Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography and Patrick Thompson
Featured photo: US Attorney for North Dakota Chris Myers is an avid hockey fan, Jorvig talked with him on the ice at Scheels Arena.
Allegro Group Founder and CEO, Kara Jorvig, has a passion for local business. She enjoys sitting with business leaders throughout the region to discuss leadership, business strategy and their personal journeys. This month, United States Attorney for the District of North Dakota, Chris Myers, had some iced coffee with Jorvig to discuss the realities of his high profile job, lessons he’s learned along the way and how hockey has influenced his leadership philosophies.
Kara Jorvig: Do you think people know or understand what it means to be the US Attorney?
Chris Myers: I think some people know but some people may not understand exactly what we do in the U.S. Attorney’s office. We prosecute federal criminal cases from child exploitation cases to drug trafficking cases to firearms, kidnappings, lots of cases from the four major reservations in North Dakota. You name it, we handle it on the prosecution side. And then we have a civil unit that handles defensive civil cases where somebody sues the federal government but we also have affirmative civil cases where, for example, somebody trespasses on mineral rights, the United States might file suits to recover monetary damages. Our practice in the U.S. Attorney’s office is broad and diverse but we’re most known for prosecuting high profile criminal cases.
Jorvig: What do you think some of the traits or characteristics are of your mentors that you most admire or that you try to develop within yourself to be a good leader?
Myers: I think from my dad, the one thing I learned early on is he always preached, ‘Do the right thing.’ And that is particularly well suited for what we do on a day to day basis in law enforcement. Our job as prosecutors isn’t just about getting the conviction but to get justice. In its very essence, that’s doing the right thing. That has served me very well and I know the rest of the folks in law enforcement would feel that way and it’s good to wear the white hat so to speak.
“Don’t try to do everything yourself. Rely on folks within your organization to help you make decisions, help you lead the office and, with that, trust the folks that you work with to do their part and delegate what you can to them to help you run the organization.” – U.S. Attorney for the District of North Dakota Chris Myers
Jorvig: What are some of the hard lessons that you’ve learned in managing an office on top of the case load that you carry?
Myers: It is an isolating role being at the top of an organization and you have to make tough decisions and you have to make decisions that a lot of people may be unhappy with, or at least some of the people are. Of course you can’t make everybody happy. Along the lines of resilience, I think you learn that you shouldn’t strive to make everybody happy, you should strive to make the best decisions for the organization and then move on and not worry about it. Learn from your mistakes as you move on from your decisions.
Jorvig: Another thing I hear from leaders that talk about the struggles of being liked, or what do people think of me, have you ever struggled with likability versus leadership?
Myers: As people, everybody wants to be liked. As you move along in the leadership career, you have to just realize that the goal of a leader is not to be liked but to be an effective leader. You can have both at times, but not all the time. I think if everybody likes you all the time, you’re probably not doing what you need to do to move an organization forward but I think it would be disingenuous to say that I didn’t hope that everybody liked me. But, at the end of the day, it kind of parallels with hockey, it’s about respect. I hope that folks respect the work that I have put in and the decisions that I’ve made, even though they might not agree with them.
Jorvig: When I have an opportunity like this to meet somebody that has a higher profile position or that has a certain level of leadership, responsibility to the community, business or team, you’re often perceived as being serious and that’s part of the job. But there’s a lighter side to you as well. You’re also a hockey player and coach. This (hockey rink) is your comfort zone outside of the court room, right?
Myers: I grew up playing hockey and I have three kids that I have coached for years and years and I enjoy that part of the game as well. I am just an overall fan of the game and so this is a perfect venue for this interview. I feel at home in a hockey rink. I have spent a lot of time in hockey rinks and I love the sport.
Quick Facts About the U.S. Attorney in North Dakota
- One of 93 U.S. Attorneys in the United States
- Top Federal law enforcement official in the state of North Dakota
- Over 50 employees with offices in Fargo and Bismarck
- Works for the Executive Branch reporting directly to the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States
- Since March of 2015 and pursuant to the Vacancies Reform Act, Chris Myers has served as Acting U.S. Attorney, Interim U.S. Attorney and was appointed by Judge Ralph Erickson as U.S. Attorney in February 2016. Myers was preceded by Tim Purdon.
Jorvig: When you think about your experience playing hockey, or even coaching it, are there things about that you take to the court room?
Myers: Hockey, like any other sport, is great to teach the reality of life. One thing that you can take away from hockey, and why I like hockey in particular, is that the culture of the game is about respect. You can battle on the ice, and even drop the gloves and fight on the ice, but, at the end of the game, everybody shakes hands and you move on. That’s why I enjoy coaching. You can teach kids a lot about life through the game.
Jorvig: Transitions are inevitable – especially in the role of U.S. Attorney. How do you ensure your office is ready for a change in leadership, when that time comes?
