“If you cannot see where you are going, ask someone who has been there before.” – J. Loren Norris, Leadership Speaker & Author
What does it take to be successful? Business acumen, hard work, the right timing – the list could go on. Many leaders point back to mentors or people who have helped them along the way and given them the right advice at the right time. We asked local business and organization leaders to share what advice they received that impacted them the most.
My maternal grandfather worked as a grave digger a good part of his life. Every spring, he would plant a vegetable garden to supplement the family’s meager budget. As a young boy, I would help him in the garden from time to time. He chewed tobacco and occasionally would cut off a ‘plug’ of tobacco with his pocketknife. He always pulled a ‘whetstone’ from his bib overalls to sharpen his knife. He would tell me that the knife could only be made sharper on a rough surface. “You cannot sharpen a knife on a piece of velvet.” He explained that life was like that whetstone, and sometimes life would be rough. “Those are the times that God is making you a sharper and better man.” I have never forgotten his advice when life has been rough – just God helping me to be a sharper, better man.
Mauldin & Jenkins, LLC
Complacency is a cancer in life. Organizations and people must continually evolve and improve. Sears once was a thriving chain retailer and now is a bankrupt organization. Amazon has taken over retail by using a very different strategy than their competition. We must continually reinvent ourselves and improve to remain relevant.
President & CEO,
The best advice I’ve received is that it’s critical to have a strong understanding of every aspect of your business. When I started in banking, my father was the CEO, and he encouraged me to work in every department of the bank (teller, operations, IT, lending, etc.). Not only did I gain valuable knowledge of each area, I developed an understanding of how each department impacts the other and how it impacts our clients. It was great advice – it allowed me to gain respect through all levels of the company and has made me a more effective leader.
President & CEO,
Patton Albertson & Miller
I have received a lot of advice over the years, and I needed every bit of it. However, the best advice I ever received was from my mother when I was a young boy. She told me, “…in all things moderation.” My mother is a very wise woman, and I wish I could say that I have always followed her advice, but I haven’t. In the aftermath of my failures, I can usually look back and say, “I should have followed her advice.”
Parkridge East Hospital
One of my first bosses left me with so many memorable tidbits. They all have stories associated with them, but the ones I remember the most are: 1) Don’t focus on the promotion. Focus on being promotable. 2) The unthinkable happens from time to time. Don’t look outside of the box – get rid of the box and see what you find. 3) Don’t spend a silver bullet if an ordinary lead one will do. Preserve options. 4) Don’t confuse ‘authority’ with ‘influence.’ Be a person who influences – they make the world work.
Kevin M. Spiegel, FACHE
President & CEO,
Erlanger Health System
There are three pieces of advice that have stuck with me throughout my career: Always do the right thing; make decisions that benefit the patient; be a servant leader, and the tough decisions become much easier.
City President Chattanooga & Ooltewah,
The best business advice I ever received was from Clyde Fuller. Early in my banking career, he was a tremendous mentor to me and helped me better understand how entrepreneurs think. His advice was to take the necessary time to help the business owner develop exit strategies because “getting out of business is often a lot harder than getting into business.” Clyde’s advice has become a cornerstone of my client management process. Over the years, conversations around this important strategy have yielded super results, both for the client and the bank.
Lynda Minks Hood
Chattanooga Bar Association
Some of the best advice I received, I learned from watching and listening to my coworkers and associates. It includes: Always work to improve yourself; don’t ever stop learning and growing. Always stay balanced in your daily life; in order to be productive and a good decision-maker at work, you need to have a life outside of work. And the best advice I ever received (which was actually how I was raised) is to never forget to be respectful and kind to everyone – no matter what their job might be. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated.
I have been privileged to have received great advice from many mentors over the years. Scotty Probasco: “Live your life well. God, Family, Business. If you can keep those priorities, you will be successful.” Chris Crimmins: “If you can’t write it down on a cocktail napkin, it is probably too difficult to explain to other people. Simplify your vision so others can follow.” Herb Banks: “Dream big. And then work your tail off to achieve those dreams.” John Crimmins: “Can’t, can’t do anything.” Walt Hodges: “Get out and sell something. The business will not come to you.” Joe Farless: “If you don’t write it down, it does not exist,” and, “Don’t give customers a reason to look somewhere else.” Bill Crawford: “Set a goal, and work to achieve it. Don’t run around like a dog chasing his tail.”
R. Steve Hunt
Berry & Hunt
My father was a wise and wonderful man. He mentored many people during his career, both in business and in his support of CADAS, a rehabilitation center. He and I worked together briefly when he retired from the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and I was graduating from high school. I was stubborn and knew everything; I had difficulty working with and for my father, despite his patience. I realize now that I often repeat his teachings without realizing it. Things like: “The answer to all unasked questions is ‘no.’ Understand the right question to ask, when to ask it, then ask it.” Or when I was complaining about someone not doing what I wanted them to do: “You know, the world would be a dull place without people in it. Try to figure out the issue and work with them to resolve it.”
