There is no magic formula for being a great leader. Each day brings new opportunities and unforeseen challenges. To excel as a leader takes wisdom. President Calvin Coolidge once said, “Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers. It may not be difficult to store up in the mind a vast quantity of facts within a comparatively short time, but the ability to form judgments requires the severe discipline of hard work and the tempering heat of experience and maturity.” My interviewee this week, Gary J. Herring is one of those leaders who brings wisdom and experience to the important role of training tomorrow’s leaders. Since 1987, Herring has been Head of School at First Presbyterian Day School in Jackson.


Gary Herring

A native of Brandon, Herring grew up in a family of educators. He earned an undergraduate degree in business from Ole Miss and went on to get a Masters of Business Administration from Auburn and Masters of Education in Curriculum and Supervision from Mississippi College. Herring shared, “I believe that my background in accounting, personal management, and finance prior to coming to education was essential in becoming an effective leader in education. Running a school requires the same combination of principles as running a business (i.e. the management of people, money, and facilities for the accomplishment of set goals and strategic plans).”

Herring credits his predecessor Joe Treloar with helping to shape him as a leader. Herring said, “Treloar was a true southern, soft spoken, giant of a man. I spent a year under his tutelage. Every morning he would sit me down and explain how decisions were made and the reasons behind them.” Herring continued, “My father was a teacher and principal in Brandon. He was a godly example of how one treats other people.” Herring has great perspective on the role of education in our society. He shared the old proverb that says “we educate our children not for today or tomorrow, but for seven generations in the future.” Herring explained, “No matter if we are public school administrators or Christian school leaders, we must realize that we educate for eternity.”

A man of faith, Herring begins each day seeking wisdom through study and prayer. He said, “I try to follow the principles that I find in Proverbs. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10). Herring also relies on old fashioned “good sense.” He explained, “Sometimes I find that common sense is the best solution to difficult issues. There are times where rules and policies do not fit certain circumstances, and I must use my God-given common sense.” Herring also believes in not asking anyone to do anything that he is not willing to do himself. He said, “I don’t ask anyone to go where I am not willing to go ahead of them.” Herring also recommends hiring talented people and not micro-managing them. He said, “I believe in hiring very competent people and letting them do their jobs without interference.”

Herring believes in genuinely caring for those with whom he works. He shared, “Other people will accept your instruction or correction if they believe that you care about them. Parents will support an administrator’s decisions they don’t particularly like, if they know he or she loves their child. I believe the same is true for employees. You must care about them personally and demonstrate that.

When employees hurt, you must hurt with them.” There are thousands of children that have been positively impacted over the years by Herring’s leadership, vision, and wisdom. I am thankful for servant leaders around the state of Mississippi like Herring who are on the front line in developing tomorrow’s leaders.

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, December 18, 2014.] Read More

Butler Snow Advisory (BSA) is proud to announce the launch of Intentional Faith, the second book authored by BSA Principal Martin WilloughbyIntentional Faith has been praised by spiritual, business and political leaders throughout the Mid-South for its “well-considered, practical wisdom” about leading a Christ-centered life.

Stan Buckley, Executive Director of But God Ministries praised Intentional Faith, which is Willoughby’s first faith-based book. “Get this book. Read this book. You will be glad you did.”

Mississippi Christian Living Publisher and Editor Marilyn Tinnin, who also contributed the book’s foreword, says, “How different the world might be if we all embraced our daily grind with our number one goal being to honor Christ and to live with such integrity that others see uniqueness.  That trait is nothing more than Christ in us, and Martin not only does it, but in the book, he tells us how we can do it, too.”

All proceeds from the book have been committed to Christ-led non-profit organizations, including ministries such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an interdenominational Christian sports ministry dedicated to seeing the world impacted for Jesus Christ through the influence of athletes and coaches.

