CEO Connect: Lessons from Elaine Myrback

Elaine Myrback is chief executive officer of EMS Consulting, in Tampa — a business she’s grown to hit more than $20 million in annual revenue and has her sights set on expanding to new lines of business. 

Bridgette Bello, CEO and publisher of Tampa Bay Business and Wealth, interviewed Myrback in front of a sold-out, live audience at the private estate of Sonya and Taylor Ranker, of Questmont Virtual Family Office, in Odessa. This interview has been edited for length and brevity. 

What has it been like being Mrs. December 2023? 

My phone has been blowing up and I’ve got people calling from everywhere. The support from all of your friends, partners and clients, and everyone, it’s just wonderful to see after 25 years of starting a company from your bedroom to where we’ve come…and it’s been a great ride. 

You’re a pretty dynamic lady. Pretty opinionated. I called you, at one point, ‘gun-toting, cigar smoking, bourbon drinking,’ which is why we’re friends. But one of the quotes I enjoyed the most from you was ‘success breeds complacency and complacency breeds failure.’ Which is kind of depressing, Elaine. But talk about a time where there was something that you touched that didn’t turn to gold and what you learned from that. 

It is one of my favorite sayings because distractions happen wherever you go. Whatever you do, wherever you’re focused, there’s so many distractions pulling at you. Then you have all the different market economic impacts, right? You had Covid and the bust. Then, you had 2008…I don’t know how many times you could be shot at and figure out how to make your business run even more efficiently. 

The last thing you want to do is rest on your laurels. You want to make sure that you’re ahead of the game, that you look at your competitors and that you continue to re-engineer your business. In order to even stay alive for 25 years, every five years we came in with new services. How do we get ahead of the curve? What is that strategy? Planning, using people from the outside, getting ahead of your competition, truly focusing when you have that downtime or an economic condition, it is time to re-engineer. So that’s my goal, every five years. I would recommend that. Always take a look at the business and never think it’s ever going to be the same because it’s always changing. 

I think we all learned that the hard way, three years ago. I’m going to say everyone in this room has read your story, but just in case they haven’t, talk a little bit about your business. Who you help and how somebody that’s local to Tampa Bay can work with you and your company. 

We started out as a system integration company for Oracle and PeopleSoft. And, when I started to see that market change. I realized that the future wasn’t as bright as it used to be. So, we went into Salesforce and we are one of the top three partners of Salesforce, across the, country implementing that CRM system, integrating to all of the banks. Our top banks are the top 100 banks in the country. We do all the integration to their core systems. We put in a data strategy, we do their CRM implementation and then we do managed services, after that. 

We’ve grown tremendously, 30% to 40%, a year, over the last eight years. So, it’s been a wonderful ride except when the banks went down [last] year, it was probably one of my biggest challenges. I think we made [up] some ground, but we still didn’t hit what we did the previous year. When you have those economic conditions, you better get that plan going and look at what you could do to reduce your costs. That’s the time to truly focus on culture, when you’re having a difficult time like that.

There’s not a night that goes by or a morning you wake up that you’re not thinking about how you’re going to overcome it and how you’re going to save your people and how you’re going to support them because they’re all like family in our business. That’s the environment and the culture that you want to build. 

We recently had a TBBW Advisory Board dinner. We bring about 15 CEOs into a room and we have a great dinner. We ask them to give us real feedback. What are we doing well? Where are we missing the mark? What could we be doing better? At the last one they said that we could be asking you guys, who have built these amazing companies, for the nuts and bolts on how you did it. What were the building blocks? What were the steps? If I wanted to replicate what you did, what are the things that I need to know? 

Be a person of your word. Build your employees up. Develop and invest in them. Make sure your strategy is confirmed. Use your best people, who you know have done it before, and help them. Culture is really big. I think culture keeps you together through the thick and the thin. Focus on your integrity, focus on honesty and focus on doing what you said [you’re going] to do. 

I love that. That’s one of the things I always say. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

That’s right.

