10 Companies Celebrating Major Anniversaries in 2020
Decades of Success
10 Companies Celebrating Major Anniversaries in 2020
Whether it’s getting that first decade under your belt or wrapping up a century’s worth of blood, sweat, and tears, major milestones are worth celebrating.
We asked the leaders of local companies celebrating significant anniversaries in 2020 to reflect on their history, their accomplishments, and their goals for the future.
By Lucy Morris
It all started in the film club office at Covenant College. “We had a creative bunch of anti-establishment folks hanging out together all the time,” says Drew Belz, co-founder of Fancy Rhino, an agency that works with individuals and companies to create branded video content. “I think the idea for the company was less a business idea originally, and more an excuse to keep hanging out after we graduated.”
It was a smart move. Just a few years after the launch of YouTube, opportunity was rife for a company that could provide quality video content in the market. “Brands were just beginning to understand the need for content – to be able to tell their story in a whole new way – and we saw a gap in the market and pitched the idea to a couple of investors, ultimately partnering up with Lamp Post Group.”
In the early days, Belz says the company had more of a journalistic bent, and they were hired to tell some impactful stories. “In 2012, we produced a feature-length documentary alongside Howard High School, where we spent a year with the students, teaching them how to tell a story, how to work equipment, and how to narrate and own your story,” he explains. “It turned into almost a love letter to the school – its history and heritage, but it also dove into some of the problems the school had faced over the years. Seeing the kids’ faces the night we premiered the film to a packed house at the Tivoli – it’s a favorite moment of mine.”
Fancy Rhino also produced a series of documentaries with Office Depot and Adopt a Classroom that focused on life-changing teachers, and another that followed community hero Nathan Sexton as he ran the Chattanooga Marathon while battling glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer that ultimately took his life. “So often, we each go through our lives not thinking about the meaning of our days, and as filmmakers, and even as advertisers, we get to examine that,” says Belz. “We believe deeply in the transformative nature of storytelling.”
Besides launching projects with Air Jordan, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and other Fortune 500s, they’ve partnered with friends in town like Humanaut, Vayner, and Pathfinder to grow the creative scene in Chattanooga. On August 7, they launched a music video for local artist, Swayyvo, that was sponsored by Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union. “We really, truly believe in original content as the primary brand driver in the future, and we’re ready to take the plunge,” says Belz. “We want to be a kind of publishing house, helping bring good stories out into the world.”
For Hiren Desai, the beginnings of his company, 3H Group, occurred organically. “For my partners and myself, and alongside my wife, I was managing the development of a Country Suites back in 1993. By 2000, we had three Country Inns, and it made sense to create an overarching brand. That’s how 3H Group was born,” Desai explains. “In order to develop and manage Hilton and Marriott operations, we had to have a structure.”
Since then, the company has grown from primarily hospitality projects to also incorporate other real estate developments and opportunities today. “We’ve diversified our offerings, but the same fundamentals go into everything as we expand,” says Desai. “We’re always looking at different real estate ventures and doing our due diligence to see if a project can be viable.”
Some of the company’s more recent hospitality developments – like The Moxy by Marriott, located on Chattanooga’s Southside, and the AC by Marriott, located in Miami – are representative of the more modern traveler. “These feature new elements to hospitality,” Desai explains. “Modern travelers are looking for something local – something unique. This is the direction we’re going with the company.”
Of course, setbacks are a given for any company, and economic downturns tend to hit the hospitality industry hard. “Traveling during recessions tends to be one of the first industries to shut down and potentially one of the last to come back,” Desai explains. “But it’s one of those things – we just have to adjust as quickly as we can.”
Fortunately, the growth and positive trajectory far outweigh any more difficult situations. “The most rewarding part of my job over the years is the people who work with me, and many have been here since we started,” says Desai. “The relationships and friendships that have formed over the last 20 years are key. We’re really proud to have our entire team back after the COVID-19 shutdown. That’s been really rewarding after what we went through.”
