Driven to Succeed

Local Women Lead Large Companies

Just this spring, the Company Lab hosted the first “Female Founders” 48-Hour Launch, an event in which nine women proposed new business plans while competing for more than $10,000 in cash prizes and services. The idea is novel, but women have been guiding top companies in Chattanooga for some time and continue to guide them to new frontiers of success. Read on to meet local women who are leading their own companies that are large in scale—from the company’s revenue, or value, to the number of people employed, to the geography served.

By Brian Bease



Lauren C. Templeton

Lauren Templeton Capital Management, LLC

Lauren C. Templeton is founder and president of Lauren Templeton Capital Management, LLC (LTCM), a value investing boutique located here in Chattanooga. A general partner to the Global Maximum Pessimism Fund, LTCM handles investments for clients around the world. Templeton’s chief responsibilities are the portfolio and risk management.

Templeton was raised in the small town of Winchester, Tenn. A self-described “investing enthusiast with a gift for bargain hunting,” she learned how to invest at an early age under the tutelage of her father and her great-uncle, Sir. John M. Templeton. She attended Baylor School as a boarding student and then studied economics at Sewanee: The University of the South. She has been investing professionally since 2001.

Templeton believes the greatest rewards of entrepreneurship are serving others and creating something new. “Every good entrepreneur is a servant,” she says. “If you can find a need and fill it, then you have a good business model.”

She’s passionate about helping others grow and preserve their wealth, considering it a privilege to work with clients. “We try to compound our investor’s money at the highest rate possible given an acceptable level of risk,” she says. “I like to think about what my clients will one day do with their money.  Does my work enable their kids or grandkids to go to school? Does that extra report I read mean that a foundation will be able to fund more grants?”

As a mother of a four-month-old and a four-year-old, Templeton appreciates how starting your own business allows you to set your own schedule. “A word of caution here though,” she says, “is that you are going to work 10 times as hard when you own your own business.”

When asked about the greatest lesson she’s learned as an entrepreneur, Templeton quotes Socrates: “‘Remember that there is nothing stable in human affairs; therefore avoid undue elation in prosperity, or undue depression in adversity.’”

What about the future? “Well, I don’t have a crystal ball,” she says, “but I know I will be investing personally until the day I die.”


Darlene Brown

Real Estate Partners Chattanooga LLC

Darlene Brown is a founding partner and managing broker of Real Estate Partners Chattanooga LLC, one of the city’s leading independent, locally-owned real estate companies. Real Estate Partners offers a full range of services, but has an emphasis on residential and commercial sales and leasing.

Today, the company is owned entirely by women and made up of 40 real estate professionals. Brown says the company is small by design. “Decisions can be made quickly and efficiently due to our autonomy and that helps us be  more responsive to changes in the housing market and to our clients’ and agents’ needs.”

Brown says that the most rewarding aspects of her business are without question seeing people that she has mentored succeed in real estate and in life. The best advice that she would give to other women is, “surround yourself with capable people, lead by example, and set the standard for success, work and business ethics for your company. Never ask a colleague to do something you are not willing to do or have not done yourself.”

Brown was born and raised in Chattanooga, and is proud to be a product of Chattanooga’s public schools and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Now, as managing broker, she is responsible for all of the real estate listings and business practices associated with her company.

When she’s not working, Brown loves to travel and read. She particularly loves learning about Abraham Lincoln. “I have visited all of his important sites, and I do not think there has been anything written about him that I have not read,” she says. “His wit, wisdom, courage and most of all his perseverance, are constant sources of motivation for me.”


Sheila Boyington

Thinking Media


Sheila Boyington is president of Thinking Media, an e-learning company that develops technology for education, health care, and workforce development. The company, which she co-owns with her husband, Dane, has developed nationally lauded products including KeyTrain® (a work-readiness training program),® (a character education program), and PictureRX™ (a picture-based medication memory card)—tools now used by over 7,000 organizations worldwide, including many fortune 500 companies.

The daughter of two Indian immigrants, Boyington showed an interest in math and science at an early age. Her parents and teachers encouraged her to chase her dreams, and she went on to become a registered professional engineer, earning a master’s degree in civil/environmental engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, and a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Florida.

Since 1997, Boyington has been hard at work using her entrepreneurial skills and business acumen to grow Thinking Media. Today, the company employs approximately 20 people and has been mentioned in a number of esteemed publications including The Wall Street Journal. A particular success came in 2010, when ACT, Inc. acquired KeyTrain® and asked Boyington to serve as vice president of its workforce development division. However, last May Boyington left that position to focus on a new venture called Learning Blade™, a curriculum designed to increase middle schoolers’ interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Now Boyington is focusing her efforts on mentoring women and girls in our community and around the world. Locally, she has served on the boards of Girls, Inc. of Chattanooga, Chattanooga Women’s Leadership Institute, and Girls Preparatory School, among others. She is also on the national committee for the National Girls Collaborative Project™, an organization committed to building a network of 1 million women mentors in STEM over the next three years.