This group is filled with business owners and CEOs, people who run companies in the region. What do you think makes someone successful and makes someone in a CEO, or leadership role, maybe not as successful? What are the things you think a CEO needs to be in order to be successful?

Vision. Stay true to it, stick to it. Your vision is most critical. Creating the best executive management team you can around it. And I have done that this year. I think it’s probably the best year, out of the 25 years, selecting my executive team where I can truly go around and build a business and do a lot more things that I really want to that I don’t have time to because you know what it’s like to be a business owner. You wear 10 hats and you’re always worried and you’re always reaching. You’re always on. I would say that truly getting people to support you, giving you advice along the way and continuing to tweak your track. 

Don’t let it be the same thing just because you said that at the beginning. Understand the economic impacts, understand what’s going to impact the customers. You really have to continue to re-engineer those services and your communication. The key thing, right now, is constant communication. And if you don’t have that not only to your employees, [but to] your clients, that’s where you lose your momentum. Success is that constant change of what’s going to happen, what you’re going to do for them and what the communication plan is around that. That is a key thing. It’s a foundation of everything.

How are you going to deal with the unique challenges of what 2024 has in store? And, as a woman CEO in the world today?  

We’re all faced with all types of challenges. It could be financial, it could be employees, it could be culture. There were a lot of headwinds coming. The best way to prepare for the headwinds is to plan ahead of time. We’ve already planned for when the banks went down and, suddenly, things were missing. And that impacted my segment directly. So, in 2024, I think we’re still going to be seeing a lot of cutbacks and some of the conservative approaches and less spending. So, we’re really focusing on repackaging solutions and repackaging our opportunities for our customers. 

Have outside help and get advice. Conserve all you can. Communicate with your employees and make sure you let them know they’re going to be okay. There are times when you have to make some adjustments. But do that ahead of time. Don’t do it at the end, because then you’ll be in trouble. It’s your reputation as a business owner; we all want to be standup. We all want to be a leader. And having that leadership in the market is so critical because that attracts many people. 

For the second question, sometimes you must bite your tongue and yet, make yourself known. Women are not to be discounted anymore. We’re leaders. You know how many of us are driving businesses? Eighty percent of the economy is small businesses. That’s all of us. That’s what’s important. You don’t let people knock you down no matter if you’re male or female. It’s just a respect level that should take place, right? It’s how you handle it. It’s how you walk out of it. 

It’s about really living a life that is real and that is down to earth. Supporting people no matter what. And some people just get carried away with an ego. But my recommendation is, look, people make mistakes. And none of that has ever stopped me. I’ve been in business for 25 years, but I was a senior vice president of Kodak North and South America. I had a lot of responsibility and I had the respect. So, it really doesn’t matter about any one individual. Look forward, keep marching forward and be successful. 

If you were a 17-year-old Elaine, what advice would you give yourself? 

At 17 years old, I had my sights set on being a corporate executive. I would never have known that I would have reached the level that I have. Don’t lower your ambition. Raise your ambition, raise your goals, make things happen. It’s all up to you and no one can get in your way. Stay focused because I did. And I’ve been blessed beyond what I can even imagine. So, it’s a great life. It’s a great time. It’s all about people who you impress, who you impact, who you lead, and keep it on the positive and keep it on the up and up. Don’t let anything get in your way. That’s my advice. ♦

TBBW’s “CEO Connect” series is an exclusive, invitation-only, event that brings together the Tampa Bay area’s top business leaders to meet and mingle. Nperspective, Source 1 Solutions, SouthState, Tampa Bay Thrives and Windor Capital were presenting sponsors. The host sponsor were Sonya and Taylor Ranker, of Questmont.  
TBBW’s video partner is Empowering Creative.

The evening begins with a cocktail reception for about 120 guests, followed by an interview with that month’s cover CEO.

Partnering with TBBW provides an opportunity to network with the area’s business elite, generate new business opportunities and increase brand awareness.

For information about event sponsorship opportunities, email Jason Baker at [email protected].

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