Upbeat attitude sustains John Myers in his career and his life
In high school, John Myers was voted class optimist by his fellow students. He wore that as a badge of honor at the time, a title to live up to, and says the description still fits to this day.
“Obviously life can be challenging but I’ve always tried to be a very positive person,” he says. Even when things don’t go as planned, John tries to see the situation in a positive light.
“We can learn from our disappointments and grow from them,” he says. “They ought to not be viewed as negatives. I have a turn-lemons-into-lemonade philosophy and I’ve tried to be that way my entire life. I hope that people see that side of me.”
John, who heads up Sandia’s HR and Communications Div. 3000, got off to a good start in life, spending his childhood in the Detroit area during the school year and, when school was out, reveling in endless summer fun at the family cottage on the Canadian side of the border on Lake Erie
“There was a yacht club there where I took swimming and sailing lessons,” he recalls. “My dad bought us a little sail boat, so I’d spend my days as a kid swimming and sailing. And there was a golf course nearby where they charged like 30 bucks for the whole summer to play as much as you wanted, so my cousins and I would golf all the time, sometimes practically from dawn to dusk.”
It was a happy life. “My earliest memory is probably when I was 3 or 4 years old. I was on the front lawn of our house — me and some friends or cousins — and we were chasing my dad around, grabbing his leg and trying to tackle him and he would tickle us. So my earliest memory is of my dad and just having fun family time together.”
John’s father was in sales and his mother raised John and his brother at home until they grew older, at which time she took a job as an executive assistant in the local school district.
John describes himself as “an OK student. I wasn’t a great student, but I wasn’t a total deadbeat, either. Junior high was tough — 7th and 8th grades are just an awkward age — but I had a lot of fun in high school.”
John was involved in sports in high school, playing basketball and golf, and he enjoyed an active social life.
“I made a lot of friends in high school; we did a lot of things together — we’d go to dances and parties and games, things that typical high school kids do. I had good experiences.”
Like all high school students, there came a time when John had to start thinking about his future. With some coaching by a guidance counselor, he figured out he was interested in either law enforcement or oceanography, “about as far apart as they can be, I guess, but for some reason I liked both of those.”
In that internal debate over which career path to pursue, law enforcement ultimately won out.
BYU and a mission to California
John had converted to the Mormon faith at age 18 and decided to go to Brigham Young University to study law enforcement with a minor in Spanish. While at BYU, he took a two-year break from school to complete a mission for the church in largely Spanish-speaking communities in California.
“I taught religious values and principles to the families in their communities for two years and became pretty fluent in Spanish.”
The church mission was spiritually fulfilling but there was a corollary benefit that became apparent soon after he returned to school at BYU: Thanks to his Spanish proficiency he met Tammy, the woman who would become his wife.
“We’d met at a park through some mutual friends,” John recalls. “She’s Hispanic, from Puerto Rico, and she had a letter from her grandmother written in Spanish that she couldn’t read.” That wasn’t uncommon at that time, John notes. Hispanic kids were often actively discouraged from speaking any language other than English.
“Anyhow, she asked me to come over and translate that letter for her, in return for which she promised to make me dinner. So, free dinner, get to use my Spanish, spend some time with a beautiful young woman — what’s not to like, right? So I helped her translate the letter, she made me a delicious meatball sandwich, and it kind of went from there and we eventually got married.”
Meanwhile, John graduated from BYU with his law enforcement degree and went to work as a criminal investigator for the Internal Revenue Service — the IRS — mostly in internal affairs. In that role, among his other responsibilities he investigated employee misconduct cases.
“Every year the IRS would hire hundreds of part-time, seasonal employees just to open tax returns,” John recalls. “We would train them, saying, ‘We’re going to test you, we’re going to offer you money, you’re going to see tax returns coming in with money; don’t be tempted to take it because if you do you’re going to end up going to jail.’”
Inevitably, every year, a handful of these employees would try to beat the system and end up paying the price. “There was one lady in particular who would change the ‘IRS’ on the payee line of checks to ‘MRS’ and then add her name and go cash them. She’d been doing that for a while when we finally caught on. We ended up arresting her. But it was creative.”
After five years of being immersed in the seamy side of things and busting malefactors, John decided he’d had enough. Interacting with a criminal element was taking its toll, not least on his home life.
“You end up interacting with people who aren’t very ethical or honest or are not outstanding citizens, let us say. I was starting to get cynical. You start to see the worst in people. It really hit home when Tammy said to me one day, ‘I’m your wife, you don’t interrogate me.’ I just felt like it was having a negative influence on me even though I pride myself on not being that kind of a person. When you live in that mindset day-in and day-out it affects you.”
It was time — maybe past time — for a career change.
John remembered that at BYU he had enjoyed a class in organizational behavior; in fact, he recalled it as being maybe his favorite class ever. With a plan in mind and a new vision for his future, John returned to BYU and earned a master’s degree in the subject. Upon graduation, with his batteries recharged and with a renewed sense of optimism, John took a job with a boutique consulting firm doing organizational design and large-scale change management consulting.
