John Voss interview with B Magazine

John Voss stands for a photo at Pioneer Orchard in Cape Girardeau where he held his first job as a teenager.
Aaron Eisenhauer ~ B Magazine

There are a number of important political races in our area this year, a few, because of term limits, pitting talented individuals against each other in districts without an incumbent. The following interview is with former Cape Girardeau city councilman John Voss (Republican), who is running for House District 147 in Cape Girardeau. Voss answered questions from B Magazine and provided a three-sentence self-introduction. To read interviews with other candidates profiled in B Magazine, click here.

John Voss

Republican candidate for Missouri House District 147

Voss: I am a hometown boy who has worked to demonstrate my dedication to our city and region through my actions, and believe I have the leadership and business experience to best represent you in Jefferson City. During my 33-year career with Procter & Gamble, I delivered large-scale manufacturing startups, major cost-savings programs and productivity improvements and at the same time was the scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 311, chairman for the Cape Area Habitat for Humanity, chairman of the Cape Girardeau County Republican Central Committee, Ward 1 representative on the Cape Girardeau City Council for eight years and most importantly, father to three boys who are productive members of society. I've continued to serve my fellow citizens as treasurer of the Cape Girardeau Public Library Board of Trustees, TTF 5 and TTF 6 committee member, chairman of the Banterra Bank Executive Council and member of the Rotary Club of Cape Girardeau and the Elk's Club.

How old were you when you had your first job?

Voss: My first paid job was picking peaches and hauling trash for Bill Beggs at Pioneer Orchard and Mobile Home Court in Cape Girardeau. I was 14 or 15 years old. I didn't realize just how hot and itchy picking peaches could be!

How did you finance college?

Voss: My father never got the chance to finish college and made sure that my school was always a top priority. I was able to earn some scholarship money for college, which I used while earning my B.S. in engineering management from the University of Missouri -- Rolla (now Missouri University of Science and Technology).

In addition, I worked during semesters for Mullally Distributing in Cuba, Missouri, an Anheuser Busch distributor. This taught me to prioritize my time.

Voss:During my first two summers home, I returned to working at Chick Fil-A when it was in the mall, one of the jobs I had also worked in high school.

My last two summers, I was able to secure internships with the Linde Division of The Union Carbide Company in Torrance, California, a Los Angeles community. My parents were gracious enough to close the gap for me my first couple of years when I did not have enough money to pay for tuition or room and board. Their sacrifice enabled me to continue to focus on school, which opened the door for a successful career with The Procter & Gamble Company.

Describe the different steps in your career and why you made the choices you did.

Voss: As I mentioned, I was able to work two summers in Los Angeles, California, while in college. Having this professional experience, along with leadership roles on campus and a great education, were critical for me to achieve my goal of obtaining a role with a world-class company. I had the chance to join several companies upon graduation, but realized while living in L.A. that I really cherished Cape Girardeau. I decided to join Procter & Gamble and began my 33-year career.

I served in various project engineering and production roles in my first seven years in Cape and formed some very deep and lasting friendships. After hearing a talk about opportunities to work abroad with the company, that night I shared what I had heard with my wife. Janice was able to spend some of her early life in Europe and talked fondly of it. I had traveled to Europe and was intrigued by the history of the countries there, so we decided to give it a try, especially since we could come back to Cape upon the completion of that assignment. That was a big decision. It was hard to break the news to our families, as our boys were the only grandchildren in town for our parents, and now we were taking them halfway around the world.

Both of my assignments in Europe were fantastic. We far exceeded all previous records for facility start-ups, and had other organizations from around the world coming to learn what we had done. However, I was a victim of our own success. Instead of spending three years in Poland as planned, we were only able to live there a year, as corporate cost pressures forced us to find the next assignment. I had the chance to transfer to Russia, but decided to keep looking. We found ourselves in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, expecting our third son.

While in Wisconsin, I was responsible for the fabrication and demonstration of paper-converting equipment for manufacturing facility expansions around the globe. I was able to travel and see many other parts of the world. Along with our four years of living in Europe, it became very clear for me what an exceptional country we live in.

In my first year in Sheboygan, our children got an unexpected long weekend off from school. Janice and I decided to take a quick trip back to Cape to see our parents. It was a great weekend. A week later, my dad died. I am so grateful that I was able to spend that weekend with him. It's amazing how God works in our lives. This really helped crystallize what was most important to me.