About Martin Willoughby

Martin Willoughby is a Principal of Butler Snow Advisory Services, a leading strategic consulting firm.  A regular columnist and writer for such publications as Pointe Innovation, the Mississippi Business Journal and Mississippi Christian Living, he is a graduate of Millsaps College (B.A.) and Mississippi College (J.D.).  Willoughby is also the author of ZOOM Entrepreneur, a playbook on how an entrepreneur should develop a business. A native of Jackson, Miss., Willoughby lives in Germantown, Tenn., with his wife, Nicki, and their two children. To learn more, visit

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Ashley Pittman

Raising a daughter, I think a lot about the workplace that she will likely enter in a few short years.  She will find a significantly different marketplace than the one her mother, and particularly her grandmother, entered.  There will be considerably more opportunities for her; however, I find that the world still sends very confusing messages to women in marketplace.  Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, rekindled the public discussion about successful women in the marketplace with her best-selling book Lean In.  She noted, “We can each define ambition and progress for ourselves. The goal is to work toward a world where expectations are not set by the stereotypes that hold us back, but by our personal passion, talents, and interests.”  My interviewee this week, Ashley Pittman, is a great example of someone who has achieved success by following her own passion and interests.  She is a successful attorney and has built a career in helping others.

Pittman is a native of Jackson and earned her undergraduate and law degrees at Ole Miss.  Upon graduation from law school, she clerked for a year with the Mississippi Supreme Court before joining the law firm of Stubblefield & Yelverton, PLLC.  During her 15-year legal career she has also been raising two children and went back and earned a LLM in tax law from the University of Alabama.  Today, her practice areas include Estate/Tax Panning, Asset Protection, Fertility Law/Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) Law, Establishment of Parental Rights, Surrogacy, Embryo Donation and Adoption.  In addition, Pittman serves as General Counsel for Hurst Review Services, an international test preparation company based in Brookhaven.

Pittman is in the forefront of the emerging area of Fertility Law. She explained, “Through my estate planning and probate work, I became interested in the impact of modern fertility technology on both estate planning and parental rights.” Pittman serves Of Counsel to the International Fertility Law Group, Inc. and the Reproductive Law Group, Inc.  She noted, “Fertility medicine and reproductive technologies are rapidly changing, and the law is trying to keep up.” Based on her expertise, Pittman was asked to write a chapter in Professor Debbie Bell’s book Bell on Mississippi Family Law, and Professor Bell has Pittman speak each semester to her family law class at Ole Miss on the topic.

I asked Pittman about the secrets to her success in juggling a busy career with family and other life responsibilities.  She noted, “I have been very fortunate to work with colleagues who have provided me flexibility over the years.”  For young women, she emphasizes that there is a way to find some balance but you have to work hard to achieve it.  She said, “Females need to approach the work force with a strong positive attitude. As long as they do that, good things will follow.”  Pittman also shared, “The career path that you may envision today may change as you progress. As you gain life experience, you will also gain new interests and passions.  Allow your path to change and adjust your goals along the way.”  We also discussed how important it is to ask for what you want.  While you may not always get exactly what you want, you never get what you don’t ask for.

Mississippi has many success female professionals and executives. Many of these are acknowledged each year in the MBJ’s Top 50 Leading Business Women.  I was encouraged by Pittman’s positive attitude, her passion for her work, and her encouraging words for future generations of Mississippi’s women leaders.  I hope you will be too.

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, December 12, 2014.] Read More


Freddie Bagley

Most leaders know the importance of creating high-performance teams within an organization. However, the challenge is actually moving from theory to execution in creating winning teams.  Great leaders know how to mobilize teams and lead them to accomplish their full potential.   In their book, The Wisdom of Teams, Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith describe a high functioning team as with one with “a number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and an approach for which they are mutually accountable.” My interviewee this week, Freddie J. Bagley, Chairman of Community Bancshares, Inc., is one of those leaders who has harnessed the power of teamwork to achieve tremendous success.

Bagley, a native of Forest, first learned about building great teams as a student-athlete at Forest High School. He credits his high school coaches and teachers including Ken Gordon, Ken Bramlett, and Milton Walker with teaching him that, “a good team that works together will always defeat a team of stars.”  Bagley went on to East Central Community College where he was an All-Star quarterback, and then Mississippi College where he graduated with a degree in Mathematics.  After a brief teaching and coaching career, Bagley was recruited by Thomas Colbert to join Farmers and Merchants Bank (now Community Bank) in 1976.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Bagley has the spent the last 38 years developing as a leader and helping the organization grow from a $17 million dollar bank to one with over $2.5 billion in assets.

