You can read books, watch videos, and take courses on leadership which are all helpful, but nothing really shapes you as a leader like “on the job training.” I have been a part of great organizations that grew rapidly and sold, and I have also worked with organizations that ended up in bankruptcy. In terms of my growth as a leader, I learned more in the situations with bad endings than the successes. While they were unpleasant at the time, they taught me invaluable lessons about leading in turbulent situations. I recently interviewed John Yerger, founder of Blue Ox, LLC and its sister company Blue Ox Technologies, LLC. Yerger is an experienced leader who also received much of his training “on the job.”
A native of Jackson, Yerger received a B.B.A. from the University of Mississippi. He began his career with Genuine Parts Company where he served in a variety of leadership roles including human resource manager. In the mid 1990s, he joined the management team at Skytel Communications during the company’s rapid expansion where he was director of customer operations. Before starting his own company in 2009 along with business partner Chris Cooley, Yerger also worked with Kite Networks and SkyHawke Technologies.
Yerger’s leadership philosophy centers around recognizing the critical importance of leadership in an organization, the fact that trust is the basis of great execution, and being a visible leader who leads from the front. Yerger noted, “Failure starts with leadership and ends with leadership – when something doesn’t go right, start by analyzing what you did or did not.” On trust, he shared, “I conduct leadership training to businesses throughout the state and every time we find failure to execute, we find a lack of trust, so this is a big topic for leaders and I hope all business leaders take the time to develop and maintain trust. It is probably the most difficult thing to manage and requires unwavering commitment.” Yerger also believes that it is important to “stay grounded, stay present, and stay relevant.” He shared a great quote with me on this point that, “The footprints of the gardener are always the best fertilizer.”
Yerger shared candidly that a startup venture he worked with did not end as he hoped. He explained, “I was with a company that despite all the reasons I believe it should have succeeded, it failed.” He noted that after he left that situation he realized that “businesses will fail, and many really good business leaders and entrepreneurs have gone through that same level of frustration, so I am clearly not unique in that.” He took all that he had learned over the years and created Blue Ox with a mission to provide complete, comprehensive, and professional “back-end” business solutions to clients. Yerger emphasized, “My experiences have equipped me with a renewed sense of loyalty to the true model of hard work, ethical standards, integrity in practice, and care and compassion for others. These attributes are the foundation of my company and approach to our clients.”
Yerger’s experience and training has paid off as his company Blue Ox has been a big success helping businesses around the state with back office functions like human resources, financial, accounting, and technology. He has also launched a sister company Blue Ox Technologies which recently partnered with the University of Mississippi to develop a web-based paperless effectiveness study system that provides on-line observation and survey tools to assist in determination and validation of the effectiveness, implementation and facilitation of professional instructional development programs in K-12 educational institutions. Yerger is one of Mississippi’s business leaders who are thinking “outside of the box” to build innovative growth oriented companies. His leadership principles are sound, and we all have the opportunity to expand our leadership abilities with “on the job” training.