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Tips From The Top: One On One With Dr. Joel N. Myers

I spoke to Dr. Joel N. Myers, Founder, CEO and Chairman of AccuWeather, about his journey and best advice

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Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Joel: I have known I have wanted to be a weather forecaster since I was seven. When I was 11, I told my dad I was going to combine my burning desire to be a weather forecaster with my developing entrepreneurial spirit (I had a paper route and some other little businesses I started) as a means of starting my own weather business. I started gathering instruments for a do-it-yourself weather station at home and calling my weather reports into the National Weather Service (then the U.S. Weather Bureau) and a local television station that would actually put my snow reports on the air and mention my name, so as a high school student, I began building my reputation – it was a thrill to be known and recognized by my peers and in my neighborhood this way.  

I used to get up early in wintertime to listen to the radio because I wanted to know when the next snowstorm was coming; in those days, when you listened early, you could hear the stations that were farther away. I listened to the stations throughout the country, following the weather pattern and the reports of the best meteorologist in each city.

I was able to piece together the weather map in my head. I had figured it all out because I did not have a map. So, I had figured out the schedule of broadcasters and would lay in bed from 5:30 am until I had to get moving for school around 7:00 am; I jumped from one radio station to another, knowing that maybe at 5:52 am I could listen to a station out of Cincinnati and at 5:54 am, another station out of Chicago. 

At that time, there were no real-time weather maps available to anyone; even  NWS created maps and sent them out by fax to individual local offices, often 2-3 hours after the gathering the actual data. So in my own head I was able to put the weather information together faster by listening to these radio stations and coming up with a composite weather map, which would allow me to develop a  forecast for Philadelphia. If you are familiar with the popular Netflix series, The Queen’s Gambit, Beth, the main character, a chess prodigy, was able to picture the chess board on the ceiling, which is similar to what I was doing in developing these forecasts.  Many times, I was able to beat the government’s forecast accuracy – even at the age of 12, 13 and 14.

Adam: ​How did you get here? ​What experiences, failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Joel: As I started what eventually became AccuWeather, I faced the most difficult business challenge one can imagine with resistance from every conceivable area. My main competitor, the U.S. government, gave its product away for free! Therefore, I had to convince prospective customers that we could bring much more value to their businesses than the fee I was charging them. 

In the early days, weather forecasts left much to be desired and only extended for today, tonight, and tomorrow. The government did issue a 3- to 5-day general outlook, but only twice per week; I issued a specific 5-day forecast for any location the client wanted each day. 

Trying to convince prospective clients to pay me for weather forecasts, I had to explain that I could be more accurate, more detailed and would provide a forecast that extended further ahead, was easier to understand and was prepared using the best information.

You cannot imagine the level of rejection I experienced. My “never quit” mentality included calling 25,000 business prospects and being told “no” 24,900 times. To build my business, I had to work very long hours – sometimes 42 straight hours during snowstorms.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Joel: Leadership begins with leading by example and effectively communicating your expectations and values clearly and often to everyone in the organization and doing so from their first day on the job. Telling your employees what you want to accomplish, what is expected of them, treating them with respect and helping them understand the value of their position and how they contribute to the overall result helps inspire them to reach their and the company’s goals.

And as we have grown and continue to succeed, openness, transparency and authenticity of leadership facilitate a corporate culture throughout AccuWeather of what I call ICE™ — innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. I also emphasize accepting personal ownership for results, assessing things constantly and asking what needs to be done and how something can be improved, and then not quitting until the desired outcome is achieved. 

It is key to know your business, keep focused and do not quit. But as evidence appears that causes an evolution or course change in the goal, after it is evaluated and makes sense, do it. Do not be so focused on a goal that you are not willing to pivot.  At AccuWeather we continually ask, “How can I make a positive difference?”  “How can we succeed?” This combined with innovation and a “can-do,” “get-it-done” mindset and collaboration has yielded the best results.  Still, we must keep sharpening our skills and everyone needs to be engaged.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Joel:   

  1. Sieze opportunity.  Recognize a problem or opportunity and focus on solving it.  
  2. Take ownership. Take ownership of the challenge and drive the improvement to success. Do not quit until you succeed.
  3. Think creatively.  Determine new and better ways to do things and then put them into action. If the first idea does not work, try again.

Adam: What is your best advice on building, leading and managing teams?  

Joel: Teamwork is key.  As General Patton said, “When all of the links in the chain pull together… the chain becomes unbreakable.”  I could not have built this business alone. For 58 years, I have been blessed by many committed, loyal people who have helped AccuWeather achieve greatness, and in so doing they got promoted into positions of greater responsibilities and have had opportunities they never dreamed of.  

All things being equal, we prefer to promote from within, and I recommend other leaders do the same. I have had the honor of working alongside many who have devoted their entire professional careers to AccuWeather.  Together we have done it with enthusiasm, energy, passion for our mission to save lives and protect property – and, for the most part, we have had fun.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?    

Joel: Work together to get better each and every day.  You either make progress or you slip. If you improve on something by 1% each day for 365 days, at the end of one year you would be 38 times better than you were to begin with – 38 times! Conversely, if you lose 1% each day you are 3% of what you were or 97% worse.  

So, in applying this to your work or anything you want to do in life, when you are trying to achieve or perfect a certain skill, if you improve 1% a day or if you lose capability of 1% a day, that is a difference of 1,260 times, and I think that is extraordinary. 

Adam: ​What is one thing everyone should do to pay it forward?  

Joel: You need to contribute to improve the world in some way or another.  Choose how and what you will do based on your passions and use the platforms you have created to advance meaningful improvements and serve as a model for others.

I have had the opportunity to give back to my alma mater Penn State University, which as has meant so much to me. I would not have been able to create AccuWeather without the great education and mentorship I received there; In addition to giving back to the wonderful education I received from Penn State. Among the number of gifts I have given to the university is the Joel N. Myers Weather Center, I served on the Board of Trustees for over 30 years and I have continued to serve as Trustee Emeritus for the past seven years. I am also profoundly interested in promoting STEM education, which is why I made a gift to sustain the Discovery Space of State College, PA, where AccuWeather is headquartered. 

I founded the Dads’ Resource Center, which promotes the well-being and healthy development of children from separated or divorced families by advocating for fathers to be fully and actively engaged in the lives of their sons and daughters. I am a long-term supporter of the American Cancer Society and a number of other causes, including Toys for Tots and the local food bank, which was in dire need due to the COVID crisis. 

Adam: ​What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you as a leader?    

Joel: On the weekends, you can find me spending time with my family, watching sports, managing my coin collection and catching up on my work. 

I am proud to have raised seven great children, and I enjoy spending time with them, their spouses and my grandchildren; each of my children has honed his or her work ethic by contributing to AccuWeather in some capacity. Beyond my family, I manage my investments, run a hedge fund for family and friends, and I have several books in development. 

I am also an avid Penn State sports fan, particularly football. Since I arrived on campus as a sophomore in 1958, I have only missed six home football games. I am proud of having personally provided detailed weather forecasts for some of Penn States’ football coaches since 1966, and the one-for-all values of sports and teamwork directly parallel with business; I am the proud coach of an incredible team.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Joel: As AccuWeather nears our 60th anniversary, I hope our company – and my advice to other leaders – would be to never stop embracing change and transforming. AccuWeather has experienced growth 55 out of 58 of our years in business by continually evolving and transforming ourselves many times over from a company that sold tailored weather forecasts to utilities and ski areas to the most accurate weather and digital media company whose brand is known and trusted everywhere in the world.

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