It’s a Family Affair

By Rashad Gober

When businesses grow to be successful, it’s easy to forget how they got there. As consumers and observers, we tend to focus on their “next big thing” – their next big project, their next expansion, their newest model – meanwhile forgetting the hard work that enabled these companies to get to that point. Case in point: you may be excited about the next iPhone release – but do you know all about how Steve Jobs started Apple in his parents’ garage?

Like Apple, many of Chattanooga’s most successful businesses have had humble beginnings. What’s unique about our city, though, is that many of these businesses were started by local families – and continue to be owned by these families today. Here’s a look at seven area businesses whose growth and prosperity has been driven by generations of family members committed to a common goal.

The Lebovitz Family Charles, Stephen, Michael, and Alan Lebovitz

The Lebovitz Family Charles, Stephen, Michael, and Alan Lebovitz

CBL The Lebovitz Family
Meet the Lebovitzes – a property development dynasty at the top of their game. The family’s company, CBL & Associates Properties, Inc., is the largest owner and manager of shopping centers in the Southeast, but locals likely know it for its development of Hamilton Place and renovations of Northgate Mall.

The Lebovitzes’ property development history began with Mose Lebovitz, who in his early career was a partner in Independent Theatres, Inc. In 1961, Independent Theatres became Independent Enterprises and Mose and his son Charles shifted to developing commercial and shopping center real estate.

Over the years, Charles navigated the family enterprise through a series of growth-oriented changes, including a merger with a New York firm in 1970, the founding of CBL & Associates Properties, Inc. in 1978, and the completion of a public offering in 1993. Today his sons Stephen, Michael, and Alan have taken over the company’s senior management roles, while he remains a key advisor as chairman of the board.

“One of my grandfather’s favorite expressions was ‘think big, stay small,’ says Stephen. “My brothers and I have worked hard to maintain that same entrepreneurial spirit and family culture at CBL.”

Involved Family Members:
Charles Lebovitz  |  Age: 77  | Role: Chairman of the Board  •  Stephen Lebovitz  Age: 53  | Role: President & CEO • Michael Lebovitz  Age: 50  | Role: Executive VP – Development and Administration  • Alan Lebovitz  Age: 46  |  Role: Senior Vice President – Asset Management

Jim Brewer II, Jim Brewer Sr., Vicki Brewer, Kira (Brewer) Headlee

Jim Brewer II, Jim Brewer Sr., Vicki Brewer, Kira (Brewer) Headlee

Brewer Media Group The Brewer Family
Media was founded in 1988 when Jim and Vicki Brewer, along with their son, Jim Brewer II, bought the radio station WJTT Power 94. The Brewers initially started with a staff of about 10 and a single station appealing primarily to Chattanooga’s African-American community.

Twenty-six years and three generations later, Brewer Media now serves southeast Tennessee and northwest Georgia with five radio formats and a traffic reporting network that includes nine radio stations and two television stations. In addition to radio and television, Brewer Media also publishes The Pulse here in Chattanooga, and offers custom website and video production services.

Despite the tremendous growth that Brewer Media has experienced, control of the business remains within the family. Six family members are involved throughout the company, from managing commercial logs, to running the show as CEO.

Involved Family Members:
James Brewer Sr. 
Age: 73  |  Role: Co-Founder and Vice President  •  Jim Brewer Jr.  Age: 53  |  Role: Co-Founder and President •  Vicki Brewer  Age: 72  |  Role: Co-Founder and Secretary  •  Kira (Brewer) Headlee  Age: 44  |  Role: Controller  •  Danielle Brewer  Age: 30  |  Role: Program Director/Promotions & Sales/On-Air Personality  •   James Brewer  Age: 21  |  Role: Associate Content Producer

Mitch, Ish, and Aman Patel

Mitch, Ish, and Aman Patel

Vision Hospitality Group, Inc. The Patel Family
Mitch Patel founded Vision Hospitality Group, Inc. in 1997, but its true origins date back much further. Mitch’s father, Ish Patel, arrived in the United States many decades ago with a mere $8 in his pocket and a dream for a better life for his family. To attain his goal, Ish took a risk and entered the motel business by leasing a small 11-room motel.

Mitch grew up watching his father navigate his way through the ups and downs of the hospitality industry, and admits that when he was a young man, he thought that the family motel business was the very last thing he wanted to do. But when the opportunity to develop and manage a Homewood Suites by Hilton in Chattanooga arose, Mitch jumped on it. And though the hotel struggled early on, with hard work and determination, it found success – and Mitch found his passion.

