In my 20s, I worked on Wall Street. I was young, single and making a ton of money living the high life in New York, where I had tons of friends from Harvard. Life was good.
I was an associate in the investment banking division at Merrill Lynch doing media mergers and acquisitions. As far as starter jobs go, it was the top of the heap.
I actually didn’t want to work on Wall Street. I wanted to go into the family business but my father wouldn’t pay me the average starting salary of a UCLA MBA, so off I went.
As it turns out at Merrill Lynch I was making four times the average starting salary of a UCLA MBA — a fact my father loved to tell people. He thought the whole thing was funny and he was proud of my success.
My father didn’t want me to go straight into the family business. “I’d rather you make your mistakes on someone else’s dime,” he told me. Wise man, my father, and I learned a lot on Wall Street, knowledge I still use every day.
Although I loved my New York single lifestyle, I never felt comfortable about what I was doing — creating bigger and bigger megacompanies through the merger and acquisition process. I especially didn’t like this consolidation in the media industry, where a diversity of voices and opinions is vitally important to the well-being of our nation.
The whole thing was so abstract. It was all numbers. It became a game. Yet I knew these were real people and real lives we were playing with. It didn’t feel right.
I was there on Black Monday, the biggest single day drop in stocks. In a few hours, trillions of dollars evaporated as markets declined 30%. As I heard screams and moans up and down the halls of the 33rd floor of the World Financial Center (which sat next to the destroyed World Trade Towers), I had an urge to go down to the trading floor at the bottom of the building. At the time, it was the biggest equity trading floor in the world. I wanted to see with my own eyes what was happening.
It was chaos, pandemonium, anguish and confusion. Traders were shouting, screaming, crying. Others just sat at their multiple trading screens dumbfounded. Others stared out into space. Their lives were disrupted forever.
I remember thinking so clearly to myself. “Take note, Wyatt, this is the epicenter of the greatest economic system in the history of the world, and it is chaos and confusion. Never believe the experts. Always trust what you know by your own experience.”
A few years later, my father needed me. We negotiated a reasonable deal which allowed me to retain control of the company when he passed away. I left my fancy office for a humble office on Briarwood Drive. It was a relief. Now I was doing something real. I could make a difference. I could get my hands dirty. I no longer felt like an abstraction.
I hope it means something to Mississippians that Emmerich News has local roots and goes back generations. There is something about a local connection, as opposed to huge corporate anonymity, that adds color and uniqueness to the bland sameness of megabusinesses like Facebook and Google.
C Spire is a good example here. Unlike just about everywhere in the country where AT&T and Verizon dominate, Mississippians enjoy a homegrown local company with multi-generational roots. The benefits of this manifests itself in innumerable ways. Quality jobs and capital stay in the state. C Spire is one of the best corporate citizens in Jackson.
Another great example is Roberts Company Inc., which operates Corner Markets in Jackson. Over 50 years ago, Doc Roberts opened his first grocery store on West Pine Street in Hattiesburg. His dream was to bring quality and value to the people of South Mississippi, while always putting the “Customer First”. Today, the Roberts family owns and operates 20 grocery stores across central and south Mississippi and employs 1,200 full and part time associates.
Even better for me and our community, the Roberts family has a real connection to Jackson. David Roberts, the young, bright energetic next generation company president is married to my wife’s niece, Lucy Tucker Knight (now Roberts.) Lucy Tucker grew up in Jackson and knows so many people here. I watched her grow up and feel like Lucy Tucker is almost a daughter to me, so David is almost like a son-in-law!
Not only that but David’s dad, Forrest, went to school at Ole Miss with my wife Ginny. He’s a great supporter of the school. These are the types of close-knit connections that make Mississippi not a state, but a club!
David also graduated from Ole Miss and he, like his father and sisters, have friends all over the state. He’s an outstanding golfer, a great father of two beautiful young daughters and an all-around great guy.
David’s sister is Annie Laurie “Roberts” Barrett who is married to David Barrett who is the son of Dr. Gene Barrett. Dr. Gene was one of the founders of Mississippi Sports Medicine.
David’s sister Susan “Roberts” Olmsted is married to Dr. Blake Olmsted of Meridian, who was one of founders of the Allergy and Immunology Clinic for Hattiesburg Clinic.
A while back I shopped at all the major grocery stores and compared prices. Although the prices of some items varied considerably, they were all about the same in total. So why not shop at a friendly store with links to our community?
The same is true about all our local merchants. We need to support them and keep the money in the community where it turns over and provides jobs. Big chains just suck the money right out of our state.
Get this: The Roberts Company has never laid off a single employee in the history of the company. That is simply amazing.
They advertise in the local newspapers and websites, which helps us to provide local news — something increasingly in short supply in the age of Big Tech.
“One thing I always go back to is people,” David Roberts told me. “Customer service, people, taking care of employees so they can take care of our customers, that’s how we operate. It’s a lot easier said than done. We truly actually do it.”
Mike Sowden, the Roberts chief operating officer, described their company this way: “The big companies answer to Wall Street. We answer to the communities. We answer to the people we employ. We just take a different tactic. We know that without our people being enthused at being at work and taking care of our customers, we don’t have a chance.”
David Roberts is excited about the renovation of the Fondren store.
“Where do young people want to be? There’s a brain drain in Mississippi. How do you compete with that? If you’re graduating from college and you want to move back to Mississippi, a very cool place to live is Fondren. It’s got a night life, a great restaurant scene. And now it has a good grocery store there.”
This is what I love about Mississippi. I go to the corner market, which is literally the Corner Market, and it’s owned and operated by my nephew-in-law’s family, not some anonymous megacorporation. All the money on Wall Street can’t replace that.