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He Kept Swinging

It’s easy to find colorful and engrossing business success stories in a city with the entrepreneurial spirit of Memphis.

It’s harder to find one as inspiring as the one lived by Jay Myers, the founder of a local videoconferencing company who was spotlighted prominently in a Wall Street Journal article last week.

His cutting-edge company is riding particularly high during the recession, with employers cutting costs and doing more remotely. Doctors, too, are being squeezed for more efficiency amid the focus on health care reform and have need of the telemedicine services Myers’ company Interactive Solutions Inc. provides.

Today, it’s a $14 million business. A few years ago, Myers put his story to paper in the form of a book called “Keep Swinging.” It’s the perfect metaphor for the highs and lows that have gone hand-in-hand with the ISI story.

In 2002, according to the WSJ, Myers’ company hit a record high annual sales figure: $6 million. It had double-digit profit margins.

At one point, Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson called Myers while flying in his private jet. Wilson had just finished reading about Myers’ company and wanted to stop by Myers’ office for a chat.

He showed up later that afternoon and stayed for about an hour. Before Wilson arrived, Myers asked his secretary to go out and buy a camera.

One of the things Wilson told the young CEO before he left was, “You hang in here. You’re going to make some money in this business.”

And he did. He kept swinging.

Along the way, Myers was dealt a bad personal blow when his brother John died at age 50. He started taking occasional days off to deal with the grief.

That’s when the bookkeeper Myers hired a month before his brother’s death inadvertently was given more leeway to handle the company’s finances, with Myers distracted.

It was a mistake that nearly destroyed the company.

After reading an article in bed one night in 2003 about an episode of internal fraud at a small business in Illinois, Myers thought the same thing could easily happen to him.

He was right.

His bookkeeper bilked more than a quarter of a million dollars from ISI. Readers of “Keep Swinging” can feel the punch left in Myers’ gut from the episode when he writes of his shock, and how he says his jaw clenched so tight he could feel his molars buckle.

The bookkeeper was tried and sentenced to prison. The episode was such a shared trauma for ISI employees that someone prepared T-shirts that read: “I survived 4/29/03.” Myers’ employees stuck with him and didn’t bail out after the embezzlement became known.

They all kept swinging.

That’s also how Myers ends his book.

As a birthday present, he writes how his wife had given him an envelope containing an invitation to the next New York Yankees fantasy camp.

For as avid a baseball fan as Myers, it was a dream come true. The final image in his book is of Myers wearing a baseball hat, the pinstripe uniform, face set in determination, swinging hard.

His name was announced by legendary Yankee Stadium announcer Bob Sheppard, and a huge picture of Myers flashed on the outfield scoreboard.

He swung. Crack! He’d given it “a good poke to the left side of the infield.”

He’d been swinging for years. He didn’t let up now.

It was a solid base hit.

Myers high-tailed it to first.

Safe!

Dansette

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