Episode 42: Mindy Perkins

 In How I Got Here with Dave Fiore

In this episode, host Dave Fiore speaks with Mindy Perkins, CEO of VR Systems, a Tallahassee-based elections technology company focused on voter registration. Mindy’s experience as an elementary school teacher and customer service representative was an untraditional but effective training ground for helping the company ride the wave of sweeping changes to the system following the 2000 presidential election.

Her journey from a folding table in the founders’ living room to the CEO suite has included onsite innovations after a devastating hurricane and being at the center of a Russian attempt to disrupt our elections in 2016. Today, Mindy leads an employee-owned company with a national presence at the very heart of our democracy.

transcript

Dave: I’m Dave Fiore and in this episode I speak with Mindy Perkins, the CEO of VR Systems, a Tallahassee based elections technology company, focused on voter registration. Mindy’s experience as an elementary school teacher and customer service representative was an untraditional, but effective training ground for helping the company ride the wave of sweeping changes to the system, following the 2000 presidential election. Her journey from a folding table in the founder’s living room to the CEO suite has included onsite innovations after a devastating hurricane in being in the center of a Russian attempt to disrupt our elections in 2016. Today, Mindy leads an employee-owned company with a national presence at the very heart of our democracy. We began our conversation talking about growing up in Pinellas County.

Mindy: A pretty normal childhood, it feels like, my mom was a stay-at-home mom, worked her tail off to support us in the school and volunteered. She was always at the elementary school, doing stuff, and my older sister, she’s four and a half years older than I, so we were in elementary school. There was an overlap of a year or two, but my younger sister is so much younger. I was almost out of the house by the time she was, you know, she was 9. And so she was raised as an almost as an only child. I went away to college when I was 17. And so she kind of had the run of the house there for a while. But yeah, pretty, pretty normal childhood.

Dave: Did you know after high school what your plans were? Did you have firm plans on what you wanted to do?

Mindy: From an early age, I wanted to be a teacher. I remember thinking that as early as third grade, I had a, I had a third grade teacher, Mr. Abernathy, who was amazing, just caring, just loved what he was doing. From that age on, I said, I want to do that. I want to be a teacher. And so I went, I went to college and got my undergrad in elementary education with a double major in sociology, so fully intended to become a teacher, so that was in Illinois the college I went to.

Dave: So how did you end up in Illinois for college? It’s a Christian college, small liberal arts school. I went to go visit my senior year and fell in love with it. It’s right near St. Louis. It’s right on the Mississippi River, just a beautiful place, really liked the small nature of it, really like the education program. It was very immersive, pretty much all four years. You were in a classroom, you know, learning how to be a teacher, learning what it was like to be a teacher. And I learned a lot. So that’s how I ended up out there.

Dave: Did you enjoy your college year? Were those fun years for you?

Mindy: Oh, yeah, yeah. I met my best friend on pretty much the first, the first week we were there, the freshman were moving into the dorm and doing something in my dorm room. And I hear my mom talking to somebody, so I go out in the hallway and she’s talking to another mom. And they’re talking about their daughters and, oh, my daughter does this and so myself and the other daughter met in the hallway and we’ve been best friends ever since.

Dave: That’s great. All right, so after you graduate, you get a teaching job in St. Louis, right?

Mindy: Yeah, the school that I did my student teaching at, new city school in St. Louis, it’s an independent private independent school, amazing place. They teach the multiple intelligences, so they really focus on all the different ways of learning. And it’s not just reading or writing or arithmetic. It’s bodily kinesthetic and interpersonal and intrapersonal. And so I did my student teaching there and just fell in love with the curriculum and the teachers and the place. So after I graduated, I did summer camp, you know, as a summer camp counselor and I was essentially a full-time sub for them for two years.

Dave: So you moved around to different grades, different classes?

Mindy: I knew pretty much all the kids in the school. I was in every grade, different grades, sometimes I was in there for a couple days or whatever, but loved the place, really wanted to get a full-time teaching position and wasn’t offered one after two years and that was very disheartening. And that’s when I was like, maybe, you know, I didn’t have a solid foundation there, not a ton of Friends because most of my friends had moved away after college. And I said, okay, so that’s when I moved to Tallahassee in 98.