From there, Mitch developed a second and third hotel, and thus Vision was born. What started as one hotel with revenues of approximately $1.8 million and 25 associates has blossomed into a successful family-owned business with a portfolio of 31 hotels and over 1,000 associates and close to $100 million in annual revenues.

Vision’s primary focus is continuing to develop a service culture of excellence. When reflecting on the difficult early years in light of the success Vision Hospitality Group has today, Mitch says, “When you find your passion for something, you will naturally work harder, overcome obstacles, and find success.”

Involved Family Members:
Ish Patel  Age: 68  |  Role: Chairman  •  Mitch Patel Age: 45  |  Role: President & CEO  •  Aman Patel  Age: 39  |  Role: Executive Vice President

Brian Quinn, Lisa Pate, Max Fuller, and Eric Fuller

Brian Quinn, Lisa Pate, Max Fuller, and Eric Fuller

U.S. Xpress The Quinn & Fuller Families
U.S. Xpress, now one of the largest companies in the transportation industry, started in 1986 as a partnership between Max Fuller and the late Pat Quinn. Fuller and Quinn had learned the trucking industry by working for Max’s father, Clyde Fuller, then owner of Southwest Motor Freight. Together they formed a powerful team at U.S. Xpress, with Max heading up operations, maintenance, and information systems, and Pat focusing on sales, contracts, and compliance.

Over the years the partnership led to a series of successes, including a company growth rate of over 30% for nearly 10 years. Twenty-eight years later, U.S. Xpress has over 7,000 trucks, employs around 10,000 people in the United States and Mexico, and has an annual revenue of approximately $1.6 billion.

Today, the company continues to be headed by Max Fuller as CEO, with Lisa Pate, Pat Quinn’s oldest daughter, as the Chief Administrative Officer and Eric Fuller, Max’s oldest son, as Chief Operating Officer. A number of other family members are involved in other key roles as well. Together, the two families continue to lead the company into the 21st century, striving to make U.S. Xpress an employer of choice in the Chattanooga region as well as the transportation industry.

Involved Family Members: 
Max Fuller   |   Age: 61   |   Role: Chairman & CEO  •  Lisa (Quinn) Pate Age: 45  |  Role: Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel • Brian Quinn  Age: 42  |  Role: Vice President & General Manager of International Services  •  Eric Fuller  Age: 37  |  Role: Chief Operating Officer • Craig Fuller  Age: 35  |  Role: Director of Agent Sales  •   Riley Pate  Age: 20  |  Role: Background Investigations for Recruiting

Heath, Rossman, Bill, Ross, Bill, Beasely, and Bob Tarver

Heath, Rossman, Bill, Ross, Bill, Beasely, and Bob Tarver

Tarver Distributing The Tarver Family
When Bill (Rabbit) Tarver and Gloria Tarver came to Cleveland from Knoxville, they were really taking a chance. “Both of my parents were/are very hard workers,” says their son Ross Tarver as he reflects on how his parents didn’t know anyone in the area when they arrived, but somehow made it work. Today, Tarver Distributing has been in business for 52 years. Beginning as a local Anheuser-Busch distributor in 1962, there were only three employees and the Tarvers sold about 36,000 cases of beer. Tarver Distributing currently employs 49 employees – seven of them family members – and sells 1.5 million cases of beer a year.

When Bill (Rabbit) Tarver and Gloria Tarver came to Cleveland from Knoxville, they were really taking a chance. “Both of my parents were/are very hard workers,” says their son Ross Tarver as he reflects on how his parents didn’t know anyone in the area when they arrived, but somehow made it work. Today, Tarver Distributing has been in business for 52 years. Beginning as a local Anheuser-Busch distributor in 1962, there were only three employees and the Tarvers sold about 36,000 cases of beer. Tarver Distributing currently employs 49 employees – seven of them family members – and sells 1.5 million cases of beer a year.

Things have definitely changed from the time the company started. For example, cases of beer used to be sold primarily to bars and mom-and-pop groceries, but now are sold to convenience stores and chain grocery stores. However, family ties and customer relationships have remained strong. With the involvement of Ross and his two brothers, the company is currently starting its third generation of family management.

Thinking back on the humble beginnings of the company, Ross says, “If there was ever a Cinderella story of sheer determination, hard work, and overcoming challenges this is it… determination and a focus on customer service and satisfaction have brought us to where we are.”

