Fresh Focus: 2021 Chamber Chairman
What are your thoughts on where the city is now? It’s changing, and in a good way. There is positive momentum following the passage of the MPS ad valorem tax referendum, and we’re definitely moving in the right direction on that front and others.
We know you were heavily involved in the ad valorem referendum. Can you explain why you were so passionate about it? I love Montgomery. We are fantastic city with so much greatness. That’s why I’m here. But Montgomery and its population have suffered from not having a strong public school system. It has gotten stagnant in terms of growth, and more people have been leaving. I don’t want to watch us lose residents, lose businesses and lose opportunities because of education. I want to see the opposite, and to attract people to move to Montgomery and to recruit industry, we must have a strong public school option. It’s good for residents and for the business community. I want to help, and that’s why one reason I’m serving as Chamber Chairman.
But it’s not just about that. On a personal level, I just believe it’s the right thing to do, and I came to the realization a few years ago that we needed to do more, that I needed to do more. There are 28,000 kids in MPS, and without getting a good education and good training, I don’t believe that they are getting a real shot at the American dream. And I’m not okay with that. We have an obligation to care for and develop all Montgomerians. We have the resources to do it. Now, we’ve chosen to provide those resources. Montgomery will be successful when all Montgomerians are successful.
What do you think the referendum’s passage means for education in Montgomery? It is a real chance to turn this system around and to provide an education for our children that we can be proud of.
Outside of education, what are your hopes and goals for the city? Growth, both in population and in thoughts and ideas. Only by uniting and fighting together for our city can our city be truly great. I see more unity and understanding already, and that’s a good predictor of success.
What is the No. 1 challenge Montgomery faces, and what are your thoughts on surmounting it? The perception that Montgomery is not a progressive city. If we fight to do the right thing for all the people of Montgomery, we will change this notion for the better.
Montgomery has new leadership, the Chamber has new leadership, you are bringing a fresh perspective to the Chairmanship this year. What are your thoughts on Montgomery’s new leadership and the direction of the city? As I said before, bringing all the various aspects and parts of our city together is crucial. We are one Montgomery, and this city will rise and fall based on how we ALL do. We have to understand how our fates are all connected and work with that always in mind, or we will not prosper. The good news is, with new leadership and continued support and partnership of the City, County and state legislative delegation, there is a true, real opportunity for us to have increased unity. The Chamber is pushing for that. I really like the new energy I feel and believe it shows we are poised for real progress.
As you have become more involved in the Chamber, have you been surprised by anything, such as the breadth and depth of the mission and how the organization works behind the scenes on so many fronts? I was amazed by the quality and dedication of the Chamber team. Anna Buckalew’s [Chamber CEO] experience and leadership is very inspiring. They are working on so many crucial issues – City, County, State, Federal, Air Force, tourism, public education, recruiting industry. There are a lot of balls in the air every day. What they are doing is very impressive and makes it easy to want to get involved to help.
Why are you and your company so involved in and supportive of the Chamber? My grandfather instilled in all of our family that Montgomery was the reason for our success, and that we must give back to the community that had been so generous to us. He was actually Chamber president in 1958. I’ve grown up with that mindset he taught me, and I believe the Chamber offers its members so many great ways to connect and engage, so for me, supporting the Chamber and now serving in this role, is a great way to live up to that.
New Chamber Chairman John Yelverton is a numbers guy, usually busy going over costs and other figures as a function of running his company, Dixie Electric, Plumbing and Air. But he believes there’s no formula for success that doesn’t include people; he’s learned from experience that investing in them guarantees a positive return. It’s why he and his business partner, his brother Noble, have continued and expanded the company culture they learned from their grandfather, a tenet that’s really an extension of the Golden Rule.
“Noble and I get our attitude on this from our grandfather,” Yelverton said. “He ran this company for 60 years and was a true Southern gentleman, very involved in his community and committed to giving back.” When Yelverton started with the family company, he worked alongside his grandfather and took the example he set to heart. “Watching him interact with our guys, seeing him do the right things by them and by customers and earning their trust, taught Noble and me how to run a business right,” he said.
Today, “running it right” starts with the environment in Dixie’s office. “The atmosphere is pretty light and casual,” Yelverton said. “I can tell how successful we will be by how much laughing I hear. Mean, grouchy people can’t provide good customer service.”
But it’s not all fun and games. Dixie puts a premium on empowering its employees with access to resources and for both personal and professional growth. “We are always trying to put back into the individual and make them better workers, spouses, parents, friends and just better overall people so they can help others,” Yelverton said.
Once a week, Yelverton oversees an informal leadership training session, sending an article or podcast to his team. “It’s usually something focused on how to be your best, how to hold yourself accountable,” he said. “Then we gather to discuss it. I think our people get a lot out of that.”
Dixie also created its own electrical apprenticeship program with a purpose that’s two-fold. First, in-house training ensures the company always has the workforce it needs. But the four-year program is not just protecting the company’s interests. It’s serving its employees too, giving them the chance to advance in their careers, all at no cost to them. “It’s free for our people, and any of them can get into it,” Yelverton said.
Employees participating learn from the company’s in-house teacher one night a week for four hours onsite at the office. “Some of these folks, they’ve maybe never had anyone put real resources into them, and they get really excited about doing this,” Yelverton said. “They see that we really do care about helping not just the company succeed but about helping them succeed too. That’s powerful.”
Yelverton calls his company one “big family,” and his actions speak as loudly as his words through company initiatives like its participation in the Marketplace Chaplains Program, a national group that provides chaplains to workplaces. “For many reasons, fewer people are getting to churches on Sundays, so having these chaplains right here gives our people someone to talk to, a place to get some spiritual guidance,” Yelverton said, “and they develop really great relationships with our folks.”
He’s constantly forging relationships too by keeping the lines of communication always open. “Every time we hire a new employee, they get my card with my cell number circled on it,” he said. “I tell them to call me any time they want to about anything, professional matters, family stuff, whatever.”
This emphasis on treating people — employees and customers — right is paying off. “Everything we’re doing is contributing to happier employees, and why wouldn’t you want that? It spreads and has real positive impact across the company,” Yelverton said. “When you treat people right, it comes back to you. We feel that better people provide superior service to our clients and that will encourage clients to call us again and again. This attitude overall has helped the company grow.”
And grow it has. When Yelverton went to work at Dixie Electric with his grandfather, the company had 15 electricians. It now has 175 employees. “We’ve quadrupled in the last five years,” Yelverton said.
Advancing his family company and sustaining its legacy is rewarding, but the philosophy that drives Dixie brings Yelverton personal fulfillment too. “It’s really exciting to me to watch these folks come to work here and progress and gain new skills and do new things,” he said. “I enjoy watching them grow as individuals and know we were a part of that. That’s what it is all about, making a difference in people’s lives.”
Dixie Electric, Plumbing and Air was founded in 1908 by John’s great-grandfather, Peter Crump. Then, John’s grandfather Noble Crump ran the business for 60-plus years. John graduated from the University of Alabama in mechanical engineering in 1984 and came home to work with his grandfather, who retired a few years later. John has now worked for Dixie for 36 years, starting in the summers at age 15, doing, “basically everything that no one else wanted to do.” John’s brother Noble joined him in the company in 1989, and today, the family duo works in tandem to serve Dixie’s diverse array of customers. John oversees the company’s commercial services, construction department, industrial services and Dixie Warehouse Solutions, while Noble is in charge of all the residential electrical, plumbing and air services.