Bagley is a purpose driven man with a clear set of priorities – faith, family, and career.  He has lived out these priorities by being an active leader in his church, and an engaged parent to three children (and now three grandchildren).  Bagley noted, “Through my faith and family support, I have been able to pursue a fulfilling career in banking.  I do feel that God has led me to where I am, and I have been blessed, there is no question about it.”  Bagley credits Colbert (now Senior Chairman of Community Bancshares, Inc.) with helping him develop as a leader.  Bagley shared, “Thomas believed in young people who wanted to accomplish things.  He let you learn from your mistakes, then would help lead you where you needed to go by well-placed questions and suggestions.  He always made you feel like to you could anything or everything.  He was a great encourager to me.”

Bagley explained that his philosophy has been to put the customer first and treat each one with dignity and respect.  He said, “To have a customer focused business, you must have the best people all working with the same purpose in mind.”  He also shared, “One thing that I learned at an early age about leadership is that you have to give up some of your personal goals to accomplish team goals.”  Bagley has put these principles into practice over the years with great success. Today, Community Bank through its family of companies has 41 offices across the South with over 670 employees.  In addition to his leadership at work, home and in the community, Bagley is also a leader in his industry.  He is currently serving as the 126th Chairman of the Mississippi Banking Association.  He noted, “The MBA has a top notch staff and as an association, we have to keep finding things that we can all agree on.  We must remain unified and work together on the things that are important to Mississippi banking.” I am sure Bagley will continue to bring his team-based philosophy to this role as well as his other leadership positions making a positive difference for the state.

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, December 4, 2014.] Read More

As a young businessperson, one of the most influential books on my thinking was Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” One of the seven habits he described was to “begin with the end in mind.” I continually come back to this important idea. As the old expression goes, “If you don’t know where you are going, then any road will take you there.” If we don’t know where we are heading in life or business, then we are simply consumed in busyness with no clear purpose. We are like Taz, the Tasmanian devil Looney Tunes cartoon character, whirling around in a frenzy of motion. Okay I know I may have dated myself a little with that reference, but at least my younger readers have access to YouTube and can check out Taz!


Martin Willoughby

As much as we might want to deny the fact, we are all mortal and have seasons of life. Businesses similarly have seasons as well. There are the exciting startup days when passionate entrepreneurs try to launch businesses into existence. For those businesses that survive this phase (most don’t), they hopefully enter a nice phase of growth as they scale toward their full potential. At some point, most businesses plateau and begin a gradual decline until they reach some end point such as dissolution, bankruptcy or sale. Of course, mature businesses can have seasons of growth and renewal as well, with new products or services, and a very small number of companies will eventually become publicly traded.

I used to do a fair amount of estate planning. I found that most people don’t like to talk about planning their estates. I get that. Making plans for dying is not exactly on anyone’s Top 10 list of fun things to do. Similarly, I find that very few business owners spend much time talking about the inevitable transition of their business. Since there is still a 100 percent mortality rate, the question is not if, but when, a transition will occur in a business. Business transitions are not all triggered by death. For example, the triggering event could also be a partnership dispute, disability, divorce, or simply a desire to work less or retire.

I have found that there are some common reasons why people put off thinking about succession/exit planning for their business. Probably the most common is simply the tyranny of the urgent. The pressures of the “now” take precedence, and long-range succession planning stays unattended to in the important, but not urgent, bucket of things to do. Others are uncomfortable discussing this topic with family or partners, so they simply don’t. Some owners simply don’t have the advisors around them to properly think through the issues. Successfully operating a business and successfully transitioning a business are two different things and usually require different skill sets.

Chris Mercer, founder of Mercer Capital, presents a compelling case in his book “Unlocking Private Company Wealth” that there is a tremendous need for business owners to better keep the end in mind and consider ways to diversify their wealth away from their closely held business. For more than 75 percent of business owners, their business represents more than 50 percent of their net worth. Mercer points out that most people spend more time professionally managing their liquid wealth (e.g., stocks, bonds, etc.) than they do their illiquid wealth (their business). Managing your business is not exactly the same thing as managing the asset of your business. By viewing your business as an asset, you can reshape how you view your expected returns and target performance.

