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Ageless Wisdom

A Vistage member for 30+ years, John Myrna leaves a legacy of facing the toughest challenges head-on

In his second-to-last Vistage CEO group meeting, John Myrna brought one final issue to his peers and Chair for processing. After battling bone and prostate cancer for over two years, Myrna asked the group to help him plan his last months.

Together, they spent the next several hours deeply discussing Myrna’s life, his legacy, and what he wanted to accomplish with the time he had left. One goal included sharing his thoughts about what the Vistage community has meant to him.

“It was just an amazing conversation,” says Aviva Leebow Wolmer, the Chair of Myrna’s Atlanta-based Vistage group. “Not only was the group able to impact and help him put together a plan, but he was impactful on the members who started thinking about their own lives and what’s most important to them.”

That ability to impact others and tackle challenges head-on embodied Myrna, who passed away on September 9, 2023, at the age of 78. As CEO and co-founder of Myrna Associates, an Athens, Georgia-based strategic planning firm, Myrna had a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, “to see every business in America enhance its success by taking advantage of strategic planning,” he said in an interview before his passing.

“He was an innovator,” says Myrna’s son, Adam, who now serves as the company’s CEO. “He was always looking for the big challenges to take on.”

Myrna found his passion for strategic planning early on, following his stint with the Army Security Agency, which supported the National Security Agency. He then moved to Scientific Time Sharing Corporation, a pioneering data-processing firm in the 1970s, where he earned a reputation for his analytical insight and planning abilities.

"Myrna had a Big Hairy Audacious Goal - to see business in America enhance its success by taking advantage of strategic planning."

It’s also where he met his future wife, Mary. The two married three months after their first date, says Adam Myrna.

“My mother went to the Rockville County Courthouse, came back and said, ‘We can get married in five days for $3 or three days for $5,’” says Adam Myrna, recalling the story.

Adam Myrna says his father pulled out a $5 bill and handed it to her. “They had an instant connection,” he adds.

Myrna soon became known as a turnaround CEO for small tech companies, but had concerns about his leadership abilities and sought advice from a colleague who recommended he attend a Vistage meeting. There, he found a group of peers facing similar issues.

Joining his first group in 1988, Myrna became more comfortable as a leader and gained the confidence to co-found Myrna Associates with Mary three years later. Since its inception, the firm has helped more than 200 clients by utilizing Myrna’s strategic planning and turnaround processes.

But it was just as important for Myrna to provide advice and insight to his Vistage peers, first as a fellow member and later as a speaker. He eventually became a founding member of Leebow Wolmer’s second CEO group, acting as an unofficial mentor for younger members. Even after Mary passed in 2021 from breast cancer and he received his own diagnosis that same year, Myrna continued to provide time and resources to peers, particularly to leaders of underserved communities. “John brought so much to the table,” Leebow Wolmer says. “His wisdom was ageless. He always had a quote for everything and brought in new ideas. Everyone just wanted to soak it up.”

John Myrna (top, right) shares a dinner with his Vistage group, led by Chair Aviva Leebow Wolmer (bottom, left).

Many of Myrna’s fellow group members echoed similar thoughts following his passing. Whether it was doling out advice, telling wacky stories or reflecting on past challenges, Myrna shared as much knowledge as he could with the time he had left.

“His goal was just that impact to make a difference… anything he could do, not because he cared about his name being tied to that, but because he cared about businesses being better,” says one group member. “That’s pretty remarkable to see someone who would spend their last moments trying to make an impact on the world versus trying to do something for themselves.”

When asked why he continued to attend Vistage meetings in person, which included a 160-mile round-trip from Athens to Atlanta, Myrna simply called it “a wonderful experience. I don’t even notice the traffic.”

“Each member of my Vistage group cares about each other and cares about me,” he added. “The emotional feeling when we help each other is amazing: a slight tingle to the body, a flood of endorphins. In your life, there are many experiences you have: When you find the love of your life, the birth of your first child, and that moment when you become the CEO and the master of your destiny. Those are all events that happened once. My Vistage meetings are every month, and so every month I get that emotional high.”

Myrna is survived by his son, Adam, and Adam’s wife, Jennifer Myrna; his daughter, Kathern Myrna; two grandsons, Connor and Peter; several cousins, nieces, and nephews; and a large family gained through Mary, his wife of 49 years.

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