Myers built ISI from the ground up. The fledgling
company does the bulk of its business in the South
but has clients all over the U.S. and even a few overseas.
is getting smaller.
television, the Internet these inventions and countless
others bring the world into our living rooms. And new technologies
such as videoconferencing put employers closer to employees,
teachers closer to students and doctors closer to patients.
of M alumnus Jay Myers (BBA 78) can attest, videoconferencing
can be big business. Myers is president and CEO of Interactive
Solutions Inc. (ISI). In October, the business magazine Inc.
ranked ISI 182nd on its annual list of Americas 500
fastest-growing private companies after ISI harvested a mammoth
1,535 percent sales growth in its first five years.
travels have taken him across the country and to foreign lands,
but his longest trek to date was the one to establish ISI.
It was a journey decades in the making.
carries himself with perfect posture, and he normally dons
glasses and a conservative shirt and tie. But there are hints
in his Germantown, Tenn., office that belie his outward appearance
and CEO title.
desk sits a sign that says Reserved for Jay Myers. UT
fans will be towed at owners expense.
have to turn that sign around sometimes, he says. A
lot of our clients come from East
Tennessee. A loyal Tiger fan, he adds, I dont
whistle Rocky Top around here very much.
he was at then-Memphis State University, Myers admits he wasnt
a star student, but hard work paid off. I
worked my way through school, he says. I take
a lot of pride in that.
Pepin (BBA 62, MBA 64), dean of Fogelman College
of Business and Economics, says Myers was a slightly
above-average student, but grades werent what
made him unique.
made Jay stand out, Pepin says, was his outgoing
and very competitive personality, numerous questions, entrepreneurial
thoughts and great perseverance.
business was in the blood. Role models ran rampant in the
Myers household. His father once helmed the Memphis Better
Business Bureau, and several siblings work for various corporations
throughout the South. Myers considers his father a tough act
was very close to my late father, Myers says, who shares
both a first name and birthday with his dad. He was
always a strong supporter of me and was always in my corner.
graduation, Myers struggled to come into his own. Fresh out
of college in 1978, he went to work as a salesman for AM International.
he went to Eastman Kodak Co. looking for a change of pace.
By 1987, lifes pace was as frantic as ever peaking
at a time when he had 48 hours to find and purchase a new
home in Raleigh, N.C., while his wife, Maureen (BA 76)
was expecting their first child. Thats
what you call eating stress for breakfast, as Myers
Then, a bombshell. Just months after Myers moved his family
to Raleigh, Kodak dissolved the division at which he was working.
A job offer from Hewlett-Packard and his mothers fight
with breast cancer brought Myers back to Memphis. But wanting
a return to a smaller company, he hit the books at the library
to research emerging technologies. My way of trying
to deal with crises is to get educated, he says. You
cant sit back and expect changes youve
got to do something.
In 1990, Myers made his fourth career move, this time to
ATS Telephone and Data Systems, Inc. (now Expanets Mid-South
Region), a company founded by another U of M alumnus, David
Perdue (BBA 63). At ATS, Myers got an initial glimpse
into his future.
One day I was talking to my boss and saw a tape on
his desk about videoconferencing, Myers says. He borrowed
the tape and was immediately enamored with the technology.
After a month of persuasion, he convinced ATS to sell the
Meanwhile, Myers had ideas for a new company one that
would deal solely with videoconferencing equipment.
ISI was basically formed off the dining room table
in my house, Myers says. I held my CEO meetings
and hammered out ideas during my morning run with Shadow,
our dog. The good thing about the dog was that she never talked
back or shot down any of my ideas!
But at the same time, Myers says starting a new company was
a serious matter that required great focus, as well as his
familys full-fledged support.
My role in the beginning, as the old com-mercial says,
was not to let him see me sweat, Maureen says. It
sounds corny, but I knew that we would be OK. If this business
did not work out, then something else would.
