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Myers-Seth Pump ON FIRE!

By Jim Molis

Lightning might not strike twice. But fire sometimes does.

Just ask Myers-Seth Pump, Inc. CEO Teresa Myers and her team. The Jacksonville manufacturer and distributor of pumps and dewatering equipment was beset by two fires in two months—at one of its busiest times. Though painful to endure, the adversities strengthened a company built upon faith and commitment.

“We were a team before, but we really pulled together,” reflected accounting manager Melissa Gilbert.

The first fire, in early August, would close the manufacturing wing of MSP’s 40,000-square-foot building on Dignan Street for a week. But employees arrived early the following Monday ready to do whatever it took to keep running, according to Gilbert.

Whether pulling pump parts, cleaning soot from office furniture, or forwarding calls to their cell phones, employees pitched in wherever needed, regardless of their departments or titles. It was a natural reaction that had been forged through years of similar collaboration.

“We’re a company of solutions, not only for our customers, but for ourselves,” said service manager, Willie Threatts. “If we have an issue, we put our heads together, come up with a solution, and keep going.”

Preparing for adversity is a byproduct of MSP’s team-first approach to setting goals and tackling problems. Building trust in one another day-to-day emboldens the team of twelve to act decisively when challenged.

In recounting the fires, a month after the second broke out, Gilbert assured her boss that the team never doubted they would make it through the “bumps in the road.”

Gilbert told Myers, “You’ve never given us a reason not to trust you. You’re upfront and honest. Every crisis we’ve come across, you get us through it and we go on.”

The first fire was a crisis of unprecedented proportion. It was an early morning in August when an employee first smelled smoke. Gilbert called Myers at home, and the CEO told her to call the fire department immediately. Two fire trucks responded and ten firefighters spent an hour searching for signs of a fire—to no avail. Before they left, they suggested that MSP contact an electrician to see if they could find the source of the smoke smell.

MSP’s regular electrician could not get to the building right away, so the normally frugal Myers told Gilbert to call the electrician with the biggest ad in the telephone book and request that they arrive at once. “This is a time you don’t worry about money,” Myers said.

But the manufacturing wing was soon ablaze and the electrical fire would eventually cause more than $1 million in damage.

The fire knocked out water and electricity in the manufacturing wing, and phone service throughout the building. All calls were transferred to Gilbert’s cell phone for a week so that customers would not worry about MSP’s ability to fill orders. Myers worked from her truck with her cell phone and iPad, despite the sweltering summer heat.

In such a desperate state, Myers could have folded, but fought instead, emboldened by her team’s faith in her, as well as their desire for her to lead. Employees connected with her vulnerability as she literally watched her business go up in smoke.

Myers drew courage from her team’s collective response and their faith in her, particularly after the first fire. So she fought. “You have more of a chance to come out stronger and further ahead by fighting, than if you roll over,” she noted.

Just when business had returned to some normalcy, fire struck again on a Monday in early October. This time, a service truck inexplicably caught fire while parked in the rental department’s wing of the building.

Though the damage was not as extensive, the fire could have been demoralizing. The wing had just been cleaned and restored after smoke wafted through during the first fire. Yet MSP’s team simply cleaned up again and kept moving forward.

Appreciating the positives—such as that no one was injured in either fire—provided emotional boosts for the company. Myers knew that focusing on the damage and disruption wrought would only be discouraging.

“Proper perspective helps gives you strength and gets you moving again,” Myers said.

Myers holds the things that cannot be replaced dearest—like one’s name, character, and family and loved ones—and has encouraged her team to do likewise.

She also shares her faith in God with her team, and both Gilbert and Threatts acknowledge that this too helped them through the fires. The consistency with which Myers lives her life inside and outside of the office has imbued Gilbert with confidence in her own faith, as well as trust in her CEO’s leadership.

“She’s the same everywhere,” Gilbert said.

That sense of stability within the company was essential in overcoming the fires, and has since grown. “Whatever adversity we’re in, we’re all in it together,” Gilbert said.

Myers, for her part, focuses on the journey—not the destination. “It’s not for us to understand the why, just the how.”

 

Lessons in Adversity

When her company had to overcome two fires within two months, Myers-Seth, Inc. CEO, Teresa Myers, responded in the following ways:

  • Focus on what you have left, not what is lost.
  • Remember that without testing there’s no faith.
  • Accept that the road to success is always under construction. Bumps are inevitable.
  • Stay strong for one another.
  • Find some way to keep busy. That’s the best medicine to avoid self-pity.

