O. Tyrone Barnett

Employer First, Entrepreneur Second

It seemed to young Ty Barnett that his grandfather was always working.   “From the moment I woke up in the morning, my paternal grandfather would be out milking the cow and feeding the hogs and chickens,” Ty remembers today, recalling his youth growing up in Orrville, Ohio, when his grandparents owned an eleven- acre farm.  “In addition to the farm animals, my cousins—who owned adjacent farms with tractors—would grow every available piece of land with crops like corn, beans, tomatoes and many other crops.”

But this didn’t stop Ty’s grandparents from helping those in need.  “There were always people at the house who needed help of some kind,” Ty reminisces.  “There, for example, were the migrant workers coming into Orrville to work the farms during harvest season.”  The Steel plants were operating at top capacity and needed men who did not mind putting their backs into the hard work available.  And, of course, there was the Koppers Wood Preserve Plant that produced heavy items like “railroad ties” and wood for building bridges and huge buildings.  Though a small community of approximately 8,000 people, Orrville produced a significant number of jobs for large cities in Ohio like Akron, Cleveland, Canton, Wooster and Massillon.  The community became famous for the Smuckers Jam and Jelly Co., but its growth also stems largely from the three railroad roundhouses that were fed by as many as five major railroads.

“My grandparents did not have much money,” says Ty.  “They tended their farm all day, while my grandfather also worked at the Quality Castings Co. iron and ore plant.  Still, they always seemed to have enough to take care of their own bills and to have some left over to help other people.  That made a great impression on me.  It taught me that helping people and having an open hand allowed for opportunities to flow into my hands.  Any success I have was made possible when other people stepped forward and helped me.”

This idea was so deeply ingrained in Ty as a child watching his family’s innate streak of philanthropy that, even today, it remains central to his self concept.  Indeed, even though he’s the founder and CEO of Diverse Technologies Corporation, a 23-year-old IT, finance and logistics firm with 91 employees and $10 million in annual revenue, Ty still doesn’t define himself first and foremost as an entrepreneur.  Rather, he stands for stewardship.  “I don’t really consider myself an entrepreneur,” he explains.  “Right now, I consider myself an employer taking care of 91 families.”

Born in 1943, Ty’s passion for helping people was certainly fostered from day one, but given equal encouragement and prominence through his upbringing was his flair for entrepreneurship.   ”My grandfather was only one of the several people I was surrounded by who really knew how to work hard,” he avows.

While raising Ty and his six siblings, his mother worked for the railroad and his father was a molder at the same foundry where his grandfather was employed.  The dedication and steely work ethic he observed in them combined with his naturally strategic eye for opportunity, coalescing into strong business instincts that have guided him well throughout the years.

Growing up in Orrville, Ty remembers rubbing shoulders with the children of managers, executives and business owners, absorbing those skills himself through keen observation.  “I knew that these families were living well,” he says, “because I worked for a lot of them in the summer. It seemed to me the people who had money were people who owned businesses.”

Even in Junior High, Ty exhibited a unique entrepreneurial spirit, selling pastries that his grandmother taught him to bake around the holidays.  He also collected nightcrawlers to sell to fishermen, and later began to sell some of his products through Amway.  “Before I started selling these things,” Ty recalls, “I would often see my classmate out in the mornings delivering papers.  Even in rain or snow, he would come riding by so fast, with his bag on his bicycle fender filled with newspapers, delivering them along his route.  I thought to myself, ‘I need to do something like that.’  That classmate was Larry Demlow, who was the defensive lineman on our football team.”

Growing up in a family of such modest means, Ty became driven to earn money, but he never had plans to get rich.  “I’ve never been greedy about money, as a lot of the time I didn’t have it,” Ty explains.  “I became interested in it not because I did not want to amass any tremendous sum, but instead because I’ve always thought about it in a certain way, which is that if I have enough then I can be secure and I can help people.”

Also of great benefit to his success have been Ty’s winning instincts and his perseverance.  An extraordinary natural athlete, he played football, basketball and baseball in high school, and eventually played football at Ohio State.  He then went on to try out for the Baltimore Orioles at a Cleveland clinic.   Athletic teams are unique learning environments in which invaluable life skills can be cemented, and Ty accumulated many of those skills from his high school coaches and from the older players he had the benefit of observing as role models.  “What I gained” Ty says, “is the will and determination to say ‘Don’t give up.’  Even when my business was having some serious problems around the time of Desert Storm, I was saying to myself, ‘I’m not going to give this thing up.’  You have to depend on the Lord and pray, and you have to be determined to never give up.”

Humility was also a lesson reinforced by Ty’s experience with athletics.  In fact, he grins broadly today as he recalls trying out as center fielder for the Orioles just out of high school.  “I went in there with a couple other guys and tried out,” he says, “and I could hit the ball with no problem.  I was no home run hitter, but I could hit like Nellie Fox.  So the coaches said, ‘Ok, Barnett, go out there to center field where you play in the summer.’  So I ran out and stood where I normally did in high school, and I’m getting ready for the play to start when suddenly I hear the coaches shout to me, ‘We didn’t ask you to go to second base, we asked you to go out in center field!’  Boy, I was so far out there, I could hardly see the catcher!” Ty recalls, smiling.

Ty’s final experience of sports in high school is perhaps the most telling of his self-directed nature.  He was determined to attend Ohio State University and play football there, even when his father and his sports mentors all suggested that he wasn’t big, strong or fast enough.  They tried to tell him that there were better opportunities for him at Akron or Bowling Green University.  “It didn’t bother me,” Ty says today.  “I didn’t have to have someone else motivate me.  I knew what I wanted to do.”