Myers says that period in his life was a humbling experience.
He and a secretary spent 1996 plugging away, looking for clients
and forming a business partnership with a friend in Kentucky.
Despite the small triumph of ISIs first sale (It
was for $28,000, but it felt like $28 million for us,
Myers says), times were trying for the fledgling company.
Private investors began to lose faith and pulled the financial
rug from underneath ISIs feet. The clamps tightened
when ISI was swindled out of $14,000 from a fraudulent New
Hampshire-based company. At the end of its first year, the
company was nearly a quarter of a million dollars in the red.
Myers remained diligent, however, and the hard work soon
paid off. Large Tennessee-based clients, such as AutoZone,
FedEx and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, helped turn the tide
and put ISI back in the black.
The U of M played an important role in ISIs recovery.
In 1998, Myers enrolled in an entrepreneur class headed by
Dr. Barry Gilmore through the Universitys Fast Track
Im not sure there was any magic formula,
Myers says, but we learned to put together the components
of a strong business plan. Developing that business
plan, along with meeting other local business owners, strengthened
the backbone of know-how and contacts.
ISI found great success in the next few years. Revenues increased,
as did the number of employees. By the end of 2000, the company
had a new home in Germantown, Tenn., more than $4 million
in total sales and a Small Business of the Year Award from
the Memphis Business Journal.
His older brother, John Myers (BBA 73), describes his
siblings abilities this way: He is constantly
wanting to network and be associated with others who have
the skills and experience to help him. While its not
a unique characteristic, I suspect its one that is shared
by many entrepreneurs. And thats the bottom line
Jays an entrepreneur. He had a vision for a business,
he created it and he made it successful.
Two other ISI employees are U of M graduates Don Cottam
(BBA 97) and Andrew Ruhland (BBA 00) a
decision Myers says was by design.
Im proud of going to school at Memphis State,
Myers says. Theyve got one of the best business
schools in the South. The U of M taught us to think outside
Some equate the term videoconferencing with hostile
company takeovers or impersonal business meetings. Myers,
however, paints a more benign, personal picture of the trade.
Many of ISIs clients include several area hospitals
and educational facilities. Distance learning is a big part
of what ISI does, and so is telemedicine.
Newsom, a registered nurse, and other medical personnel
at Le Bonheur, use this videoconferencing equpment, which
is connected to a facility in Tupelo, Miss. Medical devices
can be plugged in for added practicality.
One endeavor in telemedicine has linked the North Mississippi
Medical Center in Tupelo, Miss., to Le Bonheur Childrens
Medical Center in Memphis. Now, a pediatrician in Memphis
can diagnose a patient in rural Mississippi via the video
link in a matter of minutes. The old process cost more time,
money and stress, Myers says.
The mental anguish created by this system for both
the babies and the parents was enormous, not to mention very
inefficient, he says. We feel very good about
being able to provide technology that improves peoples
Using this technology might mean avoiding a plane
trip and being able to attend a childs school play or
ballgame, Myers says. It makes us feel like we
have a role in peoples business life.
For Myers, being a businessman is only half of the picture.
He considers community service an obligation and
has been active in shaping the Memphis community in a positive
Myers, an Eagle Scout, still helps Boy Scouts of America
through fund raising and assisting scouts who seek personal
management or communications merit badges. He also teaches
a business basics course to elementary school students for
Junior Achievement. And hes a member of Leadership Collierville,
Tenn., where participants go through team-building exercises,
diversity training and visits to the state legislature.
Myers essentially is a potent blend of aggressive salesman
and neighborhood nice guy. He has four pillars upon which
he wants to set ISI. One, highest ethical standards,
he says. Two, impeccable integrity and honesty. Three,
give back to the community. Four, honor my fathers name
and reputation. I want to run the business in a manner that
would make my father proud.
Perhaps most importantly, he remains true to himself.
You can fool a lot of people, but you cant fool
yourself, he says. You are who you are.