As for the future, Desai is forging ahead full steam. “If you had asked me if I’d be growing my own company after 20 years, I wouldn’t have believed you. But it feels good,” he says.
Hope following personal tragedy spurred the creation of Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation 30 years ago. “The genesis of Siskin Hospital goes back to Mose and Garrison Siskin, two philanthropic brothers,” explains Robert Main, Siskin’s first president and CEO. “Garrison was taking a train trip and suffered a leg injury while in a small town and was taken to the hospital, where he was told it may have to be amputated. He prayed and said, ‘If you spare my leg, I will devote my life to helping others.’ The next morning, his prayers had been answered, and the amputation was no longer necessary.”
The two brothers started Siskin Foundation in 1950 and opened an outpatient rehabilitation center nine years later. “They had a dream of opening a rehabilitation hospital in Chattanooga, but they both passed before their dreams could be realized,” explains Main. Fortunately, the foundation’s board, helmed by Dr. David McCallie, continued to build upon their legacy, and Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation was officially opened in 1990.
“I got a call in ’87 saying there was this great opportunity to build a rehab hospital in Chattanooga. I said, ‘All I know about Chattanooga is that you drive through it to get to Florida,’” Main laughs. “But they asked me to come down, and the rest is history.”
From the beginning, a major focus was placed on establishing a philosophy of service for the hospital that still rings true today. “The reason the hospital existed was to help people with disabilities reach their highest level of independence, and that’s still our focus each and every day,” says Dr. Matthew Gibson, current president and CEO of Siskin.
And while the focus remains the same presently, efforts continue to ramp up. “Today, we’re working to enable even more access for patients to receive exceptional and transformational care,” says Dr. Gibson. Advancements in technology have allowed for telehealth offerings, and the organization has and continues to open new outpatient clinics across the area.
As Tennessee’s largest acute rehabilitation hospital and one of a handful of freestanding, independent, not-for-profit rehabilitation hospitals in the country, Siskin continues to thrive. “You don’t have to go far to be inspired,” says Dr. Gibson. “Just walking down the hallways every day at Siskin, you can see miracles.”
A mainstay of arts and culture in the city, Chattanooga Ballet unofficially began in 1973 (known then as Chattanooga Center for Dance), when founding members William L. Montague Jr., Barbara Tepper, G. Wayne Fleck, Mel Young, Deanne Irvine, and Molly Miles recognized children in the area deserved an opportunity to receive a quality professional dance education. “These were all leaders in the community who really saw a need that wasn’t being met,” explains Bob Willie, who served as executive director for the organization from 1987 to 2018.
Karen Smith, who was new to Chattanooga at the time, came aboard as an advisor, and the school became a mecca for children who loved dance. And as the school flourished, it became clear there was room to add a new prong to the organization.
In 1978, Alex Bennett, a principal dancer with the London Festival Ballet, came aboard as artistic director. Under his leadership, the company was founded in 1980. “During the ‘80s, the National Endowment for the Arts started touring professional companies from major cities throughout the United States,” says Willie. “With inspiration from these companies, smaller cities and communities started forming their own companies. Dance became decentralized.”
Today, the professional company serves as a significant branch of growth for Chattanooga Ballet. “To be a member of a professional company means you are paid a living wage to be a professional dancer, work with choreographers, and perform across the city and region,” explains present-day artistic director Brian McSween. “These are dancers who are true artists – always willing to put a character or role before their own pursuits.”
With a growing professional company, Chattanooga Ballet can expand its third area of focus, which is community engagement. “With a more robust professional company, we can start performing repertoire by choreographers that may not have been seen here in the past,” explains McSween. “For newer choreographers, we can provide a platform to create and get experience, and it gives our dancers an opportunity to perform across the Southeast, and hopefully even nationally and internationally in the future.”
Of course, in addition to newer works, Chattanooga Ballet is widely known for its yearly production of “The Nutcracker,” whose 2019 sold-out performances broke records. “We performed for nearly 6,000 2nd graders last year,” says McSween. “For a lot of them, it’s their first introduction to professional ballet, which is special.”