Dave: Okay. All right, so did you come to Tallahassee to join to be near your family or did you come here for graduate school?

Mindy: I came to be, I needed that connection with people. I had the people I was working with in St. Louis, but I considered either moving out to Portland, Oregon, where my best friend was living, who was newly married, or moving back, not moving back. I hadn’t lived in Tallahassee. So moving to Tallahassee. So I moved here because my family was here. You know, my sister let me live with her for the summer when I came back and while I was looking for a teaching job. And so yeah, I needed that cushion.

Dave: Right. Okay, so you did get a job. You taught at Crestview.

Mindy: Crestview Independent School. Yes. It is no longer with us. It hasn’t been with us a very long time.

Dave: All right, is that school similar to the one in St. Louis?

Mindy: It was, it was a private independent school, and that’s probably where the similarities end. I did look for a teaching job in public schools. I went on many, many interviews, but I didn’t stand out. I was a young newly minted teacher, certified teacher, and there were a lot of us back then. The independent school, they hired me, and it was a four-room school. Four classes. And it went all the way through high school. So it started in Pre-K went all the way through high school. So I I taught grades one, two, and three.

Dave: Which were all together?

Mindy: All together. And we had a lot of students that didn’t make it in the public schools, so they had special needs or behavior problems or you name it.

Dave: So it’s an alternative, it’s an option if public schools is not working out.

Mindy: That’s what it was, yeah. So I had all levels all behavior issues and got paid very, very little, and we were there from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. So we did the before school. We did the school. We did the after school. We did everything at the school. We cleaned, we cooked lunch.

Dave: It was not a typical teaching experience, right?

Mindy: No, teaching was just one of the things we did. And yeah, I did summer camp.

Dave: I saw you were the yearbook person too.

Mindy: I forgot about that.

Dave: That was that was on your resume. And that’s always like the coolest teacher does the yearbook.

Mindy: Or the one who’s the most creative or organized? I’m not sure. Yeah, yes, that was something I put together a completely forgot about that.

Dave: So, then I imagine there’s some burnout involved there, right? I mean, that’s asking a lot of somebody to do all that.

Mindy: It was a lot. At that same time, I met the man who is now my husband. We started dating. He got a job in Arkansas and we got engaged and he was still in Arkansas and I was here in Tallahassee and we were trying to figure out if I was going to move there or he was going to move back here. And so, I didn’t want to start a third school year by going, well, I may only do the first half of the school year so I left there. It really was not that hard of a decision. I really did like the people I was working with, but that was, you know, that was not enough reason to keep me there. The school folded about two years later, I think.

Dave: It’s because you left.

Mindy: I wouldn’t say that, but it was a lot and not everybody could handle it. And it was really hard to do for even those two years. So I left Crestview and got a job with the state, worked with the bright futures scholarship program in their customer service department. That was challenging. I had started the master’s program at FSU in the education department around that time and when I was still at Crestview and was finishing it up when I was at the state. You get a lot of upset students, upset parents saying where’s my scholarship?

Dave: Yeah, any time in a customer service role.

Mindy: Yeah, so I was working at the state, do you want me to tell you the VR story?

Dave: Yeah, I want to know how I’m very interested in how that happened. And you were their first employee, right?

Mindy: So technically, yes…

Dave: I want to hear the whole thing.

Mindy: So Jane and David Watson, the founders of VR Systems. They founded the company in 1992. And so they got their first customer in 1993, which is Leon county, which is our home county here. Ion Sancho gave a chance to the small new company and we haven’t looked back. There’s still a very happy customer. The time period we’re talking about is right after the 2000 election. The 2000 election was a tumultuous time in elections.

Dave: The hanging chads.

Mindy: Hanging chads, you know, Florida had the spotlight on it for how well or poorly it was running an election.

Dave: Right, Tallahassee, the Supreme Court, the whole world was here.

Mindy: The whole thing I tell the story about downtown Tallahassee had the power cords on the one way road going past the Supreme Court building and they were speed bumps and you had to go over it. And those aren’t normally there. We don’t normally have all of those media trucks lining that road.

Dave: Well, my wife and I were at the festival of lights, the Christmas festival. And we would, you know, we were down there and it’s all that happens right there on Monroe Street.

