VOL. 130 | NO. 2 | Monday, January 5, 2015
By Don Wade
From left, Amy Cresswell with Regions Bank, Larry Colbert with Junior Achievement of Memphis and the Mid-South, and Nancy Knight with the Memphis Public Library at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
Today, Larry Colbert is president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Memphis and the Mid-South.
But in 1972, he was a high school student in a Junior Achievement program in Atlanta.
The same principles that apply today – develop business and marketing plans and launch an actual product – were in place then. Students got to decide what their product would be, how it would be different from the competition.
“We wanted to re-invent the toilet plunger,” Colbert recalled.
Tough assignment, especially considering that anybody that had a bathroom probably had a toilet plunger that worked just fine. But Colbert’s group had a marketing twist: offer toilet plungers that came with handles of different colors so customers could match the plunger to their bathroom’s decor.
Students went door-to-door in the school’s neighborhood pushing the new product.
As Colbert notes now, it didn’t really catch on: “You still don’t see a lot of toilet plungers with different-colored handles.”
But the idea served its purpose. It was a learning opportunity at multiple levels. The same is true of the latest tweak to a local program.
For years, Junior Achievement has gone into the schools, using business leaders/mentors to teach students, in real-world ways, about developing a business model.
The new JA Company Program, however, will be held after school at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library. And it actually takes JA back to its beginnings.
“The entrepreneurship this program will teach our high school students is something we want to see grow. Hopefully, we can train and retain our young talent in Memphis.”
Colbert says when JA started in 1919, it was an after-school program. But now the JA Company Program also will make use of online learning and digital tools.
“The library folks approached us,” Colbert said. “They wanted to energize the students coming in here and using their facility. We’re hoping we reach about 100 students (in 2015) right off the bat.”
Keenon McCloy, director of libraries, says the JA Company Program “aligns perfectly with the library’s emphasis on teen services and the opportunities available in the new Teen Learning Lab.”
Regions Bank is acting as a sponsor of the program.
“Regions has had a significant partnership with Junior Achievement company-wide,” said Amy Cresswell, an assistant vice president and West Tennessee Regions at Work coordinator. “In Memphis, we’ve grown that partnership for several years.
“The entrepreneurship this program will teach our high school students is something we want to see grow,” Cresswell added. “Hopefully, we can train and retain our young talent in Memphis.”
Instructors, Colbert says, will not just be reading from books but teaching from their day-to-day experience. Among the benefits Colbert expects students to receive: enhanced innovative thinking and decision making, adaptability, competitiveness, self-awareness, self-confidence, and an appreciation for life-long learning.
“That person is taking them through it step by step,” Colbert said. “That’s why it works.”
Colbert also believes students will benefit from meeting new peers and being part of a project together; the program is for high school juniors and seniors.
“Normally (in a school setting) they’d be working with people they’d been sitting next to for nine months,” Colbert said. “There will be diversity, kids from all different backgrounds.”
Cresswell says there are multiple layers of benefit to the program.
“Small business is a vital part of our economy,” she said. “And we’re enabling these young people to make good financial decisions.”
Hundreds of Regions employees have served as volunteers for JA, coming from different parts of the company.
The volunteers from corporations that get involved soon find out the process can serve as “an incubator” for future employees, Colbert said, but that it also becomes something they invest in on a personal level.
“It becomes a passion when they see kids really interested in listening, to hearing your story,” Colbert said.