I have summarized below a few considerations when thinking about the transition of your business:

Do You Have a Plan for Involuntary Transitions?

I’m amazed at the number of successful businesses that don’t have a written plan for involuntary transitions like death, divorce, disability and shareholder disputes. While you can’t plan for every contingency, it is highly advisable to make sure that you plan for some common situations that can occur. This is typically done in the form of a buy-sell agreement with the owners of the business. I also recommend that business owners (particularly sole owners) have written instructions on how they want the affairs of the business to be handled and keep critical information easy to find. I lost a business partner at a very young age, and I learned first-hand how important this type of planning is for the business and the family. It is easy to procrastinate on these issues, so don’t delay!

Do You Have a Plan for Voluntary Transitions?

I regularly visit with business owners who desire to spend more time away from their business to better enjoy their family and golden years. The challenge is to define a target date for a transition from the business and what that transition actually means. I find that some people want to always stay engaged with the business while others would like to hand off the keys and sail into the sunset. It is important to clarify your personal goals so you can plan for a successful transition.

Have You Identified Who You Would Like to Take Over Your Business?

Is there a family member who has the aptitude and interest, an employee or perhaps a third party? Answering these questions will be critical to developing a realistic plan for succession. Most importantly, you want to begin as early as possible in your planning. I find many family-owned enterprises plan three to five years in advance. If you are behind in your planning, the best time to start is today!

Do You Know the Value of Your Company and Your Financial Needs?

Many business owners don’t really know the value of their business. Savvy owners often have an annual appraisal to see how their asset is performing. It is important to be able to look objectively at your company’s valuation. Remember, a business is only truly worth what someone will pay for it.

I also encourage business owners considering a transition to carefully evaluate their cash flow needs. Often, owners fail to consider all of the “perks” that they enjoy as the owner of the business that they would not have if there were a different owner. I recommend a thorough review of the cash flow needs of owners so that they don’t find themselves cash poor after a transition.

It is easy to mistake succession planning as a transaction rather than a process. In reality, business owners should be treating their business as an asset and actively managing that asset in addition to managing the business. They should consider their investment returns and whether they are growing their wealth. In addition, proactive planning for the inevitable transitions that will occur is simply the prudent thing to do. There is a tremendous amount of wealth that will be transitioned in the upcoming years (estimated to be as high as $ 10 trillion). This is an important topic that I hope thoughtful business owners will actively address.

[Originally published in Pointe Innovation, the quarterly publication of Innovate Mississippi, in its Winter 2014 issue.

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Between 2008 and 2010, the United States had a loss of over 200,000 businesses and 3 million jobs. This period of the “Great Recession” was particularly challenging for those businesses in the housing sector.  For those that survived, many found themselves in a better position with fewer competitors and leaner operations.  I had the opportunity this week to interview Floyd M. Sulser, Jr., Chairman of Southern Lumber Company, whose team persevered though the tough times and rebounded to have their best year in history in 2013.   Sulser’s father, Floyd Sulser Sr., retired from his first lumber career, and in 1983, he co-founded Southern Lumber with Bill Dearman. They acquired two sawmills and launched a very successful business. Sulser, Jr., a Jackson native, joined the company full time in 1996 when his father decided to retire for good.


Floyd M. Sulser, Jr.

Sulser, a Jackson native, had his own career before going into the lumber business.  After obtaining his undergraduate and law degrees from Ole Miss, Sulser went on to serve four years in the military with the JAG Corps.  In 1974, he moved back to Jackson and began his law career.  In 1981, Sulser along with Dick Bennett, Joe Lotterhos, and Marcus Wilson formed the law firm of Bennett, Lotterhos, Sulser, and Wilson, P.A., which continues to this day.  Sulser had provided legal services to Southern Lumber and held a seat on the Board, but he still faced a major life decision when his father asked him to consider taking over the company.  He explained, “I had grown up around the lumber business, and I felt this was an opportunity I could not pass up.”  His father’s partner Bill Dearman retired the same year and his son-in-law, Jerry Lee, joined Sulser in making a career transition that same year.