Mindy: Right.

Dave: In the middle of the whole thing, they were pouring out of the courthouse and cameras everywhere. I mean, was happening in real time, right in front of our eyes.

Mindy: Before I tell the VR story, I have a story. My husband and I got married December 16th of 2000. So right around the time that you’re talking about, and we had to go get our marriage license at the courthouse that just so happened to be the day that the ballots were being delivered from Palm Beach to the courthouse here in Tallahassee so that they could be observed and all of that. There were armed guards and helicopters and it was a big media circus, right? And security concern that somebody was going to affect those ballots.

Dave: Right.

Mindy: And so, we’re just trying to get to the marriage license office. and we’re walking down the courthouse hallway and somebody stops us. He’s got a, I don’t know what kind of gun it was, right? But he stops. And he says, you can’t go that way. And we could see the door. We said, we just need to get our, you know, we’re not here to, you do what you need to do, but we just want to get marriage license office.

Dave: Right.

Mindy: So as we’re standing there, we were watching the carts and carts of ballots that were going and being put into the Leon County Supervisors storage, right? And so those had to go by and they had to be secured by the time so that we could walk down the hallway to get our marriage license. So I was like, and I wasn’t even in elections at the time. So, I have an elections story that we just want to get our marriage license.

Dave: It was a crazy time.

Mindy: We are not a risk, I promise. So after all that, there was still a lot of figuring out to do what needed to be done to professionalize elections to have more standardization in elections. And so there were lots of laws passed, which is always the case. A lot of legislation. One of the efforts that the Florida supervisor of elections did was they focused on more continuity, more professionalism. And that meant that they needed upgraded systems. Whether it was ballot counting devices or software, some of them were really kind of behind the times, not kind of. Some of them were very behind the times on their voter registration system and kind of their behind-the-scenes system. At that same time, we had VR Systems had Jane and David connected with a gentleman who had been in elections for over 30 years, had great contacts in elections. Anyway, the three of them connected together and so Dale Woodruff started reaching out to his friends in elections saying, hey, you really need to look at this VR Systems system. It’s a modern system. It’s been running in Leon County and all these things. Because at the time of the 2000 election, we had 12 customers, VR Systems had 12 customers. With all of this focus on VR Systems, it was at that point it was just Jane and David. Jane was running the company. She was customer support. She was training. She was testing. She was doing all this and David was writing the software. Jane and David needed help. Well, Jane and David are family friends of ours. And they kind of were looking up and going, we need help. So they came to me and said, hey, do you want to can we go to dinner? Jane was out of town, probably installing at a county. And so David Watson and my husband and I went to dinner. We went and had Chinese somewhere. So he’s just talking about the company and what’s going on, and he says, with your background in teaching, you know, we’d like you to consider joining the company. We need help. Jay needs help. A big part of the role is training. It’s customer support, you know, you work with people all the time. And he says, you know, I don’t know what the company is going to be in 5 years. But we need help now. And I was like, hmmm, so I went home and at the time it was a harder decision than it probably should have been.

Dave: So you were working at the state?

Mindy: I was working at the state. Not loving it.

Dave: Here’s an opportunity to work with family friends.

Mindy: It was taking a risk.

Dave: Sure, yeah.

Mindy: It was taking a risk and I said, well, what do I know? What do I know about elections? I don’t know anything about elections. And didn’t really know a lot about technology. That wasn’t my background, and it was relatively new to me. You know, I had used computers but that was about it. I said, but I’m not afraid of them, right? So, I said yes, and I joined them the end of April of 2001.

Dave: That was a long decision-making process. I thought about it for 20 years. I’m ready.

Mindy: It’s now time.

Dave: Let’s go.

Mindy: Oh gosh. So, 2001, I joined, I joined the company.

Dave: So you came in as customer service? And so I think we all have those moments sometimes where you leave a familiar situation and then you join something new and your sitting there on that first day.

Mindy: Yeah.

Dave: I mean, sometimes it’s like, what did I do? Other times, it’s like this is so awesome. What was your experience those first couple days?

