Mike Lyles spent his first career in the United States Air Force, making such a name for himself that he then spent an entire next career building the multi-million-dollar Leader Communications.
When Mike Lyles was better known as Senior Master Sergeant Lyles, he had built a 22-year career with the United States Air Force, capping off his military career by consolidating high-frequency global communications networks from 35 stations to, ultimately, 13 stations, saving the government $300-$400 million.
With results like that, when Lyles retired, the Air Force wasn’t ready to let him go. Instead, he transitioned immediately into contract work for them.
“I retired on Friday, and I came back to the same office and the same chair on Monday,” Lyles said.
That was Feb. 1, 1999, and it was also the start of his new company, Leader Communications Inc., which first began at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, California, also where Lyles was born. Pretty soon after, opportunity brought the business to Oklahoma and Tinker Air Force Base, and Lyles has grown the company exponentially since.
“The state of Oklahoma has been great to me,” he said. “We got a first contract, and it grew from me to about nine people. I opened up an office here, and I started hiring people here that had different skill sets. We did information technology; we won a contract out of the FFA that we were doing financial services and administrative services, and we were growing pretty fast.”
That growth led to a company now with 205 employees spread out across 18 states, and growth of annual sales of $500,000 in 1999 to around $20 million last year. Now, the company has contracts with the Air Force, Army, FFA, Homeland Security and the IRS.
“It is really humbling some days,” he said. “You look around and realize that not only time went fast but the projects did too. It’s like one long career because I spent 22 years in the Air Force, and I never planned on starting a business. That opportunity was just there at the last minute.”
He said his 40-plus years of experience in both the military and as an entrepreneur means he can give back to others trying to make successful careers for themselves.
“I’ve been able to set a good example of what Black-owned businesses can accomplish,” Lyles said. “I’m mentoring a company now, and we meet every two weeks. And we go over all types of things — some of that is how Black companies persevere and be successful. You have to provide the best customer service possible, do what you say you are going to do and be on time. That’s the key to success no matter your background, gender, race or religion. Be a good person.”
“Setting a good example is the best thing I can do,” he said.