Myers: I’ve worked with great people over the years; Lisa Borgen was one of my earliest bosses, at the Clay County Attorney’s office, and former U.S. Attorneys Drew Wrigley and Tim Purdon. I’ve learned a ton from them and try to take what I really like about their leadership abilities and incorporate it the best I can into what I do on a day-to-day basis. Even with the uncertainty of how long my tenure as U.S. Attorney would last, our focus has always been on making sure the office functions the best that it can and is always ready for the next leader. I think it’s important for leaders to realize that transitions are inevitable, no matter what type of organization you lead and you always should want to leave it in better shape than you found it. We’ve had a great office for as long as I’ve known about the office and that tradition will continue.
CAPTION Chris Myers with former United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Jorvig: What does success mean to you in life?
Myers: Success to me really is about having peace of mind. Knowing that when I look in the mirror, I reflect upon what I’ve done, whether it’s in my personal life or professional life, I want to be able to say I did what I could to make a difference. I think at the end of the day if I can finish my career with that feeling and that reflection, I feel it has been a success. Similarly, as my kids grow up and they transition into adulthood, I hope that they transition into good people. If I accomplish that, I feel that it’s been a really good life.
Jorvig: I am passionate about work as well and we have talked a little bit offline about just having fun and really enjoying your craft. Why do you love what you do?
Myers: I enjoy the work because of working with law enforcement to solve the crime, so to speak. Whether it is a criminal organization or somebody that committed a murder, we work with law enforcement to try to identify the folks involved and to target them and to dismantle, for example, a criminal organization. There is a lot of work that is involved, there is a lot of strategy that is involved and, to a certain extent, it is a chess game of trying to catch folks that are trying not to be caught. And some of them are very smart. That part, most days, doesn’t seem like work. It seems like a calling. The folks that work around here, not only in our office but local law enforcement, absolutely love where we live and want to keep this place as safe and secure as we can and we work really hard to do that. This community is growing and so is the state, and with that, you get a little bit more of the criminal element but we do the best we can to make sure that they know we’re here and we are going to address what they do and their bad decisions accordingly. Most days I kind of wonder to myself, I can’t believe they pay us to do this. That is how fun it can be but with that there is stress and I just try to balance that the best that I can.
Fentanyl trafficking conspiracy involving numerous overdoses with over 30 defendants charged, including Canadian and Chinese nationals (2015 to present)
U.S. v. Modesto Torrez
A methamphetamine trafficking case involving the murder of Austin Forsman at the Flyin’ J travel plaza in Grand Forks in 2016. Torrez is serving a life sentence.
U.S. v. Valentino Bagola
Murder of 9 year old Destiny Shaw and 6 year old Travis Dubois, Jr. on the Spirit Lake Reservation in 2011. Bagola is serving a life sentence.
‘Operation Speed Racer’
Over 60 defendants convicted involved in drug trafficking from Mexico with ties to the Arellano-Felix cartel; case involved the 2005 murder of Lee Avila in East Grand Forks, MN (2004 to present). Gabriel Martinez is serving a life sentence for his role in the murder.
U.S. v. Michael Gianakos
Kidnapping and murder of Ann Marie Camp in 1997; Federal trial commenced in Bismarck in 2003. Gianakos is serving a life sentence.
“I am proud to play a small part in the history of an office that has a strong tradition of handling legendary prosecutions such as Leonard Peltier, involving the murder of FBI Agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams in 1975; Yori Kahl and Scott Faul involving murders of U.S. Marshal Kenneth Muir and Deputy U.S. Marshal Bob Cheshire in Medina, ND in 1983; Alfonso Rodriguez involving the kidnapping and murder of Dru Sjodin in Grand Forks in 2003.” – Chris Myers
Jorvig: It is such a unique career. I think that is what is most fascinating. Do you think you can train yourself to be really good at this or does your mind work a certain way?
Myers: In any job or career, you can learn better or more efficient ways to do the job. But I think people that are really good at what they do, there is something in them that just naturally clicks and they can’t explain why they are really good at that particular aspect, whether it’s a professional athlete or somebody that does interviews or us when we investigate cases. I can’t explain why our team is so very good at what we do. A lot of it is just hard work to be honest with you. I think that is 90 percent of the game.
Jorvig: I was at a leadership training and they explained that everybody should be able to identify their superpower. You are like the Sherlock Holmes of North Dakota. What’s your superpower?
Myers: No, I don’t have any superpowers but I think I do a good job of relating with agents and working with agents directing the investigations but I am also able to communicate what the case is about and advocate for the United States, or the state for that matter, in court effectively with juries. And that has come from just doing it. Practice. Preparation. There is nothing magical about it other than putting the work in to be ready and do the best you can and hope things work out.
Jorvig: So what advice would you have for leaders?
Myers: Don’t try to do everything yourself. Rely on folks within your organization to help you make decisions, help you lead the office and, with that, trust the folks that you work with to do their part and delegate what you can to them to help you run the organization. I think that is really important to rely on a team, rather than an individual. It doesn’t matter what kind of organization you’re running, whether you’re coaching a hockey team or running a Fortune 500 company, relying on those that have the same issue and ethical values as you to run that organization, you will be more successful than if you were to try to do it alone.