Involved Family Members:
Ross Tarver  Age: 52  |  Role: President & General Manager  •  Heath Tarver  Age: 29  |  Role: Account Pre Salesman  •  Rossman Tarver  Age: 23  |  Role: Independent Key Account Manager  •  Bill Tarver III  Age: 30  |  Role: Grocery/ Drug Key Account Manager  •  Bill Tarver II  Age: 50  |  Role: Vice President/ Sales Manager  •  Beasley Tarver  Age: 21  |  Role: Route Sales/ Delivery • Bob Tarver  Age: 45  |  Role: Bulk Sales Manager

Pratt

Nerren, James, and Win Pratt

Pratt Home Builders The Pratt Family
Following the sale of the family propane business, father and son duo James E. Pratt Jr. and James E. Pratt III (Win) founded Pratt Home Builders in the late ‘90s. They thought it would be interesting to try their hands in real estate and sold three homes in their first year of business. The next year it was about five, the next 15, and now Pratt Home Builders builds around 130 homes a year and has 38 full-time employees, including builders, designers, and marketing staff.

Despite the economic setback in 2007, Pratt Homebuilders persevered and is currently among the top 200 builders in the country.

Nerren Pratt, James’s third son (and Win’s younger brother), joined the company full-time about five years ago. Starting out as a construction manager, he now acts as the company’s vice president of construction.

The Pratts are thankful to be in Chattanooga, where residential and economic growth continues. They consider it an honor to build custom homes for people and impact the community in far-reaching ways. “We have the greatest job in the world – we make people’s dreams come true.”

Involved Family Members:
James Pratt  Age: 65  |  Role: CFO  •  Win Pratt  Age: 38  |  Role: CEO •  Nerren Pratt  Age: 31  |  Role: VP of Construction

Reece, David, Bob, and Frank Thomas

Reece, David, Bob, and Frank Thomas

Sequatchie Concrete Services, Inc. The Thomas Family
After retiring from the Marine Corps in 1954, friends Bob Thomas and Sam Hunter formed Hunter Ready Mix Concrete Company. Four years later, Hunter sold his stocks to Thomas and the company became what it’s known as today – Sequatchie Concrete Service, Inc. Now with offices in over 20 cities throughout Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia, Sequatchie Concrete has come a long way since its first small office outside Chattanooga in South Pittsburg, Tenn. “I think we’ve grown by acquisition and by being well-liked in the industry,” says Reece Thomas, son of Bob Thomas. Adds son of founder and president David Thomas,“We are in a service business, and we are committed to providing our customers with the best customer experience in the business. We achieve that through hard work, honesty, having integrity in what we do, and surrounding ourselves with good people.”

Over half a century later, Sequatchie Concrete has stayed in the Thomas family, with sons, grandchildren, and nephews of the founder all playing various roles. And, at 91, founder Bob Thomas is still involved in the management of the company.

While Sequatchie Concrete is undeniably a family business, specific requirements for success must be met by every employee. “If your last name is Thomas, you need to be overqualified to get the job,” Reece says. So what has made three generations of the family participate in the company? “We love what we do,” Reece explains. “It has been a great industry for us to be in throughout the years.” And the success is expected to continue. “We have a long history of success at Sequatchie Concrete, and I am excited for the opportunities we have moving forward for the next 60 years,” David says.

Involved Family Members:
Bob Thomas  Age: 91  |  Role: Founder  •  David Thomas  Age: 61  | Role: President  •  Reece Thomas  Age: 62 •  Frank Thomas  Age: 57  •  Jennifer Thomas  Age: 26 | Role: Regional Block Dispatcher  •  Carl Thomas | Age: 23 | Role: Pursuing Concrete Industry Management degree at MTSU

Robert, Larry, Tommy, and (front) C.A. “Red” Parks

Robert, Larry, Tommy, and (front) C.A. “Red” Parks

T.U. Parks Construction Company The Parks Family
T.U. Parks Construction Company has grown from a one-man operation to a corporation known throughout the South for their excellence in construction and diverse experience. They take on projects from remodeling and additions to complex projects involving millions of dollars.

Father/son duo C.A. Parks and Larry S. Parks serve as Chairman and President & CEO respectively and represent the second and third generations of family ownership, though management is now shared among some key non-family leaders.

The perspective from which the Parkses have approached construction lends greatly to their success. They view each individual or group – the owner, architect, and the contractor – as part of the same team working toward a common goal. They also maintain a huge focus on quality from the beginning to the end of each project.

T.U. Parks Construction Company has continued to deliver quality service for the past 70 years. Though revenue (now in the tens of millions) and employees (around 40) have changed, the Parkses’ commitment to building relationships with their clients and community interest has not. In fact, they have had their offices at the same place on Main Street for over 50 years.

Involved Family Members:
C.A. Parks 
Age: 87  |  Role: Chairman  •  Robert ParksAge: 27  |  Role: Project Manager  •  Larry ParksAge: 63  |  Role: President & CEO  •  Tommy Parks  Age: 23  |  Role: Former Intern