Finding success through life lessons, shared experiences

by Martin Willoughby

Published: April 10,2011

Tags: John Barton, leadership, Martin Willoughby, Parkway Properties

As I travel the state and interview successful entrepreneurs and leaders, I am noticing some interesting patterns. The character traits of perseverance and strong work ethic continue to be key themes.  Interestingly, most of my interviewees began working young doing some type of job or even having their own entrepreneurial enterprise. I think about Robert Fulgham’s bestseller “All I Really need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten,” and I believe that there is a similar idea that there are tremendous life-long lessons about how to treat people and the value of hard work to be learned from early work experiences.

John Barton, senior vice president and senior asset manager for Parkway Properties, is a successful business leader who shares this background. Barton’s father was a military fighter jet pilot who served in Vietnam so they moved around a good bit in his youth before settling in Germantown, Tenn., where he spent his formative years. While living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Barton and his younger sister started a crab and Kool-Aid stand. This venture turned out to be too much effort for too little reward, but I have to give him credit for putting a real twist on the old lemonade stand. At age 10 after moving to Germantown, he started Barton lawn service, which he operated until he graduated from high school.

We discussed some of the early life lessons he learned from his experiences. He noted, “I learned early on the importance of responsibility and accountability.” Many of his clients were demanding professionals including a former naval officer who would bring out his tape measure to make sure that Barton was providing the perfect two-inch cut he required. Barton shared that his grandmother, an influential person in life, always emphasized to him, “If you are going to do it, do it right!”

He also learned the importance of honesty, directness and effective communication. His early business experiences taught him how to negotiate, and the value of hard, smart work. Barton also learned the value of being courageous enough to charge a higher price for a higher level of service. In addition to character building that he learned from his early business venture, he also was an athlete who played hockey, soccer, basketball, cross-country, tennis and football.

A top student and athlete, Barton went on to Southern Methodist University where he studied political science and business. He went on to law school at Washington & Lee University where he continued to put his emphasis on business. After graduating and practicing law for a short stint in San Antonio, he knew that he wanted to pursue his passion for real estate and business. He moved back to Dallas and went to work in the real estate business where he eventually served as asset manager for approximately two million square feet of office buildings, and negotiated commercial mortgage backed security loans totaling approximately $300 million.

Barton married a Mississippi girl, Elizabeth Taylor, and they decided to move back in 2000, and John was able to join Parkway Properties. Since joining Parkway, he has focused his efforts on joint ventures, acquisitions, leasing and operations. Barton currently serves as senior asset manager for Parkway’s portfolios in Jackson, Memphis, and Nashville with a total of approximately 2.8 million square feet of office buildings.

He shared that he is still in the service business, and continues to draw upon the lessons of his youth. He said, “Our tenants are our customers, and we have to be committed to an outstanding level of customer service. We are also in a very competitive business, so it’s critical that we work hard and smart to stay in front of the competition.” Now a leader in his own organization and the community, Barton shares with future leaders the importance of attitude, work ethic and persistence, “all of which we control,” he emphasized. He also teaches young leaders how to make the best out of every situation and to remember to take their responsibilities seriously, but not themselves.  In other words, great leaders have humility and the ability to laugh at themselves.

Parkway Properties has been one of Mississippi’s business success stories, and has been a place where some of Mississippi’s best and brightest have gone to work. I have no doubt that Barton will continue to be a leader in the organization and the community in the years ahead and that the early lessons of leadership will serve him well in those roles. As a society, I hope we continue to encourage our young people to have the opportunity to learn these lessons which can only be taught through experience

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