Mitchell's innovative businessman: Hometown career leads to SD Hall of Fame for Musick
For all of the success in Roger Musick's career, two points built the bedrock of his professional life.
He's always been driven by a need to continue learning. And he's done it all in his hometown of Mitchell.
The 47-year career for Musick has included building two businesses in the city, while being at the forefront of the telecommunications services and software business. The founder and CEO of Innovative Systems, Musick, 69, will be recognized for his accomplishments this weekend in Chamberlain when he's inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame as part of the 2018 class.
After being able to understand what's coming next throughout his career, Musick admitted the Hall of Fame call caught him off guard.
"I didn't envision it at all," he said. "There's a lot of great people from South Dakota in this year's group and from past years. It's a great honor."
Musick leads about 200 employees from Innovative Systems' headquarters in Mitchell, building and advancing software for voice systems, television providers, along with invoice systems for telecom companies. Musick has run Innovative Systems since its founding in 1998, and previously he helped build Martin and Associates from its inception in 1971. In both cases, Musick said, it was a case of making sure the business grew smartly.
"The philosophy is very slow growth, always up. We never really had a time where we reduced staff in the 47 years of my career," he said. "We were always adding staff and developing new products and we didn't want to go into a new market where it was a boom-and-bust type scenario and we didn't think Mitchell could absorb a bust of a major company."
Growing up in Mitchell, Musick spent his childhood interested in math, science and electronics. He got an amateur radio license when he was in junior high school and had a commercial license while in high school, allowing him to operate TV and radio stations. His licenses allowed him to work part-time jobs in those industries during college at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, where he knew he wanted to attend from the seventh grade on. While there, he said he learned how to learn.
"That's by far the most important thing and that's still true today," he said. "I tell the students all the time that the most important thing is how much you can learn in the next 10 years, not how much you learned in the past four years."
Musick graduated from the School of Mines in 1971 with a degree in electrical engineering. At a time when much of the technology was happening in warm-weather climates such as Texas and California, Musick wasn't impressed by the options he saw while job hunting.
"It was very quickly that I decided I didn't want to live in a place that had that many people and that much concrete," Musick said.
He said he was fortunate that Doug Martin, Harvey Kelley and Keith Bartels were willing to take him in as they were building their business in 1971, when they had seven total employees.
"I handled a lot of the technology and software parts of the business," he said, explaining that at the time, rural South Dakota was building single-party telephone services. "We were going from aerial, multi-party lines to singular, buried cable. We spent the first few years of my career basically helping telephone companies improve their services."
The run with Martin and Associates — later known as the Martin Group — for more than 25 years was a successful one. But as Musick's partners reached retirement age, he was not ready to stop working. That led to Musick, then 49, purchasing the electronics division of the company — what he says was one product and 10 employees — to create Innovative Systems.
Musick said he never took any big financial risks. He said he always tested potential products with trusted customers before production to see what the market was.
"We try to look into the future and figure out what products will be necessary for the next five years and make sure we're building those products so we're ready for when the market gets there," he said. "We also didn't try to grow overnight. It wasn't that we wanted to get 10 times (larger) tomorrow. Maybe 10 percent a year, instead."
Musick said Innovative Systems is successful because it has had low turnover among its employees and that Mitchell is sort of in a sweet spot to make the telecom business work: a large enough city to be desirable for skilled employees, but small enough to retain workers.
Musick said 2017 was the company's best year and 2018 projects to be better, mostly because the products continue to mature and improve.
"Some people don't like change but people in the software business, they do enjoy change," he said. "They're always looking for the next big feature or toolset that is going to come out. So as long as they can stay up with change and keep building good products, we can be highly successful."
Musick has been involved heavily with the direction of the community. He's served as the chairman of the Dakota Wesleyan University Board of Trustees, and considers one of his main hobbies to be following Tiger sporting events. He's also served on the Avera Queen of Peace Hospital board, along with the board of the Mitchell Area Development Corporation.
Musick's family includes his wife, Vicki, to whom he's been married for 47 years. They have three adult children, daughter Kelly and sons Kyle and Kody, along with a handful of grandchildren.
Musick is hardly ready to stop working. While he says his workload will likely decrease over the next few years, Musick envisions being involved with the business in some form for the rest of his life. His sons help him run the company, with each taking a different focus in the business to make the family dynamic work smoothly.
"This is kind of my hobby," Musick said. "I really feel lucky that I've worked for all these years in my hobby and I can get paid for it and work with my two sons."
Hall of Fame inductees
Here are the other honorees for this weekend's South Dakota Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
• Cleveland Abbott graduated from Watertown High School in 1912 with 16 varsity sports letters. He was the first African American athlete at South Dakota State College, graduating in 1916. He earned 14 letters competing in football, basketball, baseball, track and tennis. In World War I, he was commissioned as a first lieutenant, one of the first African American officers ever appointed.
• Nicholas Black Elk, as a 13-year-old, witnessed the Battle of Little Bighorn. In 1886-89, Black Elk toured with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and later settled into a role as a traditional holy man. In 1930, he related his life story to the writer/poet John Neihardt, the result of which was the classic Black Elk Speaks. He died in 1950 and is buried on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
• Rod Bowar, of Kennebec, built his career with small-town telecommunications. He owns Kennebec Telephone Company, along with several other businesses in central-South Dakota, and serves on several boards, including the South Dakota Board of Technical Education. He was featured in Thursday's edition of The Daily Republic.
• Marilyn Hohm Hoyt, of Huron, served for nearly 20 years on the Huron College Board of Trustees, first beginning in 1982. She delivered the final commencement address in 2005 at the school before it closed. She was a founding member of the Spirit of Dakota Commission that honored statewide Women Leaders. She was the chair of several economic and quality of life projects in Huron and has served on the South Dakota Board of Education.
• Tom Loveland is called one of the nation's foremost experts on the use of remote sensing to monitor and measure changes on Earth's land surface. Loveland, of Sioux Falls, has conducted significant work in South Dakota and all over the globe.
• Anne Rieck McFarland has built a career from the ground up to lead LifeScape, one of the top-10 largest nonprofit organizations with a statewide impact. She has been in a leadership position with the company for 30 years and more than 40 years in the human services profession.
• Rod Parry for 36 years has taught and influenced generations of physicians through his work at the University of South Dakota Medical School. Parry, of Sioux Falls, was one of the first pulmonologists in the state.
• Raymond Peterson, of Brookings, served as a script writer, designer, producer, director and judge for the Miss South Dakota Pageant for 50 years. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious achievement. He worked for 40 years for South Dakota State University as a teacher in speech communication and theater.
• John Porter, of Sioux Falls, worked for 44 years for Avera Health. He was CEO and pivotal in the formation and growth of Avera. He is a lifelong South Dakotan who helped Avera provide more than $5 million annually to support nonprofits and more than $22 million in charity care.