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VOL. 125 | NO. 182 | Monday, September 20, 2010

Bouncing Back

Entrepreneur’s tale of business survival resonates

By Andy Meek

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Jay Myers, founder and CEO of Interactive Solutions Inc., a Memphis-based videoconferencing company, conducts a video conference with the company’s Nashville office.
Photo: Lance Murphey

When Jay Myers published a book in 2007 about how his Memphis-based videoconferencing company bounced back from a close brush with collapse, the world looked a lot different than it does today.

It was the calm before the storm of the recession. And that may explain why interest is now higher than ever in “Keep Swinging,” the story Myers wrote about how his company, Interactive Solutions Inc., was nearly destroyed in one crushing blow.

It was earlier this decade, when he’d learned his bookkeeper had siphoned off more than a quarter of a million dollars from the company.

Myers, who was just getting over the death of his brother at the time, said that looking at himself in the mirror during that period and finding the motivation to press forward – to keep swinging – was one of the hardest things he’s ever done.

Fast forward to today’s tough business climate.

Three years after its publication, Myers’ list of speaking engagements related to the book is still growing.

He’s also been lately racking up a string of recognitions for the book.

Call it the lighthouse effect. Myers’ story of a regular guy starting a company, watching it almost die yet come out stronger on the other side is apparently a sorely needed tonic these days.

“I think the story of adversity is resonating, because we’re going through tough times right now,” Myers said. “People are reaching out for any kind of glimmer of hope they can find.”

To that end, Myers has seven speaking engagements through November, including presentations to an Oklahoma State University audience as well as the Nashville Kiwanis Club.

Meanwhile, Myers has been nominated for recognition for “Keep Swinging” in the fifth annual Ethan Awards, a literary awards program honoring the efforts and accomplishments of entrepreneurial authors worldwide.

Winners will be announced at the end of October.

He’s presented the “Keep Swinging” story to groups than range in size from five people to 500. And he’s hop scotched around the country to do it, traveling everywhere from Memphis to Chicago to points in between.

“Hopefully, the book makes people think, ‘Wow, if he can get through all this stuff – and he doesn’t seem that special – I can too,’” Myers said.

The book’s opening scene takes place in U.S. District Judge Bernice Donald’s Memphis courtroom in 2004.

Myers is seated on a front-row bench. It’s at a sentencing hearing for one of the employees involved in the fraud. Myers squeezes his wife Maureen’s hand and then goes on in the book to reflect on everything that came before, as well as the recovery afterward.

And a profitable, inspiring recovery it’s been for Myers and his company.

ISI has added 16 employees in 2010. Myers is expecting sales to possibly approach $18 million by year’s end.

By comparison, in 2002 the company hit a record high annual sales figure of $6 million.

“Jay is a prime example of an experienced entrepreneur who has firsthand seen the peaks and valleys of his company’s evolution,” said Gwin Scott, president of EmergeMemphis. “His ability to overcome obstacles and at the same time remain focused on high growth sales opportunities are traits that have differentiated him from the pack.”

Efficiency and doing more with less have become hallmarks of the economic downturn, and ISI’s videoconferencing technology has been prized all the more because of it.

With more patients entering the health care system because of recent legislative reforms of the industry, for example, ISI is being increasingly called on for its ability to facilitate telemedicine services.

One of the high water marks, both personally and professionally, of Myers’ year so far has been to see a profile of his company’s brush with collapse – and its successful response to that episode – given prominent treatment in The Wall Street Journal.

Myers had dreamed of seeing his name and the name of a company he’d start in the WSJ since graduating from the University of Memphis’ Fogelman College of Business & Economics in 1978.

Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson once told Myers, “You hang in here. You’re going to make some money in this business.”

The message Myers is still sharing via the book and his appearances is that he didn’t use any secret, impossible-to-duplicate formula to make that happen.

“It’s just about putting your head down and getting after it every day,” Myers said. “Whether it’s a good economy, bad economy or something in between, you assemble a team of people who feel the same way and you have a single-minded focus, which is just to get it done. I think that’s why this place has worked.”

PROPERTY SALES 36 154 6,546
MORTGAGES 34 94 4,129
BUILDING PERMITS 201 554 15,915
BANKRUPTCIES 43 126 3,396