Mindy: The first couple days were very much what is this? What did I get myself into? I think that first week, Jane was traveling and she was installing at a new county. So David and I, they were working out of their home, you know, I knew where they lived, so I showed up at their house at 8:30 or whatever and knocked on the door and I think I had a folding table and a chair and we were in their living room. You know, Jane’s desk was there and my table was there. And so I said, well, what do I, what do I do? They had me answer the phone and take messages. And very quickly, it became much more than that. But essentially, since I didn’t know anything about the system, I was just a friendly voice and say, okay, I can do that. After being there one month, I was onsite in Nassau County, which is near Jacksonville implementing the system on my own. So, I learned a lot in the first month.

Dave: Let’s talk about what the system is. What are we talking about? What was VR Systems at that time?

Mindy: Right. VR Systems at that time had one product. It serves the elections offices, very behind the scenes, registering voters, checking petitions. I’m trying to think back 20 years ago because the system has grown and expanded so much. But when you’re at a fair and somebody says, hey, can you sign this petition for some initiative or a candidate is running for office? Hey, you know, I want to get on the ballot. So those petitions get bundled up and sent to the election’s office and in the elections office has to check and make sure that you are registered. You are registered in the district of that candidate is running in. That you haven’t already signed the petition. Those kinds of behind the scenes things. They check your signature, all of those things. As Dave, a registered voter who can sign this petition. So that’s one example of the system. Registering voters. So you fill out a voter registration application. I want to be registered to vote in Leon County. You fill out your name and your address and all of that information. That gets submitted to the elections office. And there’s somebody there entering that information, typing it in. So where they’re typing in is our system. There’s many other components of it printing labels for vote-by-mail envelopes. You know, Dave has requested a vote by mail envelope. He’s in this district, so it means he gets this ballot, right? That has the correct races on it. Back in those days it was a label that was put on an envelope and it was mailed to you.

Dave: Right.

Mindy: That’s another component of it.

Dave: Right. Okay. So what was obviously you started answering the phones at a folding table. There were a lot of, I assume there were a lot of steps between that and CEO. So unless they were liked, hey, you know what? You are great at that.

Mindy: I think you should be with that phone…

Dave: You should be the CEO. So just kind of quickly, what did that path look like? And I guess in the context too of how the company was growing and how those different roles changed over the years.

Mindy: Pretty quickly. I was hired in 2001. And about 6 months later we hired an additional support person. And as we hired additional people, we grew out of their home. We moved into an office. As we hired more people, I became the manager of those people because I knew the system, and they thought that I could do the job. So I kind of managed those people in that space. Between the time I was hired in and then about two years later, we brought on 36 customers in 18 months. So we had to grow very, very quickly. We added staff, but it was we were on the road all the time. Very seldom were we in the office. So very quickly by 2000-2003, the end of 2003, we had, I don’t know, we might have had ten employees developers, customer support people. So during that time, you know, my skills are my management skills ’cause I hadn’t really managed anybody before then, you know, teachers manage kids, but it’s a different thing.

Dave: Right.

Mindy: And so we grew and added people.

Dave: It’s really not that different, though, when you think about it.

Mindy: Yeah, corralling cats.

Dave: Motivating. Accountability.

Mindy: Making sure your people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

Dave: Even if they don’t want to.

Mindy: Yes, exactly. So over that time, we grew customers solely in Florida. We added products. I don’t know if you were going to ask about Hurricane Charlie, but…

Dave: I did want to touch on that.

Mindy: Let’s put a pin in that. Because that will take us a whole another way.

Dave: Sure.

Mindy: So we grew products as the needs of the elections offices grew as the expectations of voters grew and candidates grew. We had to provide we created an electronic poll book that has its own story. We created web hosting. As these technologies become kind of just everyday life, we added those services. So we’re growing and…

Dave: And they’re all related to the voter registration process not vote tabulation or any of that side of it?