The future looks bright, and McSween believes it’s because they are focused on the purest of pursuits: “Our goal is to provide the community the absolute best in the art of ballet.”
“We keep manufacturers
running,” explains Rob Creswell, president and CEO of local industrial equipment supplier Creswell Richardson.
Creswell is the second-generation leader of the company, following in the footsteps of his father, Bob Creswell, who started Creswell Industrial Supply at 35, when the company he worked for wanted to move his family to Cleveland, Ohio. “My dad started the business because he realized that the big box stores of our industry were getting away from service and quality and just looking at price. He wanted a company that focused on customer service and quality products, and that’s been our focus for 50 years.”
Of course, starting a business from scratch means growing pains. “He started it in our basement,” laughs Creswell. “My brother was 6, and I was 7, and we had parts all over our bedroom floor. Mom did the invoicing.”
In 2009, Creswell Industrial Supply purchased Richardson Electric as a means of expanding product lines and further serving their customer base. (It also cemented their new name.) “We needed to be more than we were, so we expanded into electrical and mechanical engineering,” explains Creswell. “Our customers were reducing their vendor bases and needed a one-stop shop.”
As is the way with timing, the acquisition proved a bit riskier than intended. “I didn’t know the recession was about to hit, so it was a difficult time – I think it was the only loan our bank did that month,” says Creswell. “But it was sort of my litmus test for if we’d be successful moving forward, and it worked out.”
Today, the company is still changing daily, understanding the need for continual pivots. “Technology has changed our industry, and we have to keep up,” Creswell explains. “In the past, everyone picked up the phone to place an order, but now, they can text or email. So, things change, and we adapt.”
With a team of 28, many of whom have been with the company for lengthy tenures, Creswell believes the people are the biggest success. “We don’t have a weak link in our company. That’s hard for companies to say, and they might not mean it. We do.”
Founded in 1960, Southern Machine Company supplied the carpet mill industry with the equipment necessary to turn yarn into carpet. Though not a business you’d typically expect a CPA to explore, Jack Frost did just that when he and two partners – Bud Cobble and Lewis Card – merged Southern Machine with two other companies to form Tuftco in 1969.
“Southern Machine was a client of my dad’s at his CPA firm,” explains Steve Frost, Jack’s son and current CEO. “Basically, Bud Cobble, who was the son of the owner of Southern Machine, and my dad became friends, and he approached my dad about the two of them going in together to buy the company from his dad. As they were orchestrating that, it made sense to merge with another tufting company here in town owned by Lewis Card, and they also brought in a third company to round out the business.”
Today, the company has expanded its offerings and now supplies machinery for the world of soft-surface flooring, rugs, and artificial turf. It’s also entirely owned by the Frost family, after they purchased it full-out from a New York investment company that took over in 1977. “My dad and I put together the financing to buy it back 100% under family ownership, and it’s remained in the family since 1984,” Frost says. “When we were able to buy it back, we started reinvesting the profits back into the company through technology, computerization, and exports.”
The reinvestments paid off. Boasting customers in 40 different countries, it’s clear Tuftco is a leader in the industry, and much of the company’s success can be pinned to the innovative and forward-thinking leadership. “We define ourselves more as a technology company than a machine company, since every machine we ship has a computer,” Frost explains. “The ability to design and visualize the placement of color and texture into carpet is fantastic. We can take a picture of almost any image, and the machinery can plant the type of color and yarn – whether it’s a logo or windblown sand on the beach – you can get to that point just with that digital imagery.”
Though this year has been tough, Frost is proud of the company Tuftco has become, and he’s looking forward to the future. “Twenty-twenty is a bittersweet year for our company, as it marks our 60th anniversary, but it also marks the passing of my dad into his heavenly home. His legacy lives on, though, in the strong team of associates that we have who continue to work hard every day to keep our company strong and growing.“
“It started as a place where workers could come eat wholesome, homemade food on their lunch break,” Dusty Bradshaw says of Bea’s, a family-style restaurant located on Dodds Avenue.
