Amanda Ellis

When you say ‘Memories,’ some complete the phrase with the next line from the Barbra Streisand song – ‘Memories… light the Corners of my Mind,’ while others might first think of “Cats” and follow up with that haunting phrase ‘Memories… Turn your face to the moonlight.’ Whatever your memories, there’s no doubt that each of us clearly remember our first job, our first internship, our first step into the world of earning that first paycheck. 

Our new Executive Circle members share stories about influential experiences and advice from their early career days.

My first job, at 14, was at the Calvin Wood Open Air Market fruit stand on Hixson Pike. Calvin insisted that we wear long pants and a collared shirt to present a professional appearance. One of our tasks – and there were only two of us – was unloading an 18-wheeler full of watermelons. My thighs were blue for days afterward from my sweat-soaked jeans staining them. Work hard. Be professional. Earn your way. Our hard work was rewarded with a cold melon from the cooler. It was paradise.

—Steve Hunt, Managing Partner, Berry & Hunt

In high school, I worked for the Chamber as part of a work-study co-op program. My 16-year-old self took my responsibilities seriously—I guess some things never change—as I dutifully tackled the arduous distribution tasks of the member newsletter. After wrestling with the newsletters through an ancient folding machine that was constantly breaking down, I stuffed and sealed the envelopes for mailing. This foray into the business world taught me that achieving a business goal requites overcoming challenges, quite often some mundane but important tasks and a whole lot of a discipline and drive. As a graduate of one of Chattanooga's original business incubators, I pledge to to keep giving back to the Chamber and my hometown. 

—Darlene Brown, President and Managing Broker downtown, Real Estate Partners Chattanooga LLC

I took my first job after graduation with a Nashville-based retailer because their offer included a company car. At the time, I drove my grandfather's old car. About six months later, Wal-Mart purchased the company. I was one of the few accountants and auditors who stayed at the huge office building, now deserted, to work on the transition. One day, a gentleman left a meeting in one of the conference rooms, walked over to my desk and asked what I was working on, which was closing inventory. I introduced myself, and he responded, “Well I am glad to meet you. I am Sam Walton.” Our short conversation impressed me – that someone in his position took an interest in me and my work — a lesson to remember as we work with young people.

—Warren McEwen, Partner, Mauldin & Jenkins, LLC

I worked at McKee Foods in the early 90s on the production line — where I met my lovely bride, Teri. I suppose if you can fall in love wearing those ever so flattering hair nets and covered in oatmeal cream pie crumbs, then it must be true love. I also learned a valuable lesson in work ethic and team building. No matter what your role or responsibility, great or small, your efforts directly impact overall results. Success is a collaborative process which takes great team work and servant leaders.

—Joel Henderson, VP Corporate Communications & Government Relations for NACS/Medical Services, Inc.

Early in my career, a mentor introduced me to the Stephen Covey circle of influence concept, an influential bit of advice in both my career and personal life. Picture a very large circle called the circle of concern. The circle of concern encompasses all the things we care about, ranging from personal to global, but can’t control. 

Now, picture a smaller circle named the circle of influence, where we should spend most of our time and effort as we have the ability to influence these items. We can waste time in the large circle of concern, as many aspects of our daily lives are out of our control. Successful people focus on decisions within their circle of influence.

—Todd Fortner, President and CEO, Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union

My very first job was pumping gas at the local service station. Mr. Powell, the proprietor, charged the highest gas prices in town but the station stayed busy.  He always said, “I can’t make any money by being the low cost provider, I have to add value in other ways. ”That’s when I understood why he insisted that in addition to pumping the gas, I should always clean the windshield front and back, check the tire pressure, check the engine oil … all with a sense of urgency and a smile. Oh, and he also insisted I call customers by name.  I thought Mr. Powell demanded a lot from a 13-year-old in his first job, but I learned the importance of exceeding customer expectations, which has served me well in my 37-year banking career.

—R. Craig Holley, Chairman, Pinnacle Financial Partners

My advice – never use reply all. It’s easy to click that to provide a quick response to a group. Problem is that once you get in the habit of using it, terrible things can happen. I once replied all on a message intended only for the sender, creating an embarrassing situation for  me that required many apologies. 

Advice for those early in their career –don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. I used to think that working hard and doing a good job were enough to get promoted. I later learned that it’s important to share your good work and that to get the job you want, you need to ask for it. Don’t be afraid to tell your boss and others who make decisions why you are the best person for the job. You need to ask for the order to get it.

—Carol George, Managing Director and Tennessee Valley Market Executive, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management  

My first job was gift wrapping at Belk during Christmas. I can still tie a great bow, but I also learned the importance of customer service skills. Everyone should work in customer service at some point in their career because it makes them better customers.

Later on, when I first started teaching high school, the principal kept asking me for my hall pass, so I quickly learned the importance of dressing in a professional manner. I learned early in my career to always be open to new opportunities.  It’s vital to stay current and relevant with educational goals and to be as well educated as possible so you’re prepared to explore opportunities as they arise.

—Flora Tydings, President, Chattanooga State Community College

Don’t be afraid to share your personal story, your vision, dreams and where you’re headed. When I was waiting tables, I had a few retirees “adopt” me. They knew I was putting myself through college and when it came time for me to leave my summer employer, they would send me back to school with extra tips for “book money.” I’ve been incredibly blessed by people who saw my potential and supported me.  I love to pay that forward and help others realize their dreams. You can achieve almost anything, you just can’t achieve it alone.

My first real job was working the phones for Target in Denver. I loved being in the intersection of the company, connecting customers with the rest of the team. If someone failed to respond to my page in a timely manner, I had access to their timecards and began paging them by their legal instead of preferred name, using middle names if necessary. Lots of fun and my only regret is not buying a few shares of stock with each paycheck.

—Stefanie Crowe, Chief Experience & Strategy Officer, SmartBank


I worked for EMJ Corporation as a laborer on a Winn-Dixie store the summer before college. I learned that every job was important, regardless of size, difficulty or how exciting it was. One day at that job, I was asked to dig an 8 foot hole for a pipe bollard using a 5 foot post hole digger. After digging for a couple hours, I realized the other workers were on the roof watching and laughing.  All I could do was laugh with them.

In terms of career advice, find a mentor early to help in your personal and business life. Having a mentor early is like starting to save for retirement early – the benefit compounds quickly.

—Jay Jolley, CEO, EMJ Corporation



Other new Executive Circle members:
  • Mike Costa, WTVC
  • Doug Fisher, Comcast
  • John Foy, Noon Management, LLC
  • Jason Freier, Chattanooga Lookouts
  • Jacob Kulhanek, Rentenbach
  • Eddie Russell, ERMC
  • Keith Sanford, Tennessee Aquarium
  • Mike Sarvis, Cohutta Banking Company
  • Geoff Smith, HUTTON
  • Greg Vital, Independent Healthcare Properties, LLC
  • Tom Glenn, Elder’s Ace

Want to make a difference? You and your business could be the influence our students and recent grads one day remember.

STEP-UP Chattanooga connects businesses with high school interns. Visit for more information.

*Now that you have a triple dose of earworms, you’re welcome. 

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