photo by Amie Vanderford

There was news in November when it was announced that Memphis-based Interactive Solutions, Inc. (ISI) had been acquired by AVI-SPL, a global giant in the audio-visual and videoconferencing business.

It was a huge step for Jay Myers, who founded ISI in 1996, guiding the AV company through the fast-changing world of technology, finding solutions to crises, pairing state-of-the-art tech with rigorous customer service, and achieving such success that he was inducted into the Memphis Society of Entrepreneurs (SOE) earlier this year.

AVI-SPL has made several acquisitions and expansions in recent years, so adding ISI, which is dominant in Tennessee and around the region, continues that plan with expanding its reach in Nashville and hiring more sales and support people there.

Myers has written two books about how he handled those unexpected situations that challenge any entrepreneur. The first was when his account manager embezzled $250,000. He faced it forthrightly and, not without pain, brought the company out of it. That inspired him to write Keep Swinging, which was about dealing with adversity.

The next book was Hitting the Curveballs (he’s a huge New York Yankee fan), which spoke to how he handled the Great Recession that hammered businesses a decade ago. Just about the time it started, he lost some of his best people and had to replace them. He thought outside the box and figured instead of getting experienced people, he’d hire millennials who could be trained — a sort of farm system as he likes to say. It was risky, but the business, in four years, went from $11 million to $25 million.

He learned from that. In October, he spoke at the SOE’s Entrepreneurs Roundtable meeting on dealing with millennials. It might behoove employers to hear him out since a recent study indicated Memphis still has a way to go to be a top destination for that young generation.

While it’s generally accepted that the millennials that are here are very fond of Memphis, some data crunching by realtyhop.com, a national site for home sales and data, suggested that our town only scores a C. The survey focused on the job market, median incomes, housing affordability, mobility/geographic diversity, and education levels. And perhaps number jugglers can determine average home prices, but they can’t quantify what’s cool and funky, or measure the ratio of grit to grind. Myers certainly believes in the generation.

Here are some excerpts from Myers’ guide to making the most of millennials:

How are millennials different?

We baby boomers say: “You have no communication skills. You make statements and form opinions because you’re engaged with social media.” Understand this, social media didn’t exist when we were their age. The first thing I had to figure out with our folks is that it is a different world.

What doesn’t work?

Baby boomers, do you remember your first job and how you got motivated? In sales in the ’70s, I know for me it was all about intimidation, threats, cussing. You don’t make your numbers, you’re out of here. Do or die. That won’t work with millennials.

How are they the same?

They want to grow their careers. Baby boomers, is that much different from us all those years ago? When you’re recruiting millennials, think about the opportunities for them.

What about their attitude towards work?

Millennials do not like to obsess about work 24/7. They don’t want to be labeled by their job. They also want to be treated with respect. And they don’t want to be called the entitlement generation.

What do we do affirmatively?

Meet them on their terms. They are the most tech-savvy generation in the history of mankind. When you’re trying to recruit, you need to be able to challenge them to do more. There’s plenty of energy. Don’t limit to what is expected, but demand more.

What else can we do?

Give back to the community. They want to do something good for the community. Get them involved. Put the energy to use for the nonprofit or whatever you’re doing. What they’re doing with you has to be more than a job.

A full transcript is available on the blog at the SOE website