Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame 1999
James C. Berry
If you've ever parked your car in any number of commercial parking lots in the United States, or at a metropolitan airport, chances are Jim Berry of Chattanooga had something to do with getting that parking place for you.
Parking and real estate development are Mr. Berry's fortes. In 1966, at the age of 35, Mr. Berry bought a parking lot at the airport in Charleston, S.C. and started what is now the Chattanooga-based Republic Parking System. The company employs some 2,000 people and operates about 360 facilities in 40 states. He also has become a major owner of downtown property that includes the 21-story Republic Centre on Chestnut Street.
Mr. Berry became a real estate and parking lot “tycoon” quite by accident. He left the family farm in Mississippi at the age of 18 to attend Draughton’s Business College in Memphis. Upon arrival, he began looking for a job and wound up working as a parking lot attendant at an Allright Parking lot. Within 16 years he became vice president of that company.
Republic Parking System is listed in Dunn and Bradstreet’s “Million Dollar Directory” as one of America’s leading private companies. Its annual sales volume is estimated to be about $125 million, and the company has hired a director of international operations to develop overseas markets.
The Jim Berry Co. leases and manages its namesake’s real estate holdings, which the Hamilton County Property Assessor’s office says number 27 with a combined appraisal value of nearly $20 million.
Joseph F. Decosimo
Joseph F. Decosimo is founder and senior partner of the Joseph Decosimo and Company Certified Public Accountants firm of Chattanooga. Begun in 1971, the company is now among the largest in the United States and is the only Tennessee-based CPA firm included in the nation's 100 largest accounting organizations.
Mr. Decosimo's business acumen has enabled him to help shape the economic and cultural life of Chattanooga. His awards and achievements in civic life are numerous. They include The United Way, Rotary Club, Boy Scouts, Chamber of Commerce, Partners for Economic Progress and others.
His involvement with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has included chair of the Chancellor’s Roundtable, chair of the UTC Business and Advisory Review Committee, Executive-in-residence in the School of Business Administration, trustee of the University of Chattanooga Foundation, member of UTC’s Centennial Campaign cabinet, and President of the University of Tennessee Development Council.
In 1978, a professorship in accounting was established at UTC in honor of Decosimo. Also, the Decosimo Accounting Excellence Scholarship was established in 1985 and has helped many accounting majors complete degree requirements. The Decosimo and Company Faculty Award at the Knoxville campus resulted from a fund-raising effort. Mr. Decosimo was a member of the evening faculty at UTC from 1952-1956. His business directorships include the Investors Financial Group, Inc. of Atlanta and the Center Street Corporation of Little Rock, Arkansas. He is a financial adviser to the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation.
The Clairton, Pennsylvania native came to Chattanooga upon marrying Rachel Sharp of Signal Mountain. They are parents of nine children and 24 grandchildren. Mr. Decosimo received his undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia in 1949 and an MBA from Northwestern University in 1950.
Mr. Lupton, a native of Virginia and graduate of the University of Virginia with a degree in law, came to Chattanooga in 1886 - the same year that Coca-Cola was formulated in Atlanta. But Mr. Lupton did not work as an attorney for long. In 1889 he married Miss Elizabeth Olive Patten, daughter of Chattanooga Medicine Company’s owner and founder, Z.C. Patten.
His father-in-law recognized Mr. Lupton's abilities and soon brought him into the family business. Before he was thirty years old, Mr. Lupton was made Vice President and Treasurer of the medicine company, a position he held until 1906 when he decided to devote his time to other interests.
As explained in the pamphlet, The Coca-Cola Bottler”: “Meanwhile, as the twentieth century dawned, a great opportunity knocked at John T. Lupton's door. He answered promptly. The opportunity was hospitably received. His friend and fellow member of the Chattanooga bar, Joseph B. Whitehead, needed a relatively modest amount of capital in order to implement a contract he and Benjamin F. Thomas had recently secured from The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta. The contract, giving the Messrs. Thomas and Whitehead exclusive rights to bottle Coca-Cola in practically the entire United States, looked promising to Mr. Lupton and appeared to have enough merit to warrant an investment of approximately $2,500. This sum enabled Joe Whitehead to open a bottling plant in Atlanta, thus complimenting Mr. Thomas’ newly established plant in Chattanooga. It also made Mr. Lupton a half owner of Mr. Whitehead’s half interest in the original bottling contract. The intrinsic merit of the contract, plus the energy and business ability of Messrs. Thomas, Whitehead and Lupton combined to make it one of the most valuable in commercial history.”
In addition to his Coca-Cola bottling interests and the Chattanooga Medicine Company, Mr. Lupton was one of the organizers of the Volunteer State Life Insurance Company, Chairman of the Board of the Dixie Mercerizing Company, and vice-president and treasurer of the Stone Fort Land Company. John Thomas Lupton died July 31, 1933 in a hospital