Bea’s was opened in 1950 when Bradshaw’s great-grandmother, Bea, and her husband, Bill, moved to Chattanooga to be closer to Bill’s brother, who was on the local police force. “There was a Chris-Craft boat factory here, and my nana started selling lunches to the workers. They only had 30 minutes to eat, so she worked hard to keep the hot food coming so they could fill up on hearty meals,” he says.
The same comfort foods that defined the restaurant in its early days are still at the heart of the business today. “It’s good old-fashioned Southern food,” says Bradshaw. “We’ve got turnip greens, fried chicken, steak and gravy, chow chow, cornbread – everything made in-house, and it’s all you can eat.”
Today, Bradshaw runs the restaurant alongside his father, after his grandmother and many aunts and uncles all took successful turns. His two sons, ages 15 and 17, and his nephew also help out. “We’ve always had success, but we stay humble about it,” says Bradshaw. “We’ve tried to have good morals and provide for the community.”
That same humble spirit lends itself to Bradshaw’s favorite memories of the place. “The biggest highlights for us aren’t famous people coming in or anything like that. For us, it’s when someone brings their children in, and then their children have children, and then their children’s children bring in their children,” he explains. “To get to know so many people in the community and be a part of their lives, that’s what it’s about.”
There are a few funny memories that stick out though. “Granny used to knock people’s hats off if they were wearing them at the table,” Bradshaw laughs. “She could get away with it. People would come in just to sit and talk to her.”
The spirit of Bea’s certainly hasn’t changed over the years, but that doesn’t mean they’re stuck in the past. “I can promise we’re the only business in Chattanooga to have our own cryptocurrency,” says Bradshaw. Using a blockchain service called ICON, customers can store and redeem tokens for gift certificates. “It’s a great way to embrace the future without changing what we do best – our recipes and our service.”
As the story goes, Insurance Incorporated is the conglomeration of numerous independent insurance agencies in Cleveland, Tennessee, that have launched, grown, and merged over the last 80 years. “In 1940, J.M. Park started one agency, while in 1946, Salem Hyde started an agency of his own,” explains Davis Morelock, co-owner of Insurance Inc. and a second-generation leader. “That’s where it all began.”
From there, each agency brought on new employees and leaders until the two decided to join forces in 1963, adopting the Insurance Incorporated moniker for the first time. Morelock’s father, Jeff, joined the company when a third merger – between Insurance Inc. and Cleveland Insurance – occurred in 1980.
“Over the years, fathers brought their sons onboard, and the agencies continued to evolve,” explains Morelock, who joined the business himself in 2005. “When I was in school, I originally thought I wanted to be an engineer, but it turned out to be different than I expected. My dad, who owned the company back then, said I could try insurance but needed to get my license first,” says Morelock. “That was the summer before junior year. By senior year, I was fully dedicated to the idea, and I started immediately after college.”
Today, Morelock is a co-owner of the business alongside Andy Lee, who’s been with the company since 1997. “My dad gave Andy and me goals to hit before we were even allowed to talk about buying him out,” explains Morelock. “We both hit and exceeded those goals, and that’s when the conversation began. If it had been a different story, he probably would’ve sold the agency. You really have to have the right people in place, and then you can hand it off.”
Morelock and Lee credit their success over the last decade as owners to an incredible staff that helped make the transition smooth. “Stepping into a leadership position could’ve been tough, since some of the staff knew me when I was born, but we’ve been really fortunate to have a great team.”
As for the future? “We’re going to continue down the path we’re on, serving our clients, the community, and the area, and keep working hard,” says Morelock. “We want to keep Insurance Incorporated going as long as possible.”
