Leadership Spotlight: Jay Wehrer

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Have you ever known someone who could solve a Rubik’s cube in no time flat? What about a detail-oriented person who could easily recognize patterns and analyze challenges? Ever met someone who could assess large swaths of data in no time flat?

Chances are, that person, with a mind hard-wired to problem-solve, find efficiencies, and build expedient systems, may have what it takes to be in operations and finance. That person could, in fact, have a mind like NOLA’s own Chief Operations Officer, Jay Wehrer.

A Mind Built for Tackling Challenge

Jay Wehrer is a lifelong Louisianan who has always loved learning, problem-solving, and improving outcomes for those around him. When Jay graduated from Jefferson Parish Schools – a client NOLA Education is fortunate enough to call a Star Academy Partner today – he decided to continue on to the University of New Orleans to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering.

“I remember choosing electrical engineering not because I knew anything about being an electrical engineer, but because it offered the most variety of the unknown,” Jay told us recently. “Even back then, I loved tackling new challenges and acquiring knowledge.”

While at the University of New Orleans, Jay met NOLA’s CEO, John Alvendia, and quickly forged a life-long friendship.

Jay & John: A Dynamic Duo

“John Alvendia and I have been friends since college,” Jay said. “We took the same electrical engineering courses, worked our way through college alongside one another, and eventually went where all engineering grads in Louisiana seem to go upon graduation: the Oil and Gas Industry.”

And although the freshly-minted electrical engineers worked for different companies during their time in the industry, they never lost track of each other or their desire to team up on a future endeavor. Within a decade of graduating, the friends found themselves collaborating on an effort that drives them to this day: education innovation.

“John asked me to help with the development of the first startup company, ‘I Can Learn,’ in the early nineties,” said Jay. “We spent our nights and weekends for seven years building the software product while holding successful full-time roles elsewhere. Then, when the math software company received a $7M grant from the US Department of Education, we quit our day jobs to officially launch the company.”

(‘I Can Learn’ was a nationally recognized learning implemented in K-12 schools, colleges, correctional facilities, and adult learning programs across the nation.)

“As the company grew, so did our roles,” Jay recalled. “Initially, I was the State and Federal Programs Manager responsible for overseeing the $55M in state and federal funding that John brought in over the years. Then, in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the finance officer left the company, so I stepped in to manage the operations and finance facets of the business. That was my first official role in operations and finance management, and since then, I’ve been hooked.”

Within a decade, the duo found a new venture they thought they could leverage to benefit America’s learners once again: Star Academy.

“When John started exploring the idea of acquiring Star Academy, I was in the background doing the analysis, looking for funding, and helping strategize how we could make it happen,” Jay told us. “John and I have been fortunate enough to call the other a best friend and right-hand man since college. We have established roles: He sells, and I execute. He operates at 100,000 aerial feet, and I’m operating on the ground.”

Jay’s Daily Motivation: Enhancing & Scaling a Growing Company

Over the last two years, NOLA Education has experienced impressive growth. The company –  which can now boast nearly 80 sites and 18,000+ students served nationwide – currently partners with clients coast to coast thanks to the NOLA team’s laser focus on getting Star Academy’s programming into the hands and minds of students across the nation. As the company seeks to continually enhance its client’s and students’ experiences, a myriad of complexities present themselves.

Fortunately, Jay enjoys taking the inevitable challenges that each company must face when rapidly scaling their organization and developing solutions that make life easier – and better – for those around him.

“I love the journey that comes with building and growing a company,” Jay said. “Operations touches every segment of the organization, and in a way, every customer. I enjoy serving people and putting systems in place that will help them function better today and tomorrow.”

Never Losing Sight of What Keeps the NOLA Machine Running

And while there’s nothing Jay enjoys more than digging into analytical details, he also doesn’t lose sight of what keeps the NOLA machine running: its people.

“We are on a mission to engage and inspire learners. NOLA is an extraordinary organization, and we need people that are passionate about our work and dedicated to the program – and its students’ – success. I feel very strongly about our core values, which we’ve crafted meticulously. They anchor our culture, and as our employees embody them daily, they make this an incredible place to work.”

Jay’s Three Golden Nuggets

When we asked Jay if there were any pieces of advice that guide him as a professional today, he effortlessly gave us three antidotes of wisdom: Show Your Appreciation to Others, Be Authentic to Yourself, and Savor the Relationships that Give You Strength.

“First, remember to express gratitude to those around you for the work they’re doing, especially if they think no one has noticed their efforts,” Jay said. “I write thank you cards to employees every Sunday. If one of my team members did something that I’m grateful for, I strive to let them know.”

Jay’s next piece of advice isn’t about others, however: it’s about identifying what drives and fulfills you.

“Next, we need to be authentic to ourselves,” said Jay. “If you don’t enjoy where you work, try to figure out why then change it. We spend more than a third of our lives at work. If you can’t wake up and be happy or engaged in what’s ahead that day, that’s sad. Too many people see 8 hours of work as the conduit for what they do for the other 16 hours in their day, rather than an opportunity to enrich their lives and the lives of those around them.”

Finally, Jay encouraged us to savor and lean into the relationships that give us strength.

“It is vital that we take pride in and care for the relationships in our lives that fulfill us, whether personally or professionally,” Jay said. “I enjoy spending my free time with my wife of 32 years, Vickie. We take walks by the lake or drive around the city listening to 70s music to relax. We truly value the time we spend together, and I would never be able to do what I do without her support.”

“I’m also grateful that John Alvendia has faith in me and given me the opportunity to serve others in the way I do today. We are changing the lives of our students: I feel I am meant to do things that are much bigger than me. NOLA fills that void and helps students escape the path of discouragement and poverty. I know we are giving hope and opportunity to our students, and it’s truly a privilege to contribute to helping the next generation live better lives.”

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