By Kathleen Swift • Photo by Artistic Expressions Photography
“I’d wanted to be a fire fighter since I was a kid,” said Jimmy Burgess, “but my friends were joining the military, and up to that point, I had no plans. I joined the Air Force reserves and eventually ended up in Saudi Arabia as a customs coordinator. I loved what I was doing but wanted to make the military my everyday life.
“I was able to switch to active duty Army. I am probably one of a few who have attended Air Force and Army basic training and Army officer candidate school,” remarked Burgess. “I’d found my niche. I loved the dirt and the grime and what the Army offered.”
When he switched to an Army career, Burgess became a member of the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, a helicopter unit known as the Night Stalkers.
“I didn’t feel special myself,” said Burgess, “but I worked with a special unit and with special guys who were a part of special missions. I was a part of something bigger than myself. They were guys you wanted to be around who were ready at a moment’s notice to get the job done. They had the highest work ethic.”
When Burgess finished his Army career, he moved to Joplin and brought with him that work ethic and special training to apply to disasters. When the Joplin tornado hit in May 2011, Burgess was one of the first to respond by pulling people from destroyed buildings and cars. But, he wanted to do more.
Following the tornado, Burgess fulfilled his dream to become a fire fighter by attending the Missouri Southern State University fire fighter and EMT school. Upon completion of his work in that program, he was employed first for Redings Mill and then for the Pittsburg Fire Department.
But, Burgess wasn’t finished yet.
“I had a dream and a goal,” said Burgess, “to become a motivational speaker. I began to draw up a plan for a new style of team building and leadership training that would be run military style. It would be a place where we could help people see things in themselves and do things that they didn’t know were possible. That was the beginning of True North.”
Burgess refers to himself as a serial entrepreneur. In addition to True North, he joined forces with 2 Bravo Laser Designs and established TommyHawks Four States with friends and fellow veterans. He is focused on helping veterans, businesses and communities make the most of their human resources.
In addition, Burgess began working full time as a contracted employee of a company called Crothall at Freeman Health System as environmental services, operations manager (EVS). In that capacity, Burgess is responsible for 54 outpatient facilities and all of Freeman East hospital. Crothall works world-wide, and through them, Burgess had the opportunity, along with two others, to travel to New York City to work at Mt. Sinai and Beth Israel hospitals training and leading EVS crews during the COVID-19 response.
“We were working on 10 floors full of COVID-19 patients. There were also patients in temporary hospitals and in the lobby. As with any challenge, we worked to accomplish our mission,” said Burgess. “As in the military, I wanted to bring my guys home safely and respect the unseen enemy of the virus. We taught the hospital staff not only how to use protective equipment properly, but how to terminally clean rooms from COVID-19 and turn COVID-19 rooms into non-COVID-19 rooms. We used the leadership training we developed for True North to build their confidence and to develop leadership. The hospital was staffed for normal operations and needed leadership for special circumstances. If it can work there, it can work anywhere.”
In fact, Burgess has been invited back to NYC by the vice president of operations for Crothall to do trainings and leadership development in 11 hospitals for the EVS corps there.
“We saw community and empathy increase there as we worked with staff,” said Burgess. “We understood their needs. They were scared and nervous because so many on their teams were sick. We were able to step in, build trust and help. They knew they were important to us. Other staff outside of EVS saw the improvements in productivity and in consistently doing the right thing. As I like to say often, raise the tide and all boats follow.
“It’s amazing how many moving parts a hospital has. When responding to a crisis, it’s like being on a firing range; you look at the 50-meter target and take it out and move on to the others until you reach the 250-meter target. Take smaller bites and build little wins.”
Building little wins is what Burgess is all about, and through his passion for True North and his other enterprises, he continues to teach leadership and personal development. He isn’t finished yet.