One of John’s clients was impressed with his work and convinced him come to work for his small healthcare company in Colorado. “I had helped them redesign their business; they liked what I had done, and thought I could continue to add value to their leadership team.”
That job didn’t last long. He liked the work but the healthcare industry didn’t resonate with him. “I worked for them for about a year and decided to leave,” John recalls. “That’s when I got hired by Allied Signal, which soon acquired Honeywell and kept the Honeywell name.”
He served as an internal organizational development consultant with Honeywell in Phoenix, which worked out well for him. His oldest daughter was about to start high school and John and Tammy thought it would be good to settle in one place for a while so that during high school their kids would have some consistency.
“We thought that was important for them,” he says.
A valued skill set
Over time, as he transitioned from organizational development into an HR business partner role, his internal clients found his organizational development skills very useful.
“It was gratifying for me that they appreciated my skill set and even more gratifying that I felt like I was adding value to the company and helping the leaders I supported find success,” he says.
John hit his stride at Honeywell, especially appreciating the fact that as a Fortune 75 company it had global operations, affording him the opportunity to travel and learn about cultures around the world.
“Once I started going to different countries and experiencing their cultures, it was just fascinating to me,” he says. “I really enjoyed learning and understanding why they did things the way they did them.”
In those years, John’s theme song could have been Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere.”
“When I had to get a security clearance for one of the jobs I had at Honeywell,” he says, “I pulled out my old travel vouchers and realized I that had been to 32 countries in the previous 10 years.”
Favorite places in his travel log include Italy, China, and Singapore, which especially appealed to him because of its melting pot culture unified by widespread use of English as the common language.
A successful merger
One of the high points of John’s Honeywell career came with his role in a successful acquisition of a satellite communications company. It was a complex deal, John says, with half the company to be merged with the Aerospace division and half to another business unit.
“It was vitally important that this merger succeed,” John says. “This was a critical juncture for Honeywell Aerospace — this was important technology going forward and it really had to be done well.”
John was the HR lead for the merger, a process that took almost two years to complete. “The CEO of Honeywell at the time said this was probably the best acquisition the company had ever done. I took a lot of pride in knowing that and in watching it going forward ever since — that merger has been instrumental in helping Honeywell achieve some of its strategic goals and will have a major impact on the value of Honeywell for years and years to come.”
John has found the move from Honeywell to Sandia to be satisfying.
“I love Sandia’s values, its ethics, and integrity,” he says. “Being in HR, I’m a people person. And I’ve found that the caliber of the people I interact with — my staff, the leadership team, and Sandians across the Labs — is just outstanding. That’s what kept me at Honeywell for 20 years and that’s one of the biggest things that I’ve really enjoyed about Sandia, the quality of the people. Their desire to make a difference. Their thoughtfulness and the concern people have for one another here.”
In his role at Sandia, John says he is gratified to be part of a leadership team that will build on Sandia’s legacy and leave it better and stronger than it is today.
“What I’d like to do is to continue that legacy. Our job in HR, Communications, and the Employee Health Services organization, which are the three areas that I own, is to continue to make Sandia a great place to work and a wonderful environment that allows people to use their skills to the utmost. And to make a difference that we can all be proud of.”
Bucket lists and a blessed life
When John came to Albuquerque at the beginning of 2017 to begin work on the transition of the Sandia M&O contract from Lockheed Martin to NTESS, Tammy stayed behind in Phoenix to sell their home and wrap up things in Arizona. The Phoenix house sale closed in late October and the couple are now house-hunting in Albuquerque.
John and Tammy have been married for 36 years. They have four daughters and seven grandchildren — so far.
“I grew up in a family of two boys, so to go from a family of all boys to all girls was a learning experience, as you can imagine,” he says.
When he finds time away from work John and his wife enjoy riding their bikes and hiking in the mountains. And high on his bucket list is to earn his private pilot’s license, a process he began years ago but which has been on hold for the past eight months or so. To date, he has logged about 60 hours of flight time and a few solos, but has to complete his ground school requirements to qualify for his license.
A Detroit kid from the 1960s, John has a special affection for the Motown sound, but he enjoys jazz and soft rock, too. He enjoys reading American history, especially books about the nation’s early history.
“I’ve found a lot of inspiration reading about Washington and Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. Reading about the challenges they faced and how they stayed true to their principles in their darkest hours and the great things happened because of that — those are inspiring to me.”
Another bucket list item? A trip with Tammy to Australia and New Zealand with lots of beach time tossed into the mix.
“I’ve had a pretty happy life,” John says. “I had good parents who didn’t get divorced and loved their kids. I grew up in that environment, so I had a happy childhood. I’ve been married to a wonderful woman for 36 years and have great kids. Having grandchildren has been wonderful. I’ve had some great professional experiences. Serving that mission for the church for two years, not thinking of yourself and serving others — that was a wonderful, fulfilling experience. Serving others is just fun. So those are happy moments. I’ve been a very blessed and fortunate person.”
Over the years, John has held onto that inner spark his classmates recognized in him all those decades ago.
“I try not to be a negative person or see the glass as half-empty. I’m a half-full sort of guy,” he says, “because life is a great thing and we ought to embrace it and enjoy it to its fullest.”