The Millennial Mindset

Local Millennials Share Thoughts on Their Generation and Their Contribution to Chattanooga’s Business Ethos


The millennial generation, defined as those born between 1980 and 2000, now accounts for the largest percentage of the U.S. labor force. Well-educated, tech-savvy, flexible, and idealistic, millennials have their sights set on more than entry-level positions. They are eager for a place to contribute their innovative ideas, and they are willing to switch companies while on their quest for personal achievement.

Millennials are known for their sense of social responsibility, and they tend to value a meaningful work experience over the perks of a hefty paycheck. What’s more, they expect their employers to share those values. They place great importance on work-life balance and desire work that is both collaborative and meaningful.

While the most successful millennials harbor a deep respect for the groundwork laid by the generations before them, they also demand a forward-thinking approach to business and feel comfortable challenging the status quo with two simple questions: “Why?” and “Why not?”

A quick survey of local millennials in the workplace reveals their values closely align with these national trends. Read on to learn what several successful Chattanooga millennials think about their generation, and what they feel it brings to the Scenic City’s business ethos.


By Amanda Steele  |  Photos by Stephanie Garcia



Jonathan Garcia  

millenials2Jonathan Garcia is an engineer and project manager with EPB. He interned with the company while in college and attributes his success to the relationships he’s built within the organization.


How has EPB worked to engage you and cultivate your growth? 

EPB provides a great environment to work in. It’s supportive, but challenging, and it focuses more on collaboration than rank. My co-workers seek to build off one another and cultivate individual strengths. I think a younger generation fits well into the framework of what’s been established at EPB. The top decision makers are bold and innovative, and they’ve given me trust and opportunities to succeed. I was always put in positions to learn, and I think that has been instrumental.


What positive qualities do you think millennials bring to the workplace?

I think this generation offers a sense of creativity and individualism. I also think many people my age want to feel passionate about their work. They want to be motivated by more than a paycheck.


What have you learned from the generations who’ve come before you?

The most influential person has been my boss, Bobby Hutcherson. These have been formative years in my career, and I’ve spent a great deal of time learning from him. I’ve gained so much from watching him manage our team and solve problems. It’s encouraged me to realize my own strengths and weaknesses as a leader.



Bentley Cook  

millenials-3Bentley Cook joined Bellhops shortly after its inception. He has risen from a junior developer to director of engineering and now manages a 17-person team.


Can you tell me about your journey to leadership at Bellhops?

I credit most of my leadership to what I learned at Sewanee, where I was given chances to lead as an undergraduate. I would also credit the outdoor experiences I’ve had like caving, climbing, snowshoeing. Nothing prepares you to be a leader like having someone show signs of hypothermia after four hours into a cave! I came on board with Bellhops when there were only nine of us. We now have 86, so I’ve been here through the thick and thin of it.


What qualities do you try to emulate as a leader?

I would say my strength is empathy. I make sure I’m listening to my co-workers. If they want more communication, I’m going to be a better communicator. If they want more autonomy, I’m going to give that to them. It’s my job to make people happy, and I think it’s reciprocal.


How has Bellhops worked to cultivate your growth as a younger employee?

Bellhops is a bunch of young people, so we’re all new to the game of running a business. I’ve been pushed beyond my comfort zone. Bellhops has said to me, “You keep saying ideas aloud, so now you’re responsible for them.” They’ve let me own my passion projects.



Asa Shirley  

millenials-4Asa Shirley is flatbed carrier sales manager at Coyote. He got his start by way of serendipitous networking and now manages a 75-person team.


How would you define a great leader?

A great leader listens, motivates, communicates, follows through, and doesn’t fear failure. A great leader is also positive, truthful, confident, committed, creative, and approachable. My father owned his own business, and he taught me about hard work. I worked in his office and saw how he managed his people, and that set me on my path. He had a deep respect for his employees. He was firm, yet fair. He taught me to do it the right way the first time.


What do you as a millennial bring to the leadership team at Coyote? 

I am energetic and positive. I’m a leader who coaches, not manages. I’m a mentor who leads by example and motivates those around me. This role can make you a better friend, sibling, or spouse. At Coyote, we hire young, so we get people at an important time in their lives. They’re looking for their place and their moment. I am honored to play a part in their journeys.


What advice would you give to other millennials in business?

Don’t take everything so seriously. Feed your competitive appetite, but know that nothing will ever be perfect. Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s how you handle your approach to any situation that matters. Be bold, be brave, and never give up.



David Criswell 

millenials-5David Criswell is director of strategic planning and risk management at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. He has shot up the ranks through a series of promotions and received the company’s Pinnacle Award in 2009 for his innovation in streamlining an enrollment process.


How would you define a great leader?

I have been fortunate to work with many individuals at BlueCross and at other organizations who’ve demonstrated great leadership. The qualities that were consistent in each of them were honesty, a commitment to developing their people, and maintaining open lines of communication.


What do you as a millennial bring to the leadership team at BlueCross, and how does your approach differ from generations who’ve gone before you?

