At South Mountain, there are seven standing members of our Management Committee (which we call MCom). An eighth member, always an owner, rotates onto MCom for a six month stint. This allows all our owners to experience and contribute to the management process and learn to understand the complexity and dynamics of running our business.
Two of my management colleagues, Deirdre Bohan and Rob Meyers, have interesting stories. The rest do too (I mean hey, we all do, right?) but these two are particularly compelling because they took circuitous and unconventional paths to their current positions.
Twenty two years ago, when our bookkeeper moved off-island, we hired Deirdre to replace her. Within a year she had developed robust systems and reduced what was previously a taxing 40 hour job to a reasonable 20 hour job.
She came to me and said she didn’t have enough to do. “What do you want to do?” I said.
“That’s up to you,” she replied.
“No, I mean what do you really want to do?”
She told me she had a long-standing interest in interior design; it was one of the reasons she came to work at SMCo. For years we had done interior design partially and unsystematically; we wished to add a serious interior design practice but hadn’t had the resources and had failed to pro-actively seek them. So there it was: we decided to devote the time Deirdre had created (20 hours a week) to her education. She assembled a well-rounded program that combined the resources of several design schools. She was soon leading a thriving interior design business. We hired a bookkeeper to replace her; Siobhán has now been here 14 years and is our Financial Manager and another of our standing MCom members.
In 2004 and 2005 I spent two consecutive winters on sabbatical, writing a book and seeing how the company would fare in my absence. Deirdre was the person who stepped most effectively and thoroughly into the leadership void. The experience, coupled with her innate intelligence and the computer science degree she had earned at Brown, helped her recognize that there were operations issues that weren’t getting the attention they needed. She articulated this and soon became our COO. The operations job became nearly full time, and we hired an architect, Beth Kostman, to fill some of the interior design aspects of her job.
In 2010 Deirdre and her husband Dave had a son, Declan. She was 43. I think the lessons of parenting refined and strengthened her leadership skills, while softening them at the same time. She already had a deep intuitive sense of what makes people tick, but parenting always adds a special dimension – greater empathy and flexibility perhaps.
Deirdre now chairs MCom, co-manages the company with me, manages in my absence, and would become interim CEO (at least) if something were to happen to me (which we call the Avalanche Scenario). I couldn’t ask for a better collaborator. Quite a journey from bookkeeper to now!
And then there’s Rob Meyers.
Rob was hired as a carpenter in 1997. He was an average carpenter, but nothing special. He liked jawin’ more than sawin’. After a few years he packed up his family and went back to Michigan, where he’d grown up. Short-lived detour. Not so good. He came back in 2002 and has been here since. His carpentry improved, but it wasn’t what he really wanted to do, so he began trying on a variety of new and different roles within the company. The shift fueled his ambition and allowed his latent entrepreneurial abilities to blossom.
In 2007 we decided to devote significant resources to wind and solar. We wrote a business plan (I think that was the first time we ever wrote one, for anything). We did it because we had made a number of faltering attempts in past years to start a solar division but somehow it never came to fruition. I’m amazed to say we carried out that plan, and have gone far beyond it, specifically with solar. Today our lively Energy Services division is producing roughly a third of our revenues. Our solar work allows us to touch the lives of and provide something meaningful for far more people than our architecture and building does. It pushes our mission forward. It diversifies and strengthens our business.
Rob now manages this business endeavor with passion, commitment, connectivity, and competence. His gregarious nature and sharp intellect have helped him become a force in the industry throughout New England. He influences policy, and he has a national reach through our membership in Amicus Solar a member-owned purchasing cooperative and peer group network of 50 of the most progressive solar companies in the country (that’s another story for another time). And his mixology skills and lore are second to none.
These two people, Deirdre and Rob, have become true leaders. They came to South Mountain without the experience or the skills to do the jobs they are doing now. And they’re not just doing them, they’re doing them with remarkable professionalism and constant innovation, making it clear that they (along with others of the managers and owners here), are well-equipped to take the South Mountain juggernaut forward into an unpredictable future. One of the most thrilling aspects of my job – maybe the most – is witnessing the growth and development of the people who have chosen to build their careers here. As I often say, “Every morning I walk up the stairs and say to myself, ‘Hey, can you believe I get to work with these people, all day long, and I get paid for this’”?
There oughta be a law. But if there was, I’d have to break it.
Bravo to Deirdre and Rob but also to you John for creating the space for everyone to grow, change, and innovate!
That a company as time-tested and wonderful as SMCo could someday be run by a woman as talented, wise, focused and all around awesome as Deirdre is testament to the company you all have built John. And Rob… just a straight up force of nature in the best way (like the wind and the sun… full of power and beneficence!). Great bios for great people. — Brian
In 2014 we met with Rob to consider solar for our all electric house. As we turned him down initially as we could only get 40% of our power made due to poor roof. Looked at my wife and said that puts the garage on our front burner. Rob says garage, your thinking about a garage! Ended up Rob working with our island architect and now have 100% of our electric paid for. We are so happy with South Mountain and Rob as we have never paid another electric bill. Love you guys.
Inspiring stories! And, still a wonderful place to work after all these years. I feel fortunate to have added just a bit of salt in the soup 30 years ago. Fond memories, always, of South Mountain.
All my best wishes for the new year.
Another great story, John. I really appreciate how you make the warmth, commitment to excellence and love of place that is such an integral part of South Mountain Company so palpable. Thank you.
Great blog. Your blogs are something I always look forward to reading. The words and pictures are so informative and as far as progressive management practices are concerned, inspirational.
As a cheerful reminder, the one failing I find or sense about SMCo is the paucity of minority diversity employed, apprenticed or involved with the company. When I receive your annual Holiday card and view pictures of SMCo employees, I see little diversity. Indeed, the Martha’s Vineyard community must at least have some Blacks, Brazilians, Asians, American Indians and others who could grow with and significantly contribute to SMCo.
Thanks for all the nice comments.
By the way, for those of you who don’t know, Peter Pitegoff is the attorney who, 30 years ago when he worked for the Industrial Cooperatives Association, helped us make our change to worker ownership and engineered the transition. We’re forever grateful.
And Mitch Anthony, of Clarity (https://clarity-first.com/) in Western MA, who has a wonderful weekly blog, led the recent re-design of our website.
Ted – I really appreciate what you said. We think about this a lot; it’s a tough one. We have one Brazilian employee, Jean Silva, who’s now an Owner. And for the kind of company we are there are more women than usual (8) and they occupy very important positions. But we have never assiduously addressed the issue of diversity in a pro-active way, and I hope we will. You have inspired us to prioritize it; thanks for doing so (Ted and his wife Marlene are former clients of ours).
Great stories that punctuate the successes of encouragement. And they all tell about the attitudes that started from the top which is why you have continued to be a success. Well ingrained I am sure all the progenitors will keep it up. Hooray for South Mountain.
Our best as always!