Twenty-five years ago the Billings Depot was in a sorry state. The historic structure was home to roosting pigeons and vagrants who huddled around fires built in metal barrels.
But the depot started making a comeback in the middle of the 1990s thanks to the efforts of enthusiastic community leaders who were determined to rejuvenate a historic area that had provided generations of travelers with their first glimpse of Billings.
The depot was shuttered in 1979 when Amtrak passenger service ended in Billings. But in 1994, Billings Depot Inc. was formed to restore the depot and surrounding buildings.
Today, the Billings Depot operates as a special events venue for more than 100 events each year. Jennifer Mercer, the Billings Depot’s executive director, works tirelessly scheduling events and all of the associated tasks involved with running the depot.
Previously, Mercer had divided her time between the Clocktower Inn and the depot. In December, the depot’s board of directors made Mercer’s position full time.
Describe how you got where you are in your work today.
I have been lucky enough to have some wonderful mentors in my life, and I have tried to learn from them and emulate their examples of leadership as much as possible. Being a farm kid means that hard work comes naturally, but the best piece of advice I have received to date was “find something you are passionate about and success will follow.” I love the Depot and what it offers our community, and that love makes me strive every day to make this place the very best it can be.
What’s the toughest challenge that you have faced in your business?
Trying to learn to prioritize and execute several dozen projects that I felt were all imperative to the betterment and success of our organization, while only being at the Depot part time. I created a very long “to-do” list when I started here, and everything seemed like it needed to be done yesterday. There wasn’t enough time in the day to get it all done.
What did you learn from that challenge?
I learned that working into the wee hours of the night is usually the only way to really get things done. My productivity is much higher without all the normal little interruptions throughout the 8-5 workday.
If you could make one positive change in Billings, what would it be?
I would love to see our community come together to build a community resource center for homelessness that would include a new shelter for women and families, job skills training and resources to help many of the homeless struggling with mental illness and substance abuse.
Aside from profit and loss, how do you measure success in your job?
Our customer satisfaction ratings are very important to us. We strive to offer our clients the most beautiful facility in the city, accompanied by service that exceeds their expectations. If we haven’t accomplished those things, we haven’t succeeded.
Which living person do you most admire?
Steve Wahrlich, the owner of the Clocktower Inn. He has been a tremendous mentor and coach, and I am thankful for his example of leadership every day.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Receiving the award as the “outstanding graduate of the marketing program” at MSU Billings while starting and operating a business full time was one of my favorite achievements.
I’m happiest when I’m…
Scuba diving in the Caribbean.