By Katy Mena-Berkley
Chattanooga’s business professionals are no exception. Our city is overflowing with people who possess not only true passion for their work, but endless determination, faith, and vision. Which leads us to the question: What happens when you put two of these bright minds and determined spirits together? Read on to find out.
Michael Adams + Cherita Adams Blue Orleans (pictured above)
Michael and Cherita Adams are no strangers to challenge. Both New Orleans natives, the pair grew up together in The Big Easy before taking the worlds of corporate sales and marketing by storm. They fell in love, married, and as a team, learned to navigate the twists and turns life had to offer.
While still in New Orleans, Michael discovered a passion for all things culinary when he met the owner of food supply company Bayou Cajun Cuisine. For approximately two years, he worked to promote Cajun staples before being offered the opportunity to open his own store in New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport.
Three days later, Hurricane Katrina hit.
“After the hurricane, we realized we had to make something happen,” says Cherita, explaining their move to Chattanooga in the wake of the storm. “Mike had a natural talent for cooking, and I was good with marketing and public relations. Thanks to former Mayor Ron Littlefield, former Chattanooga Judge Walter Williams, and Sarah Morgan with the Lyndhurst Foundation, we found this location and knew it was meant to be.”
Trusting their instincts, the Adams sold everything that had not been ruined by Hurricane Katrina and moved to Chattanooga to open Blue Orleans on Chattanooga’s Southside. Seven years later, the business is thriving more than ever before. Featuring authentic Creole cuisine and Mardi Gras-inspired décor, the restaurant offers Chattanoogans a taste of New Orleans in their own backyard.
Now, the flavor of Blue Orleans may one day spread to locales such as Nashville and New Orleans if the Adams choose to take up investors on franchise opportunities. Reflecting on the decisions before them, Cherita acknowledges that the ventures would take extra time and effort, but the outcome could make the risk worthwhile.
“As entrepreneurs, you realize that your business has two sides just like a coin,” she says. “One side has challenges, but the other has victories.”
The key to successful teamwork: hard work
Architects Heidi Hefferlin and Craig Kronenberg embody the energy, imagination, and entrepreneurial spirit that have revitalized the Scenic City. The pair met in 1984 while working on an architectural project in Manila for Los Angeles architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Work turned into dinner. Dinner led to dating. Marriage followed soon after, marking the advent of a truly powerful partnership. “We collaborate well,” says Kronenberg of the partnership with his wife. “We both have a passion for building things.”
Hefferlin and Kronenberg opened their firm on Chattanooga’s Southside in 1999, bringing with them years of experience from operating their own firms on the West Coast. They also imported their distinctive style of design – a clean and simple aesthetic characterized by the use of natural and enduring materials.
Together with their talented staff of eight other industry professionals, Hefferlin and Kronenberg have built an impressive portfolio that includes the Alstom Fitness Center, the outdoor pavilion at Renaissance Park, and a private family cabin in Tellico Plains, complete with dark stained cedar and mountain stonework.
The couple’s creative endeavors have extended well beyond the office too. As a team, they helped to form the Southside Cowart Place Neighborhood Association, an association that has since worked with urban forester Gene Hyde to plant more than 100 trees in the area as well as build a park at Battle Academy. Additionally, Hefferlin worked pro bono to design Hatch’s House of Hope on East Third Street, a facility that offers support to families dealing with the impacts of pediatric cancer.
The key to successful teamwork: compromise
Cousins Elliott and Gordon Davenport have the restaurant business in their blood, with their collective résumé including the founding of hamburger chain Central Park USA and executive experience with the Krystal Company. But even with all that to their name, the duo says the work they’ve been doing for the past 10 years has been their true labor of love.
More than a decade ago, the Davenports had an opportunity to purchase the Burger King franchise in southeast and middle Tennessee – and so they did. The cousins formed Hometown Folks, LLC., to operate the restaurants, and they have been growing their business ever since.
