North Evergreen resident Jim Rohrer likes making things work.
“I’ve always been interested in how to get people moving in the same direction at the same time,” says Jim. “That’s been my life’s thing – organizational effectiveness.”
Well, maybe not his whole life. Growing up in the Industrial Belt city of Springfield, OH, Jim was more interested in getting on his high school baseball team. On the other hand, he did make that work.
“It was a big high school,” recalls Jim, a diehard Buckeye to this day. “There were about 3,000 students, and more than 100 guys tried out for baseball. I was really proud that I made the team.”
Jim played first base right up until graduation, and then started a pre-med track at Miami University in Oxford, OH. It may be the only thing in his life that Rohrer couldn’t make work.
“I went pre-med because my parents supported it, but it wasn’t really my thing,” he says. “I didn’t like it, I wasn’t good at it, and I switched over to business.”
Jim’s broad business foundation would come in very much handy, only not right away. When Jim was receiving his degree in 1963, Vietnam was a regular feature of evening newscasts and it was becoming plain that U.S. involvement was inevitable. Jim’s father, a World War II veteran, asked him to consider country before career. “He said ‘You’ve got to do something about the military. Don’t you think you should serve?’”
Jim was engaged to his college sweetheart, Judy, and had an easy out if he cared to use it.
“They’d just passed a new law that said if you were married you don’t have to serve.”
But Jim wasn’t looking for an out.
“It never even occurred to me to move up the wedding date and avoid the military.”
Jim enrolled in Officers Candidate School, earned his commission and eventually found himself the Chief of Services at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. It was a tough post, but for a guy who liked to make things work it was pretty sweet duty.
“In those days they threw you right in and you just had to figure it out,” he laughs. “It was a tremendous learning experience. I’m sure I learned more in four years in the service than I did in college.”
One thing he learned was that he liked retail. Mustering out, he hired on as a trainee with Sears in suburban Cincinnati. Jim’s natural talent for making things work would soon prove to be just what the corporate giant needed. Promoted to the company’s Chicago home office in 1985, Jim was tagged to take over as vice president of Sears’ nationwide chain of auto service centers. Efficiency was down in that division, sales flagging, employee morale dismal. Nothing was working.
“I told them I can hardly change a tire, but I might be able to change peoples’ attitudes.”
His solution to the organizational woes of Sears turned out to be remarkably effective. Rohrer traveled the country five days a week, every week, visiting shops from coast to coast and reaching out to the rank and file.
“It’s such a simple formula,” Jim shrugs. “You listen to them. I’d ask them what their biggest problem was. Then I’d ask them how they thought it could be solved. Then I’d tell them to go ahead and do it. And it worked. The fact is that the front line knows what to do, you just have to empower them to do it.”
When Jim retired after 30 years with the company, Sears made a proposal. The corporation’s call centers weren’t working right, and if Jim would launch a new company to field customer comments and queries, Sears would guarantee him the contract. In his 50s and not interested in a new career as an entrepreneur, Jim made a counter-proposal. He’d hook them up with what he considered a qualified existing company and personally see to it that the arrangement worked. Sears jumped at the offer, Jim identified a likely candidate in Golden, Colorado, and in 1995 he, Judy and their two sons built themselves a home in Evergreen.
“Judy and I were both golfers, so Hiwan was definitely attractive,” he smiles. “And this just seemed like a really nice community. Just the right size and lots of nice people.”
With Jim as its chief operating officer, the outsourced call center surpassed all expectations and earned a Progress and Partners Award. If Jim’s retirement wasn’t working quite as planned, his knack for getting people moving in the same direction at the same time definitely was. Then something happened for which he had no experience, no formula and no heart. In 2004, Judy died. It took time, but Jim found a way to work through his sorrow.
“I moped around for a couple of years, then I joined the Evergreen Chorale.”
Not that Jim professes any expertise in the performing arts. But for all of its on-stage acumen, it seems the Chorale’s box-office wasn’t working the way it should and the board of directors asked Jim to help fine-tune its fiscal performance.
“They’re doing great now, although I don’t know how much I actually had to do with that,” he says. “I go to everything the Chorale does. I sit in the audience and watch them on stage and think ‘Those people are so talented, and they’re my friends.’”
One chorister in particular struck his fancy.
“I met my wife, Nancy, at the Chorale. She has such a beautiful voice.”
If the name Jim Rohrer sounds familiar, it could be because it’s frequently the byline on political columns in the Canyon Courier and has appeared in USA Today. A registered Republican and a delegate to this year’s contentious Colorado GOP convention, Jim can’t abide the growing divide between the parties – the system simply doesn’t work when everyone’s voice is raised.
“Most political columns are either Right or Left, but I think most people are somewhere in the middle. I try to stay neutral. I strongly believe the polarization we’re seeing is not good for the country. You don’t have to agree with the other guy, but you have to honor his position.”
Jim has also dipped his oars in calmer civic waters. For one thing, he’s a charter member of the Mountain Foothills Rotary Club.
“Rotary is very important to me. They do a lot of important things.”
For another, he recently joined the board of Evergreen Christian Outreach.
“I’m always looking for organizations that can use my skills,” he says. “Organizational efficiency is my thing, and if I can help EChO do what it does better, I will.”
And in the darkest days of the Great Recession he shared his hard-earned skills with fellow citizens who wanted nothing more than to keep on working. First published in 2011 and still in print, his book “Never Lose Your Job: Become a More Valuable Player” offers valuable advice on staying relevant in the workplace.
“People tell me I ought to just relax, but I can’t imagine getting up in the morning without something on the agenda,” Jim says. “I’m always looking for ways to help. I guess it’s just my nature.”