 

Leadership by Example

As a business owner, knowing that your team trusts you and that you trust them can be invaluable in surmounting challenges that your company might face.

Myers-Seth Pump, Inc. CEO, Teresa Myers, has cultivated a culture of mutual trust among employees by sharing her drive for continuous improvement and knowledge. She still hungers to learn, even after more than a dozen years of growing Myers-Seth Pump, and leading it through the recession.

“If you don’t invest in yourself, who’s going to invest in you?” asked Myers, who did not speak English or understand American culture when she immigrated to the United States from Vietnam decades ago.

A voracious reader, Myers devours books on leadership, moral principles, self-improvement, and other topics. “As a leader, you can’t limit yourself to one category,” she said.

Myers takes copious notes and shares them with employees. She also distributes books, and even gave accounting manager Melissa Gilbert a set of encyclopedias and her first iPad.

Service manager Willie Threatts will receive Myers’ second iPad when she gets her next, and he has asked her not to delete her books and notes.

In addition to feeding them knowledge, Myers also provides employees with food. She cooks up meals for employees in the large kitchen at MSP’s Dignan Street building, often using ingredients bought from a nearby farmer’s market.

“When you treat employees right they feel they have value in the company, and they look at the business the same way you look at it,” Myers said.

Well-fed and read, MSP’s employees help set the company’s goals.

“Whatever goals we set, we set together and we go in one direction,” Threatts said. “It’s easy to have faith in it because everyone’s a part of it.”

Employees work across departments and job lines to achieve their goals. Titles mean little.

“Wherever I’m needed, that’s what I’m doing,” Gilbert said.

Myers accepts that mistakes will happen, but expects employees to learn from them, so that they do not repeat their errors. She wants each employee to develop to his or her full potential.

“Learn to earn” is her motto and she trusts employees to keep up. She also knows that when they trust her, there is nothing they can’t do for her, even when disaster strikes.

 

When Disaster Strikes

Teresa Myers never thought that she would watch her business burn. Fortunately, Myers-Seth Pump was adequately insured.

As CEO, Myers had switched insurance agents less than a year before the August fire would cause more than $1 million in damages at MSP’s Dignan Street building. Her new agent had worked extensively with Myers to save the company money without sacrificing coverage.

In addition to property damage, MSP was covered for content replacement and lost income. “There are many components that make up their insurance needs,” said Kerri Henderson, MSP’s insurance agent.

An account executive at local agency JP Perry Insurance, Henderson had recommended some coverage that MSP did not previously have. She was in a meeting away from her office when the fire broke out at MSP on a Friday afternoon, but arrived quickly after her account manager notified her via email.

The account manager had immediately filed a claim after MSP had called, and Henderson called the claims adjuster while en route to the fire. She confirmed that the adjuster was coming from Tampa and would be on site early the following morning.

Upon arriving at MSP, Henderson contacted a board-up company to cover holes in the building’s roof to prevent further damage. She also helped MSP choose between two restoration companies, and notified the company that was not chosen.

MSP chose Paul Davis Restoration based upon previous experience and reputation. The company set about restoring MSP’s building early Saturday morning and finished a week later.

Henderson worked feverishly in between, coordinating with MSP, the insurance company, the claims adjuster, and the restoration company. “Someone has to keep that wheel moving and keep the spokes all together,” she said.

The MSP fire has been the largest claim that Henderson has handled, and she credits Myers and her team for maintaining a positive attitude and persevering through the process. “Sometimes great people do everything right, but still, bad things happen,” she said.

Myers-Seth Pump, Inc. CEO, Teresa Myers, recommends taking these three steps before, and if, a fire breaks out:

  • Find the best insurance company. Seek expert advice on the coverage you may need, such as property and business interruption insurance.
  • Find the best insurance agent. It helps to have a knowledgeable agent that communicates well.
  • Check the reputation of a restoration company before hiring it to do repairs.

“Prepare for the ‘what if’ so that when the ‘what if’ happens, you don’t have to lose sleep over it,” Myers said. “It’s invaluable to your peace of mind.”

 

By Jim Molis

Jim Molis is a contributing writer for Advantage Business Magazine.

He can be contacted at jmolis@creatwoodpr.com

 

Photography by David McCormick

pviphotography@gmail.com

 

 

 


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