 30 percent of cancers in women are breast cancers. Even though death rates have been decreasing since 1990, especially in women under fifty, 39,520 women in the United States were expected to die in 2007 from breast cancer.
But first things first. What were we dealing with?
What stage was her cancer in? How serious was it? Did we catch it in time, and what were the treatment options? Some doctors wanted to cut it out, others wanted to burn it out, and still others wanted to poison it out. Either way, something had to be done — and done quickly. Breast cancer is like any cancer. Catch it early, and there's a high survival rate. Let it sit around, and it often leads to a whole lot of trouble.
With all this swirling around in our minds, Maureen and I were trying to take it all in and get some questions answered. Her doctors explained that she had a common form of breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, which accounted for approximately 83 percent of in situ cases diagnosed between 2004 and 2007. In fact, there were more than 23,000 in situ cases diagnosed from 1995 to 2007 in the United States alone. It's a disease that had unfortunately become fairly common among women of all ages, but far more prevalent in women over fifty years old. That was the bad news. But the good news was that her cancer was caught early, and it could be treated quickly and with very few potential problems. "Thank God," we both said simultaneously, breathing a collective sigh of relief.
Finally, some good news this summer. But it was also decision time. "What do you want to do?" I asked Maureen.
"I want this behind me as quickly as possible," she said. But there were a couple of choices. She could do the standard radiation treatment, which would take about six weeks, or try a new option that could be done in just one week with two treatments a day. That treatment plan, the MammoSite Radiation Therapy System, was approved by the FDA in May 2002 and was offered as an option because of the type of cancer she had and the fact that her cancer was at a lower stage of development (less than level 1).
MammoSite is a simpler, less invasive method of delivering breast brachytherapy; it's a site-specific radiation treatment completed in four to five days, as compared to six weeks for traditional radiation therapy. Both Maureen and I liked the idea of getting this taken care of as quickly as possible, and five days of treatment sure beat six weeks, but would it really be as effective? Her physician explained that the treatment would deliver radiation directly to the area where the tumor was removed, which is where tumors are most likely to recur, essentially burning out the cancer cells without harming healthy tissue.
The other thing about the MammoSite treatment was that it had to be done close to the time of the original surgical biopsy (which had been done a few days earlier) using the same incision site, before it had time to heal. It might not be a lot of fun, but it would all be done in a short amount of time. Maureen's treatment would be Monday through Friday for one week, and then followup visits every few months for the next few years. "You're a very lucky lady," one doctor said. I'm not sure you can say "lucky" and "cancer" in the same sentence, but it was indeed a blessing, since it could have been far worse.
We decided on the date for treatment. It was the week of our family vacation in Hilton Head, South Carolina, with our two kids, Jordan and Katie. It was also during the time we had scheduled an interview with Katie's dream college, the Savannah College of Art and Design. If she had to reschedule the interview, she might lose her chance for admission. And Maureen didn't want us to worry about her health. In fact, she kept repeating her doctor's words over and over again: "This is no big deal." The kids and I were concerned but reluctantly decided to go forward with our travel plans. Maureen promised to join us at the end of the week and enjoy a shortened vacation.
What a warrior. Ever since we got married back in 1983, she has always been my inspiration. Unflappable. Always sees the brighter side of things. Always my rock, through thick and thin. She truly embodies grace under fire. Even when I got fired (twice), started the business, dealt with my melanoma diagnosis, went through a partnership divorce, and weathered employee embezzlement. After all the crap I put her through, she still had a smile on her face and was always there to support me.
Now she needed to lean on me. I knew what I needed to do, but I was scared. Scared for her. Scared for me. And scared for my kids. They needed their mother. I needed their mother. But we also needed to see this through.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Hitting the Curveballs"
Copyright © 2014 Jay Myers.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsTable of Contents
Introduction: Field of Dreams
Chapter 1: The Summer from Hell
Chapter 2: Betting the Farm
Chapter 3: Choosing Not to Participate in a Recession
Chapter 4: Use Your Book as Your Hook
Chapter 5: Time to Double Down
Chapter 6: Creating a Legacy
Chapter 7: Plateau or Grow?
Chapter 8: Not Growing Broke
Chapter 9: Second Chances
Chapter 10: Motivating the Millennials
Afterword: Aiming High