Making a successful family leadership change is never easy, but Sulser shared that his father was great through the process and allowed him room to lead and develop his own leadership style.  Sulser noted, “I worked very hard to really learn the business and to earn the trust and respect of the employees.”  He continued, “It was an interesting change coming from the law and abstract ideas to the practical realities of the importance of numbers and metrics in our business.”  In addition to succeeding his father, Sulser was essentially learning to work with a new partner in Jerry Lee.  The Sulser and Dearman families own the business 50-50, and so Sulser and Lee continued the successful tradition of their predecessors in learning to run a business cooperatively as equals.

Sulser candidly shared that he learned some powerful lessons in survival during the Great Recession years.  Their business, like many others tied to housing, took a major hit.  He noted, “Our industry had always been cyclical, but the challenges we faced in 2008 and the years following were unlike anything we had ever experienced.”  The owners cut and eventually eliminated their salaries; hard decisions were made; and they obtained creative financing to survive.  However, out of those hard times came opportunity.  As the economy slowly returned, they were a lean and highly efficient organization and began to have record growth and profits.  This rebound has now culminated in the acquisition of the company by Canfor, a publicly traded Canadian lumber company, which is scheduled to close in April.  I was inspired by Sulser and his team’s story of perseverance and resilience, and I am excited for the owners to have achieved the feat of exiting on a real high note.

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, November 26, 2014.] Read More

I recently read an article advising foreigners on how to adapt to life in the United States.  It noted, “Life in the U.S. is generally fast paced and busy.  People don’t want to waste time on anything, even food. That is why the U.S. invented fast food and is the largest consumer of fast food.”  We are a culture that wants what we want, and we want it now!  For example, in order to provide more speed to consumers, Amazon recently partnered with the U.S. Postal service for Sunday deliveries.  Companies that will succeed in this new era will find ways to deliver an outstanding customer experience with the speed consumers are demanding.


Bernard T. (Bernie) Reed

My interviewee this week, Bernard T. (Bernie) Reed, understands the mindset of today’s consumer, and he has built a thriving business based on meeting his customers’ needs.  Reed is the owner of Reed’s Metals, Inc. based in Brookhaven, Mississippi which provides metal roofing and metal buildings direct to consumers.  Reed is originally from Florida, but he grew up around the country as his family worked in a seasonal agricultural business.  As an adult, Reed planted his roots in Monticello and started a pine tree reforestation business; however, the business was seasonal so he wanted to find something else to do in the off season.  In 1998, at the age of 28 he decided to start Reed’s metals with a pair of hand shears and a forklift.

From that humble beginning, the company quickly grew and today Reed’s Metals has over 160 employees in five locations: Brookhaven, MS, Tupelo, MS, Benton, AR, Lake Charles, LA, and Jackson, TN.  I have found that success leaves clues, and so I was curious about the secrets to Reed’s rapid growth.  Reed shared that he learned early on the value of hard work.   He was homeschooled and worked in his family business from a young age.  As a business owner, he models a strong work ethic for his employees.  He also has a passion for customer service.  He shared, “From day one we have strived to provide fast service for our customers. Even today, a customer can come to our store, choose what they want, and leave with their metals 30 minutes later.”

Reed also emphasizes the importance of creating a positive customer experience with every encounter.  He noted, “I emphasize the appearance of both our stores and our people.  We also greet our customers at the door and try to provide remarkable customer service.”  Scaling that kind of customer service is never easy.  Many people can talk the talk of customer service, but I have found it is much harder to walk the walk and continue to deliver outstanding customer service as organizations grow. While his business has grown to multiple locations, he regularly visits every store and has frequent huddles with his employees to emphasize the values on which the company was built.

Reed also shared that he has surrounded himself with great leaders in his organization.  Like other successful entrepreneurs, Reed understands the importance of hiring very talented people and letting them do their jobs.  Savvy leaders understand their own strengths and limitations and hire talented people to shore up their weaknesses.  Reed is a great Mississippi success story.  His focus and passion are contagious.  With a solid business model and plans for further growth, I know Bernie Reed and Reed’s Metals will be having an impact for years to come.