Not long after that, P&G announced they were expanding their Cape plant, and I had the skills to lead that new site start-up. It was clear to me that I was supposed to be back home.

We had another record-breaking start-up. I was able to spend the next two decades in various roles ranging from production to finance to quality assurance. These really helped me develop a broad base of skills and to see the business from multiple perspectives. It's during this time I began to devote myself to my community and became a leader in my church, the Boy Scouts and Habitat for Humanity, to name a few. I eventually found myself on the City Council and enjoyed serving the community and region.

Tell about one of your favorite books about business, leadership or government. Why should others read it?

Voss: "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," by Stephen R. Covey. The principles and paradigms that Dr. Covey lays out such as the circles of concern and influence along with the specific seven habits have been very helpful to me in my professional and private life. This is one of the books I asked my sons to read as they entered their adult lives.

How would you describe your management style?

Voss: A great manager knows when to lead and when to follow. A team needs to know what its deliverables are and how the work relates to the broader organization's objectives and goals. The role of the leader then is to ensure that the team has a plan that will hit the mark, using everyone's talents and skills, as well as to cross-train and develop additional skills in everyone.

Finally, the leader needs to recognize each person's contributions along the way and to ensure the team celebrates when key milestones and the overall objective is met.

And your vision of your personal public service?

Voss: Representing a community is an honor and privilege that should not be taken for granted. Everyone's opinion and voice matters and should be respected, even when differences exist. I was taught that we have an obligation to help others and to leave our communities better than what we were given. Our founding father's concept of a citizen statesman was spot-on. Public service is something you should do in addition to your life's work, not as a career or your only endeavor. And when the time comes, it's important to know when to pass the torch for others to lead.

What would colleagues say is your biggest strength? And weakness?

Voss: One of my strengths is critical thinking. I am able to take a complicated problem and distill it into its critical elements to formulate a plan to lead to its resolution.

An area that I have to keep in check is my desire to do more. Sometimes, less is more.

Tell about a specific time you faced adversity.

Voss: Early in my career, I had the opportunity to work overseas, first in Manchester, England, and then in Warsaw, Poland. Both of these assignments were to start up new manufacturing facilities. Janice and I had two small boys when we left Cape Girardeau, and moving to a foreign country alone can be quite a challenge, both professionally and personally.

Professionally, I had to quickly deliver results and develop an organizational culture in rapidly-changing physical and organizational circumstances with colleagues from all over the world whom I had never met, much less worked with. Personally, I had to ensure that my family was safe and had a support network so that their experience was positive and they would continue to develop and mature.

While our time in England was a challenge, it was nothing compared to Poland. Communism had just fallen in Poland, so the country was in the midst of massive change. This assignment required 100% travel, first to Spain, then to Poland, while my family remained in England for nearly a year. I was only able to see my family a couple days a month. In addition, I had to try to figure out how to lead and train an organization that spoke multiple languages working in three different countries on a schedule that had never been delivered before.

Professionally, we were very successful, and I took away a few key learnings from these experiences. First, despite our outwardly-visible differences around the world, we are all more alike than different. We want to be valued; we all want to succeed, in whatever form we define; and we need each other. Secondly, we can achieve more than we think if we all work together. And finally, and probably most importantly, family matters. Families are the bedrock of a society. I know I am very blessed.

What can state government do to best help businesses and workers?

Voss: Most of the time, the best thing government can do is get out of the way. The American entrepreneur is quite capable of solving their own problems. Government should provide some basic structure for the rules of engagement, but should not be picking the industries or businesses that it thinks should win.

Why do you want to serve in government -- right now, at this moment in time?

Voss: We can only expect our society and government to be as strong as its leaders. More than ever, our state and region needs effective leadership. We must build on the foundation that others have built, and I believe I have the skills, energy and time to help lead our community and state forward.

What message would you tell young people who are just starting their careers about how to be successful?

Voss: Remember that we are all interdependent on one another. No one succeeds alone.

Find some mentors to help you grow and develop, and at the same time, seek out those who you can help. Be very clear on what success looks like to you. Write down your goals and your plan to achieve them, ensuring they are congruent with the broader organization's goals and objectives. Share them with others so they can help you. Review them regularly to know where you are on track and where you are not. Seek out feedback regularly. Challenge yourself to learn new skills, even in areas that may not be directly related to your role.