News & Press

Life changing experiences influences career of Macon chamber leader


Read more here: experiences Mike Dyer went through, particularly during two separate times in his life, had a significant influence on the rest of his life and helped shape how he approached his career.

Dyer has been president and CEO of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce since June 2012, but had held that position on an interim basis since November 2011.

Prior to that, he had been senior vice president and general manager of Cox Communications of Middle Georgia for the last 11 years of his 16 years with Cox.

The first life lessons came early.

Because Dyer’s father had a long career in the United States Air Force, his family traveled all over the states and world. Dyer was born at Fort Benning. Later, his family moved to Japan, Indiana, California, New Hampshire, Africa, Wisconsin, France and Maryland.

“I went to high school in France for three years,” he said. “It was wonderful.”

After the 10th grade, which was the highest grade he could attend at that military-based school, he went to a boarding school in another city in France and only went home a couple times a year.

“Kids were from all over -- from France, Holland, Spain -- from smaller bases who would go to that school,” he said.

The experience was life changing.

“I think it has had a significant impact on my life,” he said. “Having lived abroad a number of years, I have seen things through the eyes of the folks who lived in those countries. It’s made me have a better appreciation for the value of diversity. ... I grew up as a minority in a lot of these countries.”

“It also helped me, I think, in terms of my social skills. Moving all the time you had to develop good social skills or you didn’t develop new friends. I always had to leave friends and make new ones.”

His first job as a boy was selling newspapers in Madison, Wis. But in his teens, he didn’t really have any career aspirations.

“I probably thought I would go into the military,” he said, because his family had a “storied history” in the military. “I knew something good would happen, but I didn’t know what it was.”

By the time he graduated from high school, he was at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

He quickly joined the U.S. Marine Corps -- while a war was waging in Vietnam. After basic training and a stint in Cuba, he was sent as an infantryman to Vietnam.

“My dad was over there at the same time,” he said. “I had to sign a waiver.”

His father wanted him to join the Air Force, but he chose the Marines for a couple of different reasons. No one else in his family had served in the Marines, and he liked that the Marines declared they never leave a man behind.

His two-year military career also was life shaping.

“To be a young person in Vietnam was quite an experience,” he said. “It was hard ... but I learned a lot. A lot of my leadership training came out of that. You talk about accountability, you talk about team building, talk about trust and you talk about communications and talk about the appreciation for diversity ... all those things are so important to a team in a combat situation. So, at an early age we had to learn all of that and believe in ourselves. All those values that corporations now espouse, we really had to embrace those at a young age and live by them -- the penalty for not was real high.”

Career ladder took Dyer around the country

When Dyer got out of the Marines, he enrolled in college and during his senior year he interned at the economic and community development office for the city of Annapolis, Md., and later was hired there. He was a bartender at night.

But he didn’t stay long. After realizing he could make more money, he joined some friends in Fort Lauderdale tending bar and waiting tables.

During the next few years, Dyer held a number of interesting jobs.

“I hitchhiked to Alaska to work on the Alaska pipeline because I heard that’s where all the money was,” he said. “That’s back when there were no jobs. (Mortgage) interest rates were 22 percent.”

When he got to Fairbanks, Alaska, he discovered he had to be a member of the union and that 10,000 people were on the waiting list for pipeline jobs.

“I realized the chances of me getting a job on the pipeline were slim to none, and slim left a couple of days ago,” he said, laughing. “And, it was really cold there, so I went south to Anchorage.”

Dyer got a job with the city of Anchorage in its human resource department, running a federally funded training and recruitment program.

“The first day at work, there was a line of people literally around the block,” he said. “They told me, ‘They are here to see you. You have to interview them all.’ I didn’t have any idea how to interview anybody. I just winged it.”

He hired people for the police department, fire department and public works for mostly temporary positions.

Dyer was paid about $14,000 a year, “and I thought I was rich.” He stayed there about 10 years.

He was next hired as head of the human relations department for Duty Free Shoppers Ltd., an international retail company that operates duty-free stores at airports.