Mindy: We don’t touch that at all. Right. And still to this day have no desire to do that. That’s a whole other space and there’s people who do it who do it well. In 2010, let me jump to that. Jane and David were looking to, they weren’t looking to retire yet, but they wanted to start talking about an exit strategy. They didn’t want to sell the company to another elections vendor. They wanted the employees to be taken care of. The customers to be taken care of. So they created an ESOP, an employee stock ownership plan. So now we’re all employee owners. So that happened in 2010 and Jane and David stayed on for another 5 years in their same roles. When we founded the ESOP, one of the requirements is creating an executive board. So an executive board was created and much of the same board members are actually still on the board: myself, Ben Martin our chief operating officer, Jane and David Watson and a couple other community members. So we created an executive board. A couple of years later, Jane and David were looking to retire in the coming years and the board decided to interview myself and Ben Martin for the role of CEO. So this was, I don’t know, 2012-2013, something like that. We both had a couple daylong interviews with the board to fill the next CEO role. After all of that, they named me the next CEO. I didn’t take over until summer of 2015. So there were a couple of years of transition where Jane was still in the role. I was learning from her, her and David. They both had really key roles in running the company. So yeah, that was not a fun process.

Dave: Yeah.

Mindy: That was not a fun process, but …

Dave: Ben is still with the company.

Mindy: Oh, absolutely.

Dave: I mean, I would imagine that’s unusual when two people are going, sort of like two assistant coaches trying to be the new head coach. Usually the other one doesn’t stick around.

Mindy: Yeah. I’m very grateful that he and I were very close before, we continue to, but early on when he joined 15 years ago, we relied on each other as, hey, you know, I have this issue going on because we were essentially peers at that point. We were both over different products.

Dave: Let’s circle back and talk about Hurricane Charlie. Okay. And what that meant to the company and what that sudden dramatic shift in circumstances and timing, how you had to adapt to that.

Mindy: Right. Yeah, 2004. Before the August primary election, Hurricane Charlie came barreling towards the state of Florida, they thought it was going to hit Tampa Bay, actually. And it took a sharp right. Yeah, and hit Charlotte County and then cut across the state through DeSoto County and kind of out the other coast.

Dave: Which is Punta Gorda, right?

Mindy: Right. It devastated those counties in that region. And this was, I want to say a couple of weeks before the primary election. And so not only was the infrastructure just completely devastated. There’s no power. There’s no nothing. But the election’s offices have to run elections. You can’t say, well, you know, we have to wait. We can’t do it. And this has happened more recently in Bay County and Holmes Counties a couple of years ago, with that hurricane. But in 2004, the governor got involved and said, you know, essentially, you know, these elections offices need help because what part of the problem was obviously they didn’t have power, but also the majority of the polling locations were destroyed, and could not be used as polling locations. And back then, we didn’t have the concept of early voting, where you can pick a place and go vote there two weeks before the election. That wasn’t a thing. Primarily Charlotte County had to figure out how do we, how do we allow these voters who are still in our county? A lot of them had left. But we’re still in the county, go to a location, and it’s the concept of early voting now, but we didn’t have it then. Essentially, it’s a vote center. They can go to this location and no matter which precinct they’re in, they can go vote there. And that was they had printed paper poll books back then. And so how do you, how do you do that?

Dave: A poll book is a list of registered voters?

Mindy: List of registered voters that the voter sign in and say, this is who I am. They show their ID and then they’re handed a ballot, right? And those are at the traditionally at the polling location and it has just certain voters names in it because you have to go to a certain location. So there’s a lot of concepts that we have now that we didn’t have in 2004. So the governor allowed he did a special dispensation for them to use a system that we helped them with that was essentially a laptop with a, it’s called a cherry keyboard. It’s the one that they used to use at hotels where they’d take your credit card and swipe at the top.

Dave: Oh, right, yeah.

Mindy: And so we sold out the stock of cherry keyboards in the United States. And so we sent these systems down to Charlotte County with some of our people to run these systems, usually on generators. And it was a laptop essentially that had the entire county’s list of voters in it. And any voter can go to any polling place and vote. And they had all the ballots for all the people. And so this was done generator-run buildings, no AC, you know, it’s August. And so we went down there and helped them with the system. And it was a system that didn’t exist before. We created it in probably a week’s time. We had a developer on site, you know, just making sure it was functioning. And they ran their primary, I wouldn’t say without a hitch, but the voters were able to vote.

Dave: Right.

Mindy: And obviously it was a low turnout because a lot of voters had moved away, but it was the first of its kind where there was this concept where a voter can go to any location, any voting location in the county and vote. And so it’s called these days, it’s called an electronic poll book, and we turn that concept into a product a year later and was selling it to Charlotte County in 2005.