“Like many good ideas, it all started out with a conversation after dinner with our wives,” says Gordon Davenport of the life-changing decision. “We both had experience in the restaurant industry, and even though we’d never been in business together, we decided to go for it.”
The pair made a wise decision. The restaurants have thrived since the cousins took over, doubling sales during the last decade. The cousins plan to double them again in the decade to come, and they know they can count on one another to make it all happen. “We have complete trust in each other’s decisions,” says Gordon.
He adds that they also make it a goal to extend this trust and respect to the people who work for them. “We respect, value, and incent our employees to do great work. It inspires them to treat our customers the same way.”
The key to successful teamwork: a common vision and trust
High school romance blossomed into a successful business partnership for MurMaid Mattress owners Cindy and Roger Pickett. The courtship began while the two were attending high school in Cleveland, and continued as they both headed to Knoxville to attend the University of Tennessee.
A wedding and two babies later, the couple made the decision to work together at the Pickett family mattress and furniture business in Cleveland. The arrangement just made sense, the couple says. They needed a work situation that allowed them enough flexibility to raise their family.
They soon discovered there were other perks too. “One benefit of working with your spouse is having complete confidence and trust in each other,” says Cindy. “Knowing each other’s strengths and areas of expertise allows the allocation of time and money to be spent wisely. There are no hidden agendas, no competition, and one shared vision for the company.”
That shared vision has since inspired them to turn one MurMaid factory and retail store into a chain that includes 13 locations around the region. The couple has added multiple storefronts during the past 10 years, including a former Mattress Outlet location in Red Bank that they purchased years ago.
The Picketts believe that focusing on the local aspect of their business has been the key to their success. By making their products in their own factories, building a regional brand, and selling their goods directly to the public, they have been able to connect with customers in a truly personal fashion.
“Having found our niche, we truly have a competitive advantage,” says Cindy, explaining that she and Roger have plans to continue growing their business. “We have to continue outmaneuvering the big guys entering our home market. And we will.”
The key to successful teamwork: uncompromising desire toward common goals
Franklin Farrow + Greg A. Vital Independent Healthcare Properties, LLC Morning Pointe Assisted Living
It has been nearly 20 years since Franklin Farrow and Greg A. Vital started their business. Comprised then of just two men, a Crown Victoria, and a pickup truck, it has since become a thriving senior services company that today employs roughly 1,000 people and serves countless seniors across five states.
Independent Healthcare Properties (IHP) and Morning Pointe, which focus on providing assisted living services and care to families living with Alzheimer’s disease, was born of Farrow and Vital’s shared dedication to attention to detail. The pair met while working in the offices of a national nursing home service provider. There, they discovered a shared entrepreneurial calling that they simply couldn’t ignore.
“The decision to start a business wasn’t hard to make,” says Farrow, who serves as COO; Vital is the company’s president and CEO. “Our combined strengths and talents created a synergy that has lasted.”
From the beginning, Vital has been the team’s marketing and development expert, while Farrow has focused on the management end of the spectrum. The complementary talents have inspired a mutual respect and partnership between the pair, leading to exponential growth in an industry close to their hearts.
“You don’t choose the senior services industry as much as it chooses you,” says Farrow. “We are blessed to have a business model coupled with a mission of service.”
Farrow and Vital’s dedication and passion for exceeding expectations extends outside of the walls of their businesses. The two have worked on dozens of philanthropic projects during the past few years.
“As stewards and Christians, we both feel compelled to do more than grow a company,” Farrow says. “It has been a calling of service and remains one to this day.”
The key to successful teamwork: valuing each other’s opinions
As certified public accountants, Mike Barto and Henry Hoss pull together as a team to maximize efficiency and fiscal outcomes for clients.
The two men met years ago at a meeting of the Chattanooga Chapter of the Tennessee Society of Certified Public Accountants. Then both small practitioners in their field, Barto and Hoss were each looking for opportunities to draw a larger pool of quality clientele. Partnering with one another simply made sense, they say.