President & CEO,
Don’t be ‘too good’ to do any job at your organization. When I started at First Tennessee almost 40 years ago, this advice was given to me. I spent my first two years doing just about every job: teller, customer service, collections, and credit analysis, to name a few. This helped me in my career by giving me empathy with all of our employees and an understanding of what they do every day. When I came to the Tennessee Aquarium, I chose to do the same thing. I have scanned tickets, cut up fish and worms, fed sharks, and waded in creeks to collect aquatic specimens. I still come down on busy days and scan tickets or greet folks in my uniform shirt. It is fun meeting with our guests and interacting with our employees.
Founder & President,
Real Estate Partners Chattanooga LLC
I am a lifelong student of Abraham Lincoln; I have read more books about him than I can count. It amazes me how timeless so much of his writings and philosophies are and how relevant they remain. In my office, next to my Abe Lincoln bobblehead doll, is this Lincoln quote: “Whatever you are, be a good one.” It is so simple yet so profound and applicable to every facet of business and life. Do good. Be good. Strive for excellence. See the good in yourself and others. There is value, worth, and good in every person and every job.
Chief Financial Officer,
One of my professors at a university I attended in Pakistan left an indelible mark on me while I was taking his classes. He spoke of achieving excellence in every task you take on and seizing rare opportunities that come your way and executing with determination. Soon after I graduated, I had a unique opportunity to travel to the U.S. to secure higher education. This was a scary thought at a young age, but with a leap of faith and conviction, I seized the opportunity. This was the hardest but also the best decision I have made. Now as I look back, I am grateful to my professor for those words of wisdom.
Mike St. Charles
Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, P.C.
From an early age, I remember hearing the timeless piece of advice: “Listen to your elders.” While I did not always do what I was told, I always listened (well, almost always). Experience is valuable. Learning from mistakes and passing along lessons learned are also valuable. You do not have to accept advice blindly, nor do you need to follow the advice. However, you should give it careful consideration and factor it into your decision-making. I have made it a priority to solicit advice from people who have ‘been there, done that.’ Their counsel on what worked and what did not has saved me considerable time and trouble over the years.
Marijka Grey, M.D.
CHI Memorial Medical Group
When I was 13, I received a tiny plaque from an elderly friend stating: “To be all that you can be, you must dream of being more.” It is a piece of advice that I have followed consistently, and the plaque hangs on the wall of my office today. In life, our greatest limitation is often the boundary of our creativity, and I bring my outsized imagination to work every day, where it has always held me in good stead.
Henderson Hutcherson & McCullough
The best advice I ever received was from my father. Dads share expectations when they give advice. When I was unsure of my career path, I told my dad that I wanted to be a forest ranger. I was an Eagle Scout who loved nothing more than exploring area rivers. My choice seemed obvious. Dad said, “Choose a career you can make a living at and play in the woods on weekends.” So my senior year, I was the only boy in the bookkeeping class at Hixson High. Dad’s advice (and that bookkeeping class) started my journey in accounting. Most days, his words are the best advice I ever received. Then, there are other days … but the former outnumbers the latter.
Market Leader & Shareholder,
Being one of nine children whose father was (and still is) a CPA, I heard a lot of financial advice from a very early age. The piece of advice that my siblings and I heard early and often was, “When your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep will be your downfall.” It appears to have derived from something Mr. Micawber said to David Copperfield, but I’ve found that it’s still a sound observation, as true for small shops as it is for billion-dollar enterprises.
Co-founder, President & CEO of P&C Construction, Lake Majestik Farms,
& Pastor of Flat Rock Holiness Church
The best advice I have ever received is from the Bible, found in Matthew 6:33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” In my life, I have discovered that seeking to live by biblical principles will provide a positive effect on your entire life – by learning humility, honesty, integrity, equity, and many other character-building principles. Another great and notable piece of advice I received from a now-retired business associate is, “To succeed in business or life, surround yourself with good people.”
Hospice of Chattanooga
Growing up I didn’t have to look far for a mentor. My father was my first and is still my best advisor. He taught me many lessons. First, he cautioned me to not be cautious. If you never lose, then the risk was too small, so dream big. And if you do lose, you’re better prepared to succeed the next time. He also encouraged me to find my passion. Without it, there is no purpose. But you have to know how to control that passion. Finally, your character and integrity are all you have. Business deals are fleeting; careers change. In the end, it’s how you treated everyone that matters.