I believe I offer a collaborative approach to problem solving. I leverage relationships across departments to enable my team to be effective. I also believe in flexibility when defining a workday – in thinking beyond certain hours of the day or physical location. Flexible work schedules and the ability to connect via technology enable you to be productive and still maintain work-life balance.


What advice would you give to other millennials in business? 

Ask for more responsibility, and be willing to put in the extra effort needed to exceed expectations. I often hear people say they want opportunities to move ahead, but they are hesitant to ask for them. Make it known that you want to take on new tasks, and be prepared to put in the time and effort it takes to make them successful.



Adam Osborne   

millenials-6Adam Osborne is accounting and assurance department manager at HHM. He is recognized within the firm for his ability to build meaningful relationships with his colleagues and clients.


Who has mentored you on your journey to leadership?

My father was instrumental. Every day when he dropped me off at school, he would say, “Today, I want you to be a leader and not a follower.” Those words lit a fire in me. They encouraged me to be a positive influence and a role model. At HHM, Donnie Hutcherson has been my motivator. He challenges me to reach new heights and is open about what it will take to get me there.


What are some positive qualities that millennials bring to a business setting?

They’re tech-savvy and they’re adding efficiencies into the workplace. Millennials are also outgoing and want to be involved in their community—especially in Chattanooga. Much of our community involvement is spearheaded by millennials. I think fostering that philanthropic attitude will reap tremendous benefits.


What advice would you give to other millennials?

I would challenge them to let their guard down a little. Be open to accepting challenges and seek opportunities to work with new people in different areas. Work hard and show that you have all the characteristics needed to advance. Be dedicated to your company and focus on building relationships with other employees. Loyalty and trust often create opportunities.



Ray Curbelo  

millenials-7-Ray Curbelo is director of global financial planning and analysis at Unum. He began in the company’s professional development program for young leaders.


How would you define a great leader?

A great leader should be  a role model. I can’t ask anything of my team that I won’t do or my team can’t see me doing. A great leader also challenges the process. Everything moves so fast, it’s important that we constantly re-evaluate what we do – both why we do it and how we do it. A great leader also has emotional intelligence. Business is business, but people make the business happen. There’s a human element to it.


What are some qualities millennials have that translate to good outcomes in a business setting?

Adaptability and flexibility. These are great qualities, although they can be scary. Since millennials grew up in so many different environments, they are comfortable exploring unfamiliar territory and running with it. This can make them successful. Flexibility and adaptability are great for business because we can plug and play you anywhere.


During your time at Unum, what lessons have you learned?

As millennials, we come in thinking we always have to be in the spotlight. But I’ve since learned to question that approach. Initially, I went after the “cool” projects, but I soon realized that even marginal success on non-cool projects challenged me more and got me greater recognition.



Ralph Romero  

millenials-8Ralph Romero is director of talent management at U.S. Xpress. He was promoted within months of joining the organization and has strengthened external relationships and streamlined internal processes for attracting, developing, and retaining the desired talent mix.


How would you define a great leader?

I believe perspective is important for any leader. Great leaders understand that everyone wants to succeed, but success might have a different definition depending on the generation or the individual. Those who learn who their people are as individuals are better able to utilize their strengths to promote the success of the organization as a whole.


What have you learned at U.S. Xpress from previous generations?

U.S. Xpress has been in business for over 30 years, and a dedicated and generationally diverse employee base has contributed to that success. Respecting that is key. Millennials come in with high expectations and want to make an immediate impact. Understanding and respecting every generation’s contributions is important to collectively drive the success of U.S. Xpress.


What advice would you give to other millennials in business? 

Get comfortable with receiving feedback, both positive and constructive. Not every idea is going to get approved, no matter how well-researched or well-intended. Continue to push well-developed and researched ideas with tact and respect. Also, differentiate yourself with education, experience, tenure, work ethic, interpersonal skills in both a virtual and face-to-face setting, and a solid network of professionals from all generations so when a leadership opportunity presents itself you will be ready.



Caroline Hensley 

millenials-9Caroline Hensley is manager of process development and technology transfer at Chattem. She has a chemical engineering degree from the University of Alabama and is known for her optimistic and inquisitive approach to problem solving.


How would you define a great leader?

A great leader must be an incredible communicator, have strong moral principles, facilitate conflict resolution, and empower others to get work done. I strive to emulate these qualities when communicating with my team to gain their trust and confidence in me as a leader and to ultimately develop and guide them to their full potential.


What are some positive qualities millennials have that translate to good outcomes in a business setting?

Having grown up with technology integrated into our lives, millennials are digital natives. We became fluent in technology at an early age. Ever-changing technology has been part of our entire lives, and we tend to be content creators focusing on new ways technology can enhance our lives. Millennials should apply this concept to ensure success in the business setting and be content creators that work toward developing innovative processes to enhance and prosper the business.


What advice would you give to other millennials in business? 

Start with a positive attitude and understand that learning is a lifelong process. Spend time listening to others. Learn the history and culture of your company, and be consistent with that culture. Earn people’s trust and be respectful. Work hard, be prepared, and know your audience. Always stay focused on supporting the business’s growth.



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