A horse trader born and raised in South Pittsburg, R.K. Haskew had a knack for business. In 1930, he parlayed his skill into a new venture buying and selling used woodworking equipment for planing mills, lumber and furniture manufacturers, and more, and he called it R.K. Haskew and Company. “I think it really started out as a side business, but he realized he could do it full-time,” explains Randy Brooks, Haskew’s grandson who was with the company for 46 years and who served as owner, president, and CEO for 30 years before stepping away in 2018.
In 1952, Haskew hired son-in-law Louis P. Brooks, Jr. to learn the family trade. “He hired my dad to run it and pretty much told him to sink or swim – he was headed to the golf course,” laughs Brooks. “I came to work in ’72 and worked in the shop. I stayed back there for about 15 years, rebuilding and working on the equipment, really learning the good, the bad, and the ugly of them. I learned what good design elements were, and what were troublesome aspects of machinery.”
That self-taught, on-site education would set the company up for its next iteration. “In the early ’80s, the hardwood flooring industry started making a resurgence – there was tremendous growth,” Brooks explains. “We started running out of used machines to supply, and they were becoming outdated anyway, so we actually started manufacturing our own machinery.” This new series of innovative machines, called the Hasko (Heavy-Builts), would modernize the hardwood flooring industry for decades to come.
Brooks likens the natural yet necessary transition of the company to going from a used car lot to a car manufacturer. Though a massive shift, it worked well for the company, which officially rebranded as Hasko in 2002. “We started incorporating new technologies in our machinery to allow our customers to become more efficient, more productive, and able to make higher quality products,” says Brooks. “Had we not done that – had we just stayed in the used equipment arena – we would not be where we are now.”
In 2018, Iron Range Capital, a private equity firm headed by Gary Stark, acquired the company, and Brooks stepped away from a leadership role, though he remains on the board.
Looking forward, Stark is excited. “I have experience with other equipment manufacturers, and Hasko is a niche, high-quality brand. Our long-term goal is to grow the business,” he says. “We believe this kind of equipment can be used in a wide range of applications in markets that are largely untapped, and we look forward to exploring those opportunities.”
Originally founded as Atlas Paper Box Company in 1920, Top Flight has pivoted a time or two over the last century. “My grandfather, Harry Thomas Robinson, along with two other area businessmen, Henry Bryan and Ed McMillan, launched the company as a new supplier of paper boxes for the textile industry,” explains present-day president George Robinson. “Companies were struggling to find boxes, so there was a need in the market for a business like that at the time.”
As can be expected, the market changed, and the business had to change along with it. “We were making those same boxes and probably using those same machines when I started working here as a teenager in the ’70s,” laughs Robinson. “When the final operators of the machinery retired, we closed down that operation. It went from being the primary piece of business to really almost an internal vendor for our other divisions for a while.”
The company experimented with several different products over the years as the market called for them – everything from paper milk bottle caps to envelopes and notebooks – even launching a new brand of products called Thoroughbred before retiring it in favor of a more market-savvy option. “In 1953, we purchased Top Flight out of Nashville and expanded upon that brand, which had a more successful distribution in the retail space,” Robinson explains. Today the company feels strongest in the ever-changing home, school, and office product space.
According to Robinson, the pivots and changes to brands and operations wouldn’t be successful if the family-owned company hadn’t really focused on leadership changes from generation to generation. “Whether it’s a family business or not, the formation of the leadership group that comes behind you is vitally important. If you have great respect for the people who are outgoing and the work that they’ve done, you are better off,” he explains. “I’m not here to make my mark, and my cousins aren’t here to make their marks. We’re here to ensure the successful sustainability of the operation for the benefit of our customers, our employees, and our vendor families.”
Over the years, Top Flight has transitioned from a regional player to an international powerhouse, and looking forward, they see continued growth. Robinson explains, “Looking to the next 100 years, the company’s primary initiatives focus on being a great place to work, building products to serve our domestic and international customers, and ongoing development of the company’s online interactions with the consumer.”
“Whether it’s a family business or not, the formation of the leadership group that comes behind you is vitally important. If you have great respect for the people who are outgoing and the work that they’ve done, you are better off.”