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, November 20, 2014.] Read More


Garrick Combs

As regular readers of this column know, one of the things I like to do is spotlight up and coming leaders from around the state.  These are the men and women who are on the fast track to success and are actively building Mississippi’s future.  This week I had the opportunity to interview one of those leaders, Garrick Combs, who serves as Executive Director of the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce and Industrial Development Foundation.  The foundation serves over 300 members and includes six distinct organizations including the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Economic Development Alliance and the Brookhaven Tourism Council.

Combs, a Roxie native, received his undergraduate degree in history from USM as well as a Master’s in Economic Development. He began his career by serving as Director of the Economic Development Department and Chamber of Commerce in Franklin County from 2002 to 2006.  He then moved on to hold several positions at the Mississippi Development Authority including Manger of the Southwest Regional Office and Project Manager in both the Global Business and Existing Industry Divisions.  Combs has served as the local developer or lead project manager of new locations and expansions that have announced over $500 million in new capital and 2500 new jobs. Among the Lincoln County companies Garrick has worked with includes Rex Lumber, Delphi and American Railcar.

Combs shared that his father was a big influence on his leadership style. He explained, “My father never felt the need to overpower a room or demand attention.  He tended to facilitate and make sure that each person had the opportunity to voice opinions if they chose to do so.  But, he had the ability to distill the discussion into key items at the appropriate time and make sure the group came away with specific tasks that they could work together on to accomplish a common goal.”  Combs later noted these same traits in Jimmy Jones, the former Chancery Clerk of Franklin County.   Combs shared, “Jimmy had numerous employees but when key issues needed to be addressed, instead of dictating a solution he was able to seek input and allow his employees to learn from the discussion and decision making process. Instead of having an employee blindly follow direction, he made his employees better—and thus a better local government—by allowing them input into the process.”

One of the key traits of leaders that Combs has incorporated into his leadership style is adaptability.  He said, “No matter what the task, leaders should be prepared to accomplish the task at hand, changing course if needed, and be able to do what is required that day in order to ensure that the long term goals are met.  I’ve learned that the ability to adapt and respond to the unexpected in the short term allows a leader to achieve long term goals.”   Combs also strives to elevate those around him to reach their full potential.  He noted, “I believe that leadership is defined by the ability to create an upward pull. Being a leader isn’t the same as being a boss or commanding a room.  It’s about the ability to create a shared sense of what needs to be accomplished and creating a shared sense of accomplishment when goals are achieved.”

Combs’ early influences have helped him develop into a strong leader who is actively partnering with local and state leaders to drive economic development in his area of the state.  I was inspired by his passion for elevating others and making a difference. He understands that great leaders aren’t tyrants barking orders, but people who inspire others to be their best and align to accomplish great things. I believe leaders like Combs will be key to Mississippi’s future.

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, November 13, 2014.] Read More

Leadership guru Ram Charan noted, “Talent, as every leader knows, is the most essential ingredient of business success.” Good to Great author Jim Collins echoed the importance of people when he said “To build a successful organization and team you must get the right people on the bus.”  While most business leaders would agree with these statements, I have found that it is harder in reality to “walk the talk” of valuing the importance of people.  One business owner told me, “My employees should just be happy they are getting a paycheck!” In contrast, visionary leaders understand the importance of people and act on it.  Starbucks founder Howard Schultz is a great example of this.  He recently announced that in addition to providing health insurance for part time employees, his company has partnered with Arizona State University to create a program to help his employees earn degrees for essentially no cost. He explained, “You cannot build long-term value for the shareholder, in my view, without building long-term value for your people.”

My interviewee this week, Hal Miller is one of those leaders that understands the value of people.  Miller, a Jackson native, recently left his position as Executive Vice President of Miller Transporters, Inc. to serve as President of the Mississippi Trucking Association.   Miller had worked in his family business for over thirty years before joining the MTA full time.  He had previously served as a Board member for 22 years for the organization that serves over 320 members with a wide array of services.  Miller shared with me that the trucking industry plays a vital role in the state’s economy and that 1 in 12 jobs are tied to the industry.