Dave: The result of that was new technology that became a product and made that process easier in the future.

Mindy: Yeah, and it’s a concept we see every Florida county has an electronic poll book. I think it’s 62 of the Florida counties use our product called “EViD” where you can go either in early voting or on election day and they will have a system there, make sure that you’re in the right place. Make sure you haven’t already voted. Make sure you haven’t already returned your absentee ballot.

Dave: All right. While the growth of the company has been very impressive and what goes along with that sometimes is exposure in different areas sometimes that is not always welcome. That happened in 2016 with the presidential elections where VR Systems got caught up in national and international news related to the Russians that allegedly trying to influence or disrupt our presidential election process.

Mindy: That’s a good way to put it.

Dave: Yeah. That was a good PR spin on that.

Mindy: That was good. I like that.

Dave: Trying to go right down the middle. VR Systems polling technology was being used in some of the precincts that were affected, right? And VR Systems fully cooperated notified authorities immediately and no part of the process was compromised. Do I have that part correct?

Mindy: Yeah, I’m not exactly sure what you’re talking about with the polling technology, but let me give you the story we’ve been telling for a long time and see how that connects to what you just said. So yeah, I can tell the 2001 story so much better than this one because this one’s much more painful. So 2016, yeah, I mean, it’s come out now that bad actors, Russians being one of the entities, were trying to put miss and disinformation out there to confuse and to disorient and have us lose trust in our system. And one of the ways that they did that is that in 2016 an email was sent to some of VR Systems customers that purported to be from VR Systems, and it was about our eva technology and a software upgrade or something like that. At the time, when we were told about this email from our customers we said, oh, just ignore it. That’s not from us just ignore it. Because it’s noise.

Dave: Right.

Mindy: And we put it aside and moved on. Come to find out that this was an orchestrated event where they stole our branding, they stole our icons. It was from [email protected] or something, which is not obviously we don’t use Gmail emails for corporate emails.

Dave: That’s not a good decision.

Mindy: No, no, we haven’t done that in a very, very long time.

Dave: Maybe a hotmail account or something.

Mindy: AOL. com. So investigations happened and a report was written about this event. And we were completely in the dark at that time about that because we just moved on. Ran great elections. As a result of all this insanity, VR Systems are little Tallahassee based company was inundated with media and the anxiety and the sleepless nights that we had went on for a very, very long time. Because we didn’t know how our customers would respond. And what they would do about it. And we lost zero customers as a result of that. We worked very, very hard to get the truth out to our customers. We didn’t go out to the media and go, well, no, VR Systems, you know, we didn’t play the victim.

Dave: Right.

Mindy: What are we going to do and learn from? And so as a result of all this elections are part of the critical infrastructure just like the electric grid and the dams and all of the waterways and all of that.

Dave: Shifting gears a little bit. We’ll leave that topic.

Mindy: That’s fine. That’s fine.

Dave: Let’s leave that. I don’t know the statistics but  I imagine you’re in the minority as far as being a woman-led technology company being a woman CEO, how has that been? Has it changed over your time at VR? Does that matter at all in today’s world? Have there been barriers or hurdles to climb because, you know, you’re not a man in this field.

Mindy: I would say that if I were the CEO of a technology company that was not elections, it might be a little different. Elections, there are a lot of women who run elections offices. It’s probably more majority women than men. I don’t know what those stats are, but I would think it would probably, and I don’t have this perspective because I’ve only been CEO of an elections technology company. So that side of it, you know, the customer side of it, I haven’t, I haven’t had an issue that. You always, I always run into people who think because a woman’s leading, I must not know what I’m doing, or something, or the man standing behind me is really running it. I’m always going to get that. But I really haven’t seen that on the customer side.

Dave: We talked about you and your husband and how you met and we haven’t really touched on your family so much. So just kind of tell me about your husband and your sons and I know family is part of your picture and your story. So, I just wanted to touch on that a little bit.

Mindy: Absolutely. I mentioned my husband and I have been married December will be 22 years. And he is a middle school teacher at Cobb Middle. This is his third year doing that. He’s with ESE. So he teaches the special needs kids there. Loves every second of it. He coaches any sport that he can. They restrict him to three.