Ultimately, Ty would receive a full scholarship to Ohio State and become a varsity player by his sophomore year, setting himself apart as a valuable member of the team even as an underclassman.  Not content to rest on his laurels, however, he also laid the foundation at Ohio State for the next great adventure of his life by joining Naval ROTC.  This began a 21-year career that would grant him the practical skills and management experience that would complement his entrepreneurial instincts and eventually lead him to become the Founder of Diverse Technologies Corporation.  As a Naval Supply Officer working on ships and shipyards all over the world, including Pearl Harbor, Ty primarily specialized in Logistics and Finance, the core services that Diverse Technologies now champions.

During those 21 years in the Navy, Ty assimilated a plethora of knowledge that both strengthened his character and honed his professional savvy, with heightened expertise in logistics, management and finance among the experience’s greatest benefits.  He also learned how to rely on people, how to lead them, and how to seek mentors and sponsors that supported him as he advanced both personally and professionally. Despite this tremendous growing experience, however, Ty still suspected that, when he finally left the Navy and realized he was ready to start a business, he still had quite a bit to learn.

“The biggest things I had left to learn were from my first wife, Tommie,” Ty explains.  “We were married for thirty-three years before she passed away.  She had been with me since I was an ensign all the way to Commander.  She had been through it all.  And I remember saying to her, ‘Tommie, you’re going to have to go back to work.  I’m retiring from the Navy, but I want to start this business.’  She looked at me and she said, ‘I’m going to keep praying for you and your business, but I am not leaving my children.’  She let me know in no uncertain terms that I could start all the businesses I wanted, but she would not be leaving our three sons.  I just laughed and said, ‘I can’t believe you!’  But it only made me work harder, and she was so supportive.”

Tommie’s influence was broad and far-reaching.  “You know how it is with your first love,” Ty says.  “I was chasing girls all over Athens, Georgia while I was stationed there, but when I saw Tommie it was something different— I knew she was the person I wanted to marry.  There’s a proverb from the Bible that says, ‘Whosoever findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the Lord,’ and it’s the truth.  I never heard her say anything harsh.  Once I used profanity to myself out loud while in her presence, and she looked at me and said, ‘Don’t ever say that to me,’ and walked out of the room.  Man, her words almost killed me.  She was a tremendous influence.  She kept me grounded. And she would offer invaluable insights regarding people who worked for me.  She had very good instincts—so much so that sometimes I wished she would come to work with me in my office.  But she was exactly where she wanted and needed to be.”

Ty also learned early on that success was just as much about working smart as it was about working hard.  “From when I was a kid,” he says, “I worked solo, for myself, and didn’t realize that a team becomes more than the sum of its parts.  When I was collecting nightcrawlers with my younger brothers, I should have been paying them to collect those worms for me, selling them all myself, and keeping some of the profits.  When I started my business, I had to learn that I couldn’t do everything.  One time early on, a fraternity brother of mine asked me how the business was going, to which I replied, ‘Man, I’m working hard!’  To that, he told me I needed to be working smarter.  That’s a principle I’ve been striving to live by ever since.”

After enduring challenging times during the first Gulf War, Diverse Technologies has seen almost constant growth—a product of working hard, working smart, and working for the benefit of others as well as oneself.  As Ty now approaches the point when he’ll hand over operations of his company to focus on other things, he has time to reflect on his legacy and the pride of his life: his current lovely wife, Ruth; his three children, Robert, Bradford and Thomas; and his grandchildren.

“I’m very proud of my family,” he reflects “My father always said, ‘Everytime you go out the door, make sure the family name stays in its proper place.  Honor the family name.’  My kids do that. They have stayed out of trouble and honored our family.  My eldest son, Robert Wilson, is single and lives in Atlanta.  My second son, William Bradford lives with his wife, Rita, and my granddaughter, Alexa Jade, in Woodbridge, VA.  My youngest, Thomas Holland, lives with his wife, Tiffany, and my three grandsons, Isaiah Michael, Jeremiah Thomas, and Noah Bradley, in Dumfries, VA.  I have three brothers—Dwight Harrison and his wife, Jean, live with their five children in Boston; my brother John Douglas and his wife, Beverly, live with their five children in Alexandria, VA; and John William Jr. lives with his wife, Debra, and their three children in Florida.  My only sister, Renee Denise Barnett, lives in Alexandria, VA.”

True to form, as well, Ty has more time and resources now to focus on helping his extended family, and those beyond it.  Whether it’s helping a niece with college or a good family friend with unforeseen medical costs, he remains as dedicated to helping people as ever.  These individuals and instances of assistance are supplemented with long-term and more general philanthropic activities as well, including contributions to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and Ty ultimately plans to start a non-profit organization for charity and scholarships for the needy.

Admittedly, some things have changed over the years, but some things remain constant.  Ty may not play sports anymore, but his firm commitment to hard work and helping others is alive and well.  It is through exemplary work ethic that life is lent to the timeless lessons he has learned over the years, and it is through this life that those lessons continue to propagate prosperity and happiness for his legacy and family.

O. Tyrone Barnett

Gordon J Bernhardt


President and founder of Bernhardt Wealth Management and author of Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area. Gordon provides financial planning and wealth management services to affluent individuals, families and business owners throughout the Washington, DC area. Since establishing his firm in 1994, he and his team have been focused on providing high quality service and independent financial advice to help clients make informed decisions about their money.

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