Among Boyingtons’ many awards are the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce’s “Athena Award” and “Small Business of the Year Award.” She was also a 2011 Chattanooga Woman of Distinction. Her greatest success, however, is based in the raising of her own two daughters—“the first place a woman has to have an impact,” she says. Priya, age 23, is now an industrial engineer with the prestigious BAIN and Company, while Nisha, age 20, has started the Global Youth Leadership Class for teens in Chattanooga and is now studying entrepreneurship at Indiana University.

Her best advice for women in business? “Follow your passion and work hard,” she says. “These two things can lead you to any goal you have for your life.”


Heidi Hefferlin

Hefferlin + Kronenberg Architects (H+K)


“Good design is good business,” says Heidi Hefferlin, a founder and the managing partner at Hefferlin + Kronenberg Architects (H+K), a design-oriented architectural and interior design firm located in downtown Chattanooga. “Designing spaces that improve people’s lives is the most rewarding aspect of my life.”

Hefferlin, who was raised riding horses and exploring wildlife in the countryside of Apison, has worked as an architect and interior designer for 29 years. She describes how her love for design and building things first began during a trip to Europe at the age of 11.

“I went to Switzerland to visit my grandmother and I was introduced to the work of my great uncle who was a famous architect,” she says. “I grew really interested after seeing the buildings, models and drawings.”

Hefferlin followed her passion and studied environmental design at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Following internships with architects Skidmore Owings and Merrill and Richard Meier (architect of the Getty Museum), she received her architect’s license. At the age of 29, she started Heidi Hefferlin Architects while living in Los Angeles before moving back to Chattanooga.

Today, H+K has 10 employees—a talented team of designers, architects, and businesspeople. The firm’s work is primarily in the Chattanooga region; however, it is licensed to work in many states and has completed projects as far away as Manila, Philippines.

Hefferlin shares leadership with her partners, Clif McCormick and Craig Kronenberg (also her husband!). While each has individual design projects, McCormick acts as technical coordinator, Kronenberg acts as director of design, and Hefferlin manages the firm’s business and marketing. This kind of team effort is the future of her field, Hefferlin explains. “Architecture will become more collaborative and design-build will become more commonplace,” she says.

Hefferlin is particularly passionate about making the Scenic City a beautiful place to live and work. “I am very proud of our contribution to Chattanooga’s Southside where we have designed many buildings and a pocket park,” she says. “Watching the community mature and being able to point to buildings in our neighborhood and say, ‘That is an H+K building,’ is very rewarding.’”

To other female entrepreneurs, she suggests doing your research before you leap. “Study similar businesses in your region to see if there is a need for your prospective service,” she says. “Develop a group of mentors and create a game plan with clear goals before you launch.”


Lynn Wilkins Crabtree and Lisa Wilkins Felker

Wilkins Research Services


When it comes to successful women in business, sisters Lynn Wilkins Crabtree and Lisa Wilkins Felker may be Chattanooga’s best kept secret. The sister team owns Wilkins Research Services, a local marketing research firm specializing in data collection for clients (online research, phone surveys, focus groups, interviews, and more). With over 300 employees, the company is one of the largest data collection agencies in the Southeast, and its clients are located across the nation and in Canada as well as right here in Chattanooga. According to Lisa, the company runs seven days a week, operating 12 hours or longer each day.

Wilkins Research was founded in 1971 after Madge H. Wilkins, Lynn and Lisa’s mother, discovered a need for market research services in the area. Both sisters worked for their mom’s company as teenagers before heading to college; Lynn studied communications at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and Lisa studied language and world business at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.

Today, the sisters set themselves apart by their compassionate care for employees and clients alike. Lynn describes her hardworking team of employees as “true warriors,” while Lisa explains that their team actually feels “like a family.”

Wilkins Research regularly participates in non-profit causes in the community, and often develops internal charitable fundraisers for employees facing hard times. “This business is not about the brick and mortar, but about these wonderful people we get to work with every day,” says Lisa. Lynn agrees: “We want to be sure we do our part to share in the blessings that we have been given.”

Looking to the future, Lynn and Lisa are already anticipating ways their company will need to adapt as technology evolves, such as putting more of an emphasis on research within community blogging and social media. And when obstacles and tough decisions come, they’ll face them together. “I am so blessed to work with my sister who is so talented and capable. It gives me an edge over most business partners,” says Lynn.

“One of the most rewarding parts of my work is that I get to work with my sister,” Lisa adds. “We share the same passion for the business and rarely disagree.”

Their best advice for women going into business? “Be a good listener!” Lynn says. “Knowing [your employees’ and clients’] questions and concerns are key to continued growth and success.”

“Invest in people,” Lisa says. “Surround yourself with talented and dedicated people, both clients and employees.”

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