Hal Miller

Miller brings a people-oriented perspective to the job.  He shared, “My grandfather established a tradition of making sure people mattered in all of his decisions when he started the family business. I had the honor of working directly under two Millers, my uncle Scott and my cousin Lee. Both upheld that tradition started by my grandfather over 70 years ago. I try to make sure that plays a major role in my decision making whether it be the people employed within the Association, the members, the employees of the industry as a whole, as well as the general public that our industry interacts with every day.”  Miller emphasized that his father Hal Miller who spent his career as a lawyer influenced him as well on the importance of people.  He noted, “My father has a plaque in his study at home that has been there since I was a child that reminds him daily of the value of people which states ‘People are important. We are God’s gift to one another.’”

I asked Miller about making the major career shift to leave the family business.  He explained, “It was very difficult to make the decision to leave my family’s business as I am very proud of what Miller Transporters stands for and think very highly of all of the great people that worked with in that organization. However, being allowed to represent our industry as a whole was very exciting idea for me. Our industry has many wonderful stories of success and perseverance. The trucking industry represents the best of the best when it comes to down-to-earth hard-working people that live by very strong principles. To be allowed to provide support and advocacy for this group is indeed an honor.”

I have observed first hand Miller’s passion for putting people first, and I know that he “walks the talk” like other truly great leaders. I know that the MTA and many others will benefit from this conviction and his commitment to “doing the right thing.”

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, November 7, 2014.] Read More

I believe that one of Mississippi’s real economic opportunities is the continued expansion of the creative economy.  The state has recognized this opportunity and has been studying and finding ways to encourage its growth.  In a state commissioned report entitled Realizing the Economic Opportunity of Creativity in Mississippi, it was noted, “Mississippi’s creative people, companies, and institutions, past and present, are a vital part of what defines the state.  Their achievements and talents contribute to Mississippi’s distinct ambiance. But these same creative people, companies, and institutions collectively also add significant wealth to the state’s economy in ways that have been undercounted and under-recognized.” Many of these individuals are inspiring entrepreneurs who turn their creative skills and passions into thriving businesses. David Spurk, owner of Petal Pushers in Ridgeland, is one of those inspiring creative economy entrepreneurs.


David Spurk

Spurk is a native of Crystal Springs and from a young age knew he wanted to be in the floral business. He explained, “Ever since I was a child, I have spent countless hours growing things. Whenever I would get extra money as a kid, I would buy more material for planting it in the ground. It is just who I was, and who I am.” He was hired by a local florist when he was 14 and that’s when his career really began. By 17, he was designing on the panel for the annual state floral convention. He went on to work for a florist in Brookhaven while attending Copiah-Lincoln Community College where he also taught a continuing education class in floral design.

In 1983, Spurk moved to Jackson and worked for a local wholesale florist that gave him additional insight into the floral industry. He also waited tables at night for a fine dining establishment. He noted, “Clients that I developed working at the restaurant later became clients of Petal Pushers when I opened in 1985 and remain clients to this day.”  Spurk is passionate about his craft and shared, “I do what I do as a celebration of life. None of us will be here for long so I feel that we should try to make a positive impact on people’s lives while we can.”  He is considered a master artisan in his field and not only provides floral designs but also develops and manages every aspect of events from customized event floor plans, to the catering, food presentation, and overall visual aesthetics.”

Spurk also uses his gifts and talents to help make a difference in the community.  He is an active member of the Board of Friends of Children’s Hospital, which benefits Batson Children’s Hospital.  He noted, “I really love what I do and, and while it is rewarding in and of itself, it means the world to me that I can harness what I love to support Friends of Children’s Hospital.”  He has worked with the organization since 1999 when he began donating his time and artistry for fundraising events.  He explained his passion for working with Friends, “The families who visit Batson Children’s Hospital have such intense need, and some of them greatly need assistance to secure the health and healing of their child. If I can support life by making a room come to life, then I will always be greatly fulfilled by that.”  Learning about creative entrepreneurs who have the courage and drive to turn their dreams into reality always inspires me.  I come away encouraged by Spurk’s commitment to excellence in his craft and his passion for helping children.  I hope you will be too.

[Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, October 30, 2014.] Read More

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