Dave: Yeah.

Mindy: So he’s coaching football right now and he just mentioned, oh yeah, they will soccer tryouts are in a couple of weeks and I’m going, oh my goodness. So he is the dad for so many of those kids who don’t have dads or who don’t have positive father figures and at the young age of, how old is he like, I don’t know, 43, he decided to go to back to college and he had gotten his degree at TCC and wasn’t as successful at FSU when he went there and for so many years he worked at warehouses and was warehouse manager. You know, he did all these different jobs and really didn’t have a passion for it and he started coaching with my brother in law and Montford Middle. And just fell in love with it. Loved the kids. He was a para professional teachers aide at the school in the ESE classroom and just he’s so patient and loving and kind and loved every second of it. And his peers are saying, you should, you should do this, right? You should go back to school and he found out about the Flagler program here at TCC and how they make it so they work.

Dave: Yeah, great program.

Mindy: They work with the teachers, the night classes and so he was still working during the day and went to class at night a couple of nights a week and graduated with his degree in May of 2020. Oh gosh. What a time to graduate, right? And he got a job at Cobb Middle and he’s loved it. So proud of him. You know, that took a lot for him to go back to school and love that my boys saw him do that. And you’re never too old to keep learning, right? So love that he’s done that and he’s doing that and my oldest Tyler. He’s 16. And he’s a junior. It’s hard to believe at Lincoln. He plays the cello for TYO. The youth orchestra. He’s in the symphony. He just got into the symphony group this year. So he’s loving that. Fourth chair. He’s very proud. And he’s been playing piano since he was, I don’t know. 8 or something like that, so he’s multiple instruments. Andrew’s 13. He’s in 8th grade at Cobb with my husband there. He’s in the magnet program there. Loves his band teacher, Miss Whaley, shout out to Miss Whaley. She’s amazing. He plays trumpet. He’s played trumpet this is his third year. He also plays the piano. He’s thinking about picking up the French horn.

Dave: That was my instrument. The French horn.

Mindy: Oh, yeah. So yeah, so he’s thinking about doing French horn.

Dave: It’s a classy move. It’s a step up to go to the French horn. Just tell him that.

Mindy: Of course, you’d say that. Yeah. So I love that both of my boys have a shared music language. It’s one that I don’t have, so they speak a language. I’m like, I’m just they just talk about all kinds of stuff. And I just love it.

Dave: All right, Mindy, two last questions, and then we’re done. First looking back, what is the one thing or person that changed or altered the trajectory of your life to this point?

Mindy: Professionally, I would say it’s the Watson’s. Jane and David Watson and I don’t know whose decision it was to talk to me about joining VR. I think it was probably a group decision between them, but David is the one that we went to dinner with. And he’s the one that I looked to for future business decisions. And I still looked at him for that. Jane, her love of people and the customers and just her foundation of doing what’s right has been, so between the two of them, you squish them together. Whatever that person is, it’s that person. Or those two people. Yeah, I have no idea what I would be doing now. I’m so very grateful for the opportunity that they’ve given me and encouraged me to grow and to learn and move into new roles as I kind of moved up the ladder.

Dave: Yeah. Final question. This podcast is named How I Got Here. We’ve talked about how your life got here to this, you know, to this point, where do you think here might be for you in three to 5 years from now?

Mindy: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think about that a lot and it’s probably because I’ve been doing I’ve been at VR for 21 years. The age I’m at, you know, I kind of am looking forward. Three to 5 years? I believe I’ll still be a VR Systems. There are things that I want to long-term things I want to accomplish.

I want the company to accomplish. And when those are accomplished, I could see branching out and doing something else, whether it’s still with VR, you know, or some taking my education background, taking what I know about technology, taking what I know about elections that I don’t know, there might be something cooked up there. So that’s a much longer term. I don’t know kind of timeline of that, but three to 5 years, yeah, we’re still we’ve still got stuff to do. We’re not slowing down. We’re growing into new markets and things like that. So I see, I see my role being very similar, but pushing ahead and accomplishing new growth, new products, and things like that. So yeah, I’ll be in a similar place, but we will have progressed along and accomplish some of those goals that we’re setting.

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Mack McNees