“So I took that position at the city, which I didn’t know anything about, and then became head of HR for this international retail company, which I didn’t know anything about either,” he said. “I had to do payroll. I didn’t know how to process payroll.”

He was with the company about 12 years, getting promoted and transferred to Hawaii, where he got a master’s degree in business administration at the same time.

He was then recruited by a large bank in Anchorage, Alaska, as senior vice president for human resources, and he was there about two years before the bank was acquired by another bank, and he was transferred to Seattle, Wash.

He and a partner then opened a consulting business called the Antares Group in Seattle. They primarily did customer care training for businesses. After nearly three years, one of their clients, Aetna Insurance, offered them jobs in Hartford, Conn., where Dyer did leadership training.

Cox Communications then recruited him to go to Atlanta to head up training for Cox, where he stayed for about five years until he was asked to take over the position in Macon for the company’s Middle Georgia operation. He worked there 11 years.

In mid-2010, Cox went through a realignment, which eliminated some executive positions, including Dyer’s. He could have stayed with Cox, but he would have had to relocate.

“I wasn’t ready to leave Macon, retirement was available, and I said why not,” he said. “The company was changing, the culture was changing, and it was time for me to move on. You never want to overstay your welcome. Mom taught me that early in life.”

As part of his job with Cox, Dyer had become involved with the Macon chamber early on.

“The chamber intrigued me as a way to help businesses grow and how to recruit businesses in, and I thought that was helpful for Cox, too,” he said. “I thought it was something important.”

Dyer led chamber projects early on

While Dyer was still with Cox, he didn’t just become a chamber member, he eventually became chairman of the organization, and he helped lead several significant efforts.

In 2003, he headed the chamber’s fundraising efforts for the 21st Century Partnership, the nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping Robins Air Force Base off the chopping block.

In 2005, Dyer was the campaign chairman for the chamber’s Macon Now -- a five-year, $2.5 million initiative aimed at improving the local business climate. A year later, the campaign had raised $2.6 million and had received pledges of about $800,000 of in-kind services.

The second round of Macon Now is under way, and while more than $2 million has been raised, the chamber “still has a couple of pieces of that we’re working on.”

Mike Ford, president and CEO of NewTown Macon, said Dyer has many of the attributes needed to lead the chamber.

“He builds coalitions and finds a solution for the community,” Ford said. “One other thing that is attractive in that position, is that at Cox (Dyer) looked at a more regional approach and so he thinks of the regional approach at the chamber.

“We are very enthusiastic about economic development under his leadership.”

Dyer has served as chairman of the Macon Economic Development Commission and on the board of the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority. He also led the effort to try to save the Georgia sports and music halls of fame. He continues to serve on numerous boards, including the Museum of Aviation Foundation and the Tubman African American Museum.

So, coming into his current position with the chamber, he knew a lot about it, but he still faced a big learning curve.

“Every job I’ve ever taken has been a stretch for me and I learned during my career that everybody is afraid when they first take that big move,” he said. “If I had stayed in my comfort zone and only did things I was comfortable with, I would have never had the jobs and career I have had. ... I was always willing to move and I was always willing to take on new responsibility and have the firm belief that I could learn it and do it.

“So, coming into the chamber role was the same,” he said.

“I came in here and it was like overwhelming -- I was drinking out of the fire hose. But like anything else, if you just hunker in and you practice good leadership skills, practice good management skills, and you learn from the people around, you start to pick up what’s happening and how the business operates.”

He’s not crazy about one aspect of his position: asking people for money.

“I’m always fundraising,” he said. “I’m making calls and asking for money.”

He also fields a lot of opinions about what the chamber should be doing.

“You can’t satisfy everybody,” he said. “You have to pick the areas that make the biggest impact. ... People can get disappointed ... and I like to meet everyone’s needs.”

But he’s excited about his position and enjoys the variety and scope of the job, which includes working on community strategy, Robins Air Force Base encroachment issues, consolidation and the needs of small businesses.

“So, I’ve been excited about it. I really enjoy the ability to give back and, to me, even though I’m the president and CEO, it still feels like a volunteer job -- that I’m doing something good for this community.”

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