By Mary Kate Sheppard, Staff Writer


Four prominent leaders from the Chattanooga community met with members of the public on Wednesday, October 23rd to share stories about their storied careers in an event titled “Great Conversations.”

Emerging Leaders, a group of young professionals that seek to reach out to the community through networking and volunteering, partnered with United Way to host this event.

Great Conversations took place in the Chattanooga Whiskey Event Hall, where a diverse group of leaders from the community came together to both network and discuss problems going on in the Chattanooga area. The key speakers for the afternoon included four leaders who have spent a majority, if not all, of their careers trying to give back to the community. 

Tim Kelly, the chairman and co-founder of the Chattanooga Football Club, Candy Johnson, Senior Advisor to the mayor of Chattanooga, Tim Piersant, CEO and co-founder of Chattanooga Whiskey, and Wade Hinton, Vice President for Inclusion and Diversity, generously answered questions from those in attendance and offered advice they had learned from their own career.

After a catered lunch, during which guests were encouraged to mingle among the many leaders in the room, the guests were split into four groups and each group had the chance to meet with one of the key speakers for 20 minutes.

Candy Johnson, Senior Advisor to the mayor of Chattanooga, explained to her group that she got her start in public service by working with homeless people.

“You are a leader wherever you are,” Johnson explained, “even if you are not in a leadership position. When I was a bank teller, I was much more than just a bank teller.”

For Candy, volunteering for nonprofits turned into working jobs, which then lead to leading communities. 

Tim Kelly, the chairman and co-founder of the Chattanooga Football Club, began by telling his group that he had started many businesses throughout his career.

“Some failed. Some succeed. I sold some,” Tim said with a laugh, not afraid to tell his groups about his past mistakes and, more importantly, how he overcame them.

“I’ve had plenty of failures, but you have to keep going. There’s always tomorrow and there’s always another business idea.”

Tim also made a point to tell his group to get involved in programs that give back to the community.

Wade Hinton, Vice President for Inclusion and Diversity, said that he was “a big believer in service.”

Wade, who left Chattanooga for a time during his career said upon his return, “I keep coming back to Chattanooga because I want to be a voice to those who want their voices heard.”

In his line of work, Wade focuses on equality and support for minority groups like African-Americans and those in the LGBTQ community.

Speaking of the diversity of this city moving forward, Wade said, “Only when we work together, even if we are competitors… [will we] see change.”

Lastly, speaker Tim Piersant, CEO and cofounder of Chattanooga Whiskey, spoke about his success as a businessman in Chattanooga. Together with another founder, Tim started Chattanooga Whiskey, created their own type of whiskey, and built up a unique business.

Now, sales are up by 40% for the last six years, they ship to six states and sales are constantly improving.

Talking about some of his failures, Tim said, “Every plan you make will probably not happen the way you plan it. It’s very important that you are passionate about the steps you take and committed to the process.”

All in all, these four leaders in our community were able to mingle with other developing leaders in Chattanooga. While telling their own stories and giving advice, the key speakers were answering questions about current situations, past mistakes, lessons, and solutions moving forward.

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