“When you’re on your own, it’s hard to find the right talent to help you do the work,” says Barto. “Since partnering in 1993, we have been able to complement one another and add to our staff, growing beyond what either of us could do separately.”
Together, Barto and Hoss have developed a solid local reputation as leaders in the accounting industry. The two men share similar values outside of work too: both are avid supporters of giving back to the community by supporting local organizations.
Barto lends his skills to his church by serving as the chair of the finance committee. He is also actively involved with the board of the Orange Grove Center, the Chattanooga Rotary Club, and the Tri-Community Volunteer Fire Department. Hoss is equally committed to community service. For more than 20 years, he has been the treasurer of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Chattanooga. He is also an active member of the Downtown Lions Club and was appointed by Gov. Haslem to the Tennessee State Board of Accountancy.
“This community has been good to us, so we try to do the same thing in return,” says Barto.
The key to successful teamwork: hard work and common interest
Bill Wilder says that he’s admired Roger Smith’s capabilities since their days at City High School. “He was always doing the right thing,” says Wilder of Smith. “I always thought he was a leader.”
Today, Wilder and Smith work together as agency executives and senior vice presidents of BB&T Insurance Services, a partnership that began more than 32 years ago. At the time, Wilder had been working for Huffaker & Associates, an agency that was looking to hire someone new on to the team. Wilder naturally thought of Smith, and recruited him to join the insurance agency in 1982.
More than three decades later, Wilder’s instincts have proven to be right on target. The two work together with a mutual respect and consistently support one another’s ideas. And they’re always ready to back each other up when they need to, a loyalty that has remained with the pair since Huffaker sold the company to BB&T. Smith and Wilder note that their professional achievements have been inspired by more than one another, however.
“We have been successful because of the professionals we work with and the mentors who went before us like Bob Huffaker, Hugh Huffaker, and Ted King,” says Smith. “It’s unique when the older generation allows the younger generation to take the reins. They allowed that to happen, and it has worked out.”
Wilder and Smith have no doubt done well to live up to the examples set forth by their mentors. In addition to running the thriving business that is BB&T, the pair stays closely involved with local non-profits such as Bible in the Schools, First Things First, Siskin Children’s Institute, and United Way of Greater Chattanooga.
The key to successful teamwork: commitment to common goals
Nick Macco and Adam Boeselager credit the success of their business, Southtree, to their shared passion for debate. “We see everything as a spirited contest for good ideas,” says Macco, who partnered with Boeselager to found the “memory preservation” company in 2001. “We value common goals over our egos.”
Macco and Boeselager discovered their unique chemistry while students at Lee University. The two had known each other for years, but when they became roommates, they realized they shared the same values and developed a new appreciation for each other’s skills. Their synergy and focus is now evident in the exceptional work of Southtree, which transfers home videos and photos to high-quality DVDs for its customers.
The company has been in business for seven years and incorporated for five, growing exponentially from a partnership of two to a company of 40. The secret to its success? According to the duo, it’s all about trying, failing, and trying again.
“You have to test your ideas quickly to see if someone really values it enough to pay hard-earned money for it,” Macco says. “A lot of times the answer is ‘no,’ but once you’re on to something, run after it as quickly as possible.”
Boeselager and Macco have certainly sprinted with their idea to preserve memories. And meeting with financial success, together they have chosen to share the wealth with people in need on the other side of the world through a partnership with buildacity.org. Each month, Southtree donates a portion of its profits to the fundraising site that builds new homes for refugees in Andong Village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
“‘We both believe ‘on earth as it is in heaven,’ means we should be striving toward bringing goodness into all areas of our lives, including our work,” Macco says. “Profit is not inconsistent with stewardship and doing good. In fact, it can be a great tool.”
The key to successful teamwork: clarity of vision and trusting people