This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.
On May 8, Nashville lost one of its most creative legends.
John Cherry (aka “Buster”) may not be as well-known as the country music stars who many typically associate with Nashville. And he was never a part of Nashville’s flourishing healthcare industry. But, for many old-school Nashvillians, Buster’s influence was profound.
Co-founder of the advertising firm Carden & Cherry, Buster was the creator of Ernest P. Worrell character played by actor and comedian Jim Varney who starred in over 4,000 “Hey Vern” commercials throughout the country.
Long-time Nashvillians will remember the Ernest commercials that were made for Purity Dairies, but the lovably clueless character pitched everything from banks to theme parks and eventually grew into a cultural phenomenon. With Ernest’s catch phrase, “KnowhutImean,” Carden & Cherry became one the most successful ad agencies in the southeast.
I was first introduced to Buster through my cousin who worked for Carden & Cherry in the mid-90s. It took only a few minutes to recognize that Buster was a character like no other. Casual, creative, humble, funny, and kind. He had a way of instantly becoming a trusted friend.
It wasn’t until the early 2000s that I got a chance to work with Buster when he hired our website development firm to help him build a rather complex website. Like any project with multiple moving parts, dependencies, and deadlines, getting to the launch date was not easy.
With the entire team under some pressure to deliver, Buster’s communication and leadership style taught me some important lessons about both business and life.
Those lessons I learned from Buster all those years ago are now part of my “KnowhutImean” List:
Be radically genuine. Leaders who are genuine are effective because they enable everyone around them to be themselves without shame or anxiety. This not only reduces conflict and keeps a project centered, but it’s also motivating.
Be respectful. If you disagree with someone, do it respectfully 100% of the time. Buster once told me, “Never raise your voice to improve your argument.”
Creativity is not just for artists. In the tech world I work in, many of us naturally gravitate to logic. Buster was a prolific painter who was able to apply creativity to business. Thinking of myself as creative instead of logical has made me a better software developer and businessperson.
Address problems early. This seems like an obvious one but before I met Buster, I often found myself falling victim to “analysis paralysis” while a problem on a project festered. Observing his approach of erring on the side of good and quick solutions versus perfect and slow solutions helped our company become nimbler.
Befriend coworkers. There need not be a boundary around being friends with coworkers. There’s an unwritten rule that your work life and personal life must be two separate things. Buster had a lot of close friends, many of whom are people he worked with.
Buster will be missed but his influence on Nashville and those who knew him will endure, know what I mean?
JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba. A Nashville custom software development and IT support company. Visit www.atiba.com or www.atibanetworkservices.com for more info.