GRAND RAPIDS — Jeff Meyers, owner of BlueSky Ventures, hadn’t intended to apply his degree in business administration to the field of information technology, but today he’s glad that’s the way it happened to work out.
“I kind of fell into IT during the recession of the ’90s,” he recalled.
When the recession hit, Meyers was involved in sales for several companies, including MCI, which was selling a brand new product called Internet Access.
“I got to sell the first versions of Internet Access and that sort of thing to business clients. MCI laid off 5,000 people across the nation, and I was one of them. So I looked around and decided to get into IT.”
His first real job in the IT trenches was as a “corporate tester” for Foremost Insurance, a job that centered on quality assurance and project management.
Foremost was very tightly integrated with IBM, and the IBM project methodology the company had was “just incredible” and made it very easy to manage a project plan, he said.
He later took a job as a contractor through Computer Task Group, which has a small office in Grand Rapids. That led to some contract work for Steelcase Inc. that gave him more project management responsibilities and got him involved in looking at code and functionality, as well.
An opportunity arose at Steelcase, and Meyers was hired in December 1995 to fill the newly created position of “project leader” in charge of a team in the Product Data Management Department. His group created IT sales tools — applications that designers and dealers could use for space planning for office furniture.
Meyers also was very involved in Steelcase’s “lean-in-the-office” initiative, which was an effort to apply lean manufacturing practices to the office setting.
“There were a lot of different business processes that we evaluated and re-engineered,” he noted.
Basically, what he did was run a small business in product data management inside of Steelcase, he explained. At the time he was hired, Steelcase was starting the first in a series of layoffs.
“So the business changed dramatically, where there were more and more and more responsibilities,” Meyers said about the period. “If you’ve got a project but don’t have a marketing person, you learn how to market pretty fast. If you don’t have a technical support person, you learn how to write a couple lines of code very fast.”
Meyers decided he could either continue to work for Steelcase or he could do the same kind of work for other people, gain a broader range of experience beyond the furniture manufacturing industry and, perhaps, make more money, too.
“I had all of these skills, and whenever I would talk to people about my future direction, they’d suggest I start my own business.”
So six months ago he did just that with the launch of BlueSky Ventures, a project management company that offers a variety of tech services, including training, technical writing, quality assurance, public relations and sales.
“The whole focus is to look at the ways that businesses operate in the IT arena and find ways to help them operate a little more efficiently — streamline some things and maybe re-engineer some processes.”
One of Meyers’ largest projects at this time is commission work he’s doing for Pfizer in Kalamazoo, where he’s decommissioning a dozen of the company’s older systems while a new master system is being installed.
BlueSky Ventures targets the small to mid-size companies in the West Michigan market. As he sees it, the mid-market is where the fun challenges come in. A large company can make small tweaks in its system, but it takes time to see the results and the actual payback, he said. But a mid-market company can make small tweaks and see major results almost immediately.
“The neat thing is actually seeing the payoff. As you get closer to the end date of a project, it feels good because you can almost see the success, you can see the end line.”
One of the things Meyers won’t do is send work overseas.
“I just feel that that’s not doing us any good. I’d rather use somebody in West Michigan even if it’s a couple dollars more expensive.”
Eventually, Meyers would like to have several office locations staffed with people that do the same things he does right now. When he reaches that point, he’d like to transition to account executive and spend his time drumming up business for the firm.
Meyers was appointed president of GlimaWest in November 2004, after three years of serving on the organization’s board of directors. During his two-year tenure as president, he’s helping to take the organization back to its roots.
“One of the things I really thought we needed to do as a group was to get back to our original focus, which was that of being an organization that is more concerned with networking than with teaching people new programming skills,” he explained. “We obviously do educational events, but we don’t want to get so focused on one thing that we lose the mass audience.”
He and the GlimaWest board also are making an effort to balance the membership of the organization so large and small firms are represented more equally.
“We want to give our members every opportunity to network with a broad range of organizations,” he said.