Shaping Leaders

Strategy & Leadership

“Great leadership usually starts with a willing heart, a positive attitude, and a positive attitude, and a desire to make a difference.”
– Mac Anderson

 

Top Professionals Reflect on Pivotal Moments

Some moments, whether big or small, make all the difference in sparking inspiration, shifting perspectives, or teaching a lifelong lesson. Here, local leaders share a key moment that has shaped how they lead today.

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Dionne Jenkins

Vice President, Corporate Engagement, Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union

If someone has ever read my bio, or heard me speak, they likely know that my guiding principle as a leader revolves around inspiring others. My personal mantra is, “I want to inspire people. I want someone to look at me and say, ‘Because of you, I didn’t give up!’” I came across this phrase early in my professional career and the words resonated with me. They became the cornerstone of my leadership style. The awareness that others are constantly watching or looking to you for guidance underscores the importance of consistently embodying a positive example. I firmly believe in modeling the behaviors you wish to see in others.

 

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Deacon Hicks Armor

Head of School, Notre Dame High School

While I was at BlueCross Blueshield, I was asked to be in an informal training program, where over time I was placed in different areas of the business to see what was a good match. After being in a sales role for eight or nine months, I was made a sales manager. The sales office had not done well the last several years. One day, I received a note that said, “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” I looked at it, and it was unsigned. I had been looking at sales charts, graphs, and analytics, which is good, but hadn’t focused on, “Have we increased our sales?” which was our job. This lesson taught me that you can analyze or predict, but until you figure out your objective and how you’re going to do it, nothing gets done.

Years later, I found out who sent me the note. It was the guy who selected me to be in the training program. He was an intelligent, analytical guy who saw somebody doing the same thing he had done and realized that wasn’t going to work. It taught me that you have to understand what the organization you’re in does, and how to get that done.

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Chris Cosby

CEO, Parkridge Health System

My leadership style has evolved over my career, drawing inspiration from the  examples set by significant influencers in my life, primarily my parents and a former mentor. My father, a self-made, successful entrepreneur, and my mother, a distinguished healthcare administrator in her own right, project their paths to success to me and live through selfless service to others with humility, dignity, and respect. Moreover, the formative years of my career just out of grad school exposed me to the impactful leadership style of my first hospital CEO. Observing his congenial interactions with patients, visitors, and staff left an indelible mark on me. His genuine interest in getting to know individuals, irrespective of their roles or backgrounds, significantly shaped my approach to leadership. In my career today, I strive to do what is right for our patients and staff and emulate the inclusive and compassionate leadership I witnessed in those who influenced my journey. 

 

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Stacy Beaty

Owner, Beaty Fabricating, Inc.

I have heard my whole life that “you don’t need to work as much,” or that “you work too much.” I used to struggle a little with that, trying to figure out if I was working too much or not enough. It was about 12 to 15 years ago when I realized that to be the leader in your industry it takes 70-90-hour work weeks. It’s like being a heavy weight champion. You have to simply outwork all of your competition. You have to think differently than about 95% of the people, so how you do things isn’t going to make sense to most. You have to do what’s abnormal to everyone else until it becomes normal to you.

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Carlos Garcia

President, LogistiX

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic marked a transformative phase in my leadership journey. Given the nature of our business, remote work wasn’t a viable option, as our customers relied on us more than ever. Necessity fueled innovative solutions to meet our customers’ needs while safeguarding our team’s well-being. Swift adaptation and prioritizing their welfare became imperative. Implementing safe travel protocols and emphasizing digital collaboration ensured our services continued successfully. This experience instilled a profound appreciation for individual and collective flexibility and resilience.

The pandemic underscored the need for agile decision-making in an evolving business landscape, emphasizing a human-centric approach. Recognizing personal struggles and adapting to new work dynamics became integral. Today, these lessons guide my leadership style, emphasizing empathy and adaptability. They serve as a perpetual reminder of the importance of compassionate leadership in fostering a cooperative and cohesive work culture.

 

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Tracie LeSar

Director of Marketing and Outreach, Vascular Institute of Chattanooga

Throughout my tenure as the marketing director for the Vascular Institute of Chattanooga, a significant moment that profoundly shaped my professional and personal journey occurred eight years ago. As a supportive partner and dedicated mother, my involvement in this venture was more than a mere professional commitment – it became a personal mission. Our family became intricately linked with the vision of the Vascular Institute of Chattanooga, where a patient-first approach and the mission to save limbs and restore lives became the focal points of our shared aspirations. I was not a marketing person and did not have the background required for this job, but I was determined to succeed because failure was not an option. This transformative experience shaped not only my role as a supportive wife but also influenced my perspective on what it means to contribute to the success of a family venture. It underscored the importance of embracing challenges as opportunities for growth and the fulfillment of working together towards a common goal. Looking back, that moment marked more than just a business milestone – it was a testament to the power of faith, determination, and the unwavering belief that I could play a vital role in the success of VIC in this community.

Raymond James ad

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Debbie Brown

Vice President, Wealth Management, Raymond James
Raymond James & Associates, Inc. Member New York Stock Exchange/SIPC.

My first full-time job in the financial industry, back in the ‘80s, was working for a local bank. After a few years, the bank ended up being sold. I was 30 and single, so I decided to pursue my dream of being an advisor at a brokerage firm. My boss, a female, harshly told me I would never make it because Wall Street was “a man’s world.” Later that afternoon, I had lunch with my biggest fan, my dad. He was fighting terminal cancer and assured me that if I would always remember where I came from, to keep my strong faith, work hard, and to treat my clients with kindness and respect – I would be a success at anything. That day, I vowed to never discourage anyone from trying to reach their dreams. My motto is to pray often and stay close to people who feel like sunshine. Success is a marathon, not a sprint. This year, I will celebrate 40 years as a financial advisor.

 

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Johnika Everhart

Owner & Founder, Geeter Law

At the start of 2023, I had to revamp my law firm as my first paralegal transitioned to a new role. I experienced some trepidation as I anticipated recent changes, but I remained excited and eager to see how God would transform Geeter Law in this new season. This situation shaped my idea of leadership because as I began to vet and add new staff, I recognized how vital it is to have people working for you with the same work ethic and vision for your business. I stand before you now as a serial entrepreneur and owner of Geeter Law Office, PLLC, and Astro Jump of Chatta-nooga. I can’t explain to you enough about the importance of building a “dream team” for your business. I treat my employees like family because the team you build can truly make or break your business.

Warehouse Row

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Quincy Jenkins, EdD

Vice President of Organizational
Culture and Engagement, Chattanooga State Community College

Leadership is fundamentally a journey of decision-making, understanding power dynamics, role modeling, and adaptation. When I was promoted to vice president of organizational culture and engagement at Chattanooga State in 2022, with the responsibility of guiding our human resource initiatives, I gained a profound understanding of the critical importance of self-awareness and how my presence and behavior significantly affect others. Transformational leadership transcends authority; it’s about effecting positive change, nurturing teamwork and openness, and propelling forward momentum, all while upholding principles of integrity and ethical conduct. A key lesson for me was the critical importance of forgiveness and kind candor.

I use this approach for cultivating trust with my staff, encouraging their empowerment, fostering openness, and championing an environment for reflective learning and accountability. This fusion of forgiveness, self-awareness, and empathetic directness has been so influential that I have integrated these professional values into my wider daily interactions with others.

 

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Travis Hutchinson

Managing Partner, HHM Wealth Advisors

An important meeting early in my tenure as the managing partner molded my leadership style. The meeting included two very influential people within our firm with differing views regarding our staff development philosophy. That meeting reinforced the importance of identifying a person’s strengths, then positioning that person to use those strengths for success. In a leadership role, it would be critical to invest in them both financially, and perhaps more importantly, with time. This is consistent with how I was coached as a professional cyclist – “train your weaknesses, but always race your strengths.” As a leader, I am charged with making the most of the resources we have. Investing in our employees is a huge part of that. They are our greatest resource.

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Phillip Pickett

President & Founder, Advanced Energy Engineering & Design, Inc.

Early in my career, I remember that during a conference call a company project manager was speaking to me in a very unprofessional manner in the presence of a client. My boss at the time happened to overhear the dialogue and asked me to excuse myself from the conversation. A few minutes later, the project manager phoned me expressing his apology over the way he conducted himself which indicated to me that my boss took the time out of his day, unsolicited, to ensure that I was treated professionally. I have always remembered that, and I attempt to provide the same level of support for the people who work for and with me. Striving to provide an environment where employees feel supported, encouraged, and uplifted is important.

 

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Alexis Bogo

President, Hamico Inc

The summer between my junior and senior year in college, I went on an Outward-Bound trip in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado. I spent three weeks in the woods with eight other people hiking, rock climbing, repelling, and ultimately peaking at the top of one of the mountains at 15,000 feet. We faced challenges along the way ranging from avalanches to who was going to finish the last 10 bites of oatmeal so we would not have to carry the leftovers. It was physically and mentally the hardest thing I had ever experienced, but it taught me so much about myself. It taught me the power of positivity, the power in leading by example, and the power in the idea that we are always stronger together than alone. Those themes have followed me throughout my career and the experience of Outward-Bound is something I will forever cherish.

Mauldin & Jenkins ad

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Patti Steele

CEO, Builtwell Bank

I learned very early in my career the importance of being a “go-to” person who could be depended on to get things done. Of course, that meant taking on the responsibility for getting things done. When opportunities present themselves to take on more responsibility, be eager and willing to jump in and help. During a key company reorganization several years ago, we needed more resources to accomplish the objectives. Stepping up and taking responsibility for several key initiatives of that reorganization, and guiding those initiatives to successful fruition, resulted in meaningful advances in my career. Develop a mindset that someone has to do it, so why not me. When opportunity presents itself to take on more responsibility, seize that moment! It is a great way to learn new things and grow personally.

 

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Al Waldrop

Private Wealth Advisor and Founding Partner, Sterner Financial

Over the last 34 years, I attribute much of my success to hiring smart, diligent people who I trust to fulfill their roles with minimal management. I learned a valuable lesson about 15 years ago from one of my best team members. I would occasionally handle service requests from clients who called in, assuming that my immediate response was the best service we could provide. I thought I was lending a hand to the team member responsible for that service request, and showing I was a team player. My team member approached me, and very professionally let me know that every time I did that, she felt like I was communicating that I didn’t trust her to do her job. Unbeknownst to me, I was undermining the trust we had built. I am very thankful for that moment and for her confidence to speak up!  

Bailey Bullard Web Ad

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Claudia Pullen

Founder, Veterinary Care & Specialty Group

A little over seven years ago, my husband Billy and I had a vision to bring a 24/7 emergency and specialty veterinary hospital offering “big city” services to Chattanooga. At the time, I had no idea just how challenging this vision would be to accomplish. Yet, after many years of hard work and commitment, Veterinary Care & Specialty Group (VSCG) was born! The moment we opened our doors, I realized, “This is it! No turning back!” On every level, financially and conceptually, VCSG was the biggest leap of faith we had ever taken. I do not view myself as a leader, but as a visionary. My vision is often beyond what has been done before around me – the next few projects are going to show that for sure – so I surround myself with the best team possible to ensure that it becomes a reality. A good leader should take the first step, solve problems, and carry a positive attitude no matter the situation. Create the vision, assemble the team, and get it done… because, “if we build it, they will come!”

 

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Camille Daniel

Chief Banking Officer, RockPointBank

Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to work with great leaders who value building relationships and trust between teammates including colleagues and clients. I have learned that investing the time in maintaining those relationships is critical to the success of the team. It’s important to understand the “why” that drives the people on your team. For those of us who have had the unique opportunity to build a new business it’s exciting to see a team come together and share a common goal and the enthusiasm that is generated. Those longstanding relationships became extremely important as we worked to open a new bank in the middle of a pandemic. RockPointBank is comprised of an experienced team of local bankers who share a common purpose and are committed to supporting the growth of businesses in the Chattanooga community. We could not be more proud of the team at RockPointBank and are appreciative of the Chattanooga businesses who we serve as shareholders and clients of the bank. 

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Darlene Brown

Founder, President, & Downtown Managing Broker, Real Estate Partners Chattanooga

Many years ago, the real estate office I was managing at the time suffered a tragic loss. This experience taught me a lot about leading in times of grief. I saw firsthand how grief impacts people differently and how their needs from their leadership will vary. I learned that as a leader you must also take steps to process your own grief. I witnessed firsthand how creating the opportunity to pull together as partners during these times brings comfort but also creates a stronger bond for the group long-term. In the past several months, our company has lost two of our dear partners. I am yet again reminded of the lessons learned years ago as I aim to lead compassionately and wisely while in a season of grief.

 

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David Wade

CEO, EPB

People can do amazing things together when they’re empowered to do so. When EPB launched America’s first community-wide, Gig-speed fiber optic network, it took every member of our team to make it happen. Seeing the collective talents of our employees achieve something so monumental demonstrated anything is possible when we trust our team. They continue to prove again and again how strong, smart, and determined they are, and it’s our jobs as leaders to give them the support they need to do great things.

Erlanger Web Ad

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Jeff Myers

President & CEO, Hamilton
Health Care System

During college, while starting a family and career, I worked in housekeeping through a third-party hospital contract. When my contract ended, the CEO hired me for a specially created “Special Projects” position. Fortunately, the CEO recognized something in me I didn’t see in myself. In time, I received an opportunity for a position at higher pay and responsibilities, but he didn’t want me to get stuck in a dead-end position. I didn’t understand at the time, and I needed the money. Later, I realized the importance of a knowledge foundation instead of temporary pay rewards. His guidance changed my life trajectory. When I talk to young people (including my children), I encourage them to put in the work, dedication, and time to build knowledge that lasts a lifetime. It’s not about today’s pay but tomorrow’s payoff. I will forever be indebted to David Levinsohn – my friend, mentor, and second dad.

 

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Toccora Johnson-Petersen

CEO, Girls Inc. of Chattanooga

Over my 14-year career with Girls Inc. of Chattanooga, the one moment that stands out and has shaped how I lead and operate today was our ability to serve our girls and families during the pandemic. We were able to offer hybrid programming in May 2020 and our doors have remained open since. As an organization and team, we felt it was our responsibility to demonstrate resiliency and determination for our girls, our families, and their communities. During this time, Girls Inc. of Chattanooga hosted the city’s first virtual fundraising and spring break day camp. In addition, we created Girls On The Move and Virtual Family Night initiatives, strengthening our relationships with local businesses, foundations, local and state government, schools, and more. In August 2020, I served as Interim CEO with no blueprint to follow; however, our mission and vision kept me focused. Being a first-time CEO and leading during a pandemic brought forth skillsets and built character that I didn’t know I possessed. As we continue to recover from the pandemic, those newly developed skillsets and innate character have impacted my ability to be an intentional and strategic servant leader.  

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Ron Jones

Regional President, SouthEast Bank

Opening up a leadership conference 15 years ago, the moderator charged the group with this notion: “Take your job seriously, and yourselves lightly.” By this she meant – leaders should inspire team members and create a vision with their heart, not their mind. Balancing a relentless work ethic and commitment for achievement with the uncanny ability to laugh at yourself is a noble goal for any leader.

We are all emotional beings and are inspired not by stack rankings and spreadsheets, but rather by people who are genuine in their relationships. Leading with our heart will allow us to be more comfortable in our transparency of emotion (both with success and failure) with the team. Lastly, this type of leadership can more easily communicate with honesty and integrity, no matter what the subject matter.

 

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Matt Stelzman

Office Managing Principal, Windham Brannon

People are rarely shaped by only one prominent moment in their life, but rather through a collective of individual and singular experiences that mold the way they think and lead – including key moments of mentorship. As a native Chatta-noogan, I have had the opportunity to work alongside many key leaders who have helped shape this city. The one prominent feature of those I consider to be successful is their genuine respect and kindness toward others, regardless of status or position. These individuals make everyone feel important and remind them often that their success is within reach. This style of mentorship has impacted me the most throughout my career and, as I find myself surrounded by a team who are passionate about serving their clients and community, is something I strive to mimic as Windham Brannon continues its growth in the Chattanooga market.

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Matt Brock

Founding Attorney, Best and Brock

Several years ago, we had a trial that we were not supposed to win. The client was well aware but willing to take the chance. In fact, part of the reason it was being tried was to add it to other cases that had been incorrectly decided and the hope was to set it up for an appeal. Ultimately, we received a not guilty charge on all counts. It was a pivotal moment in my career that changed not only the way I approach trials but an aspect I try to implement in the culture of our firm. The practice of law is hard, running a business is hard, but if you continue to persevere and believe in what sometimes may seem impossible, you can achieve extraordinary things.

 

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John Yacoubian

Owner, Yacoubian Tailors

Upon realizing my children were joining the family business, it prompted a strategic shift in our offerings. Evolving from a primarily suit-focused store, we diversified to include a broader range of clothing. This transformation included expanding our inventory to feature more casual options for both men and women. Embracing this change not only catered to evolving fashion trends but also created a more inclusive shopping experience. The introduction of diverse styles enabled us to appeal to a wider customer base, ensuring our business remained dynamic and relevant. This change marked a pivotal moment in our journey, aligning tradition with contemporary preferences.

Morning Pointe ad

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Adam Kinsey

Real Estate Developer

I vividly remember in 2001, right after I started working for my father’s real estate development firm, that one of his primary managers, who has always been a mentor to me, came in to his office and very humbly stated that he messed up on a big project. I was expecting to witness a tense moment, but my father calmly asked what the problem was and how we would fix it. I quickly learned two things; the first is that everyone makes mistakes and the second is that if you go to someone with a problem you should have a few suggestions on a solution.

I feel that I’ve operated with that mindset over the last 20 years from both sides of the coin. If I make a mistake, I try to figure out solutions before going to someone and when an employee, contractor, or architect make a mistake, I take a breath and listen to what they have to say and hopefully find a solution to the problem. Sometimes the solutions even make the project better overall.

 

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Jimmy Patton

CEO, Patton Albertson & Miller

Several years back an older gentleman came to see me. He had terminal cancer and only a few months to live. He was searching for a firm that would look after his wife’s financial affairs after he was gone. And he’d heard we could take care of that.

He hired us and to this day, his widow is still a client of ours, and we’re her most trusted advisor. We’ve helped her through this stage of life where she’s on her own. This experience really hit home and determined our company’s true purpose. Our focus at Patton Albertson & Miller is a lot more than just helping people manage money. We’re about helping every individual on their life’s journey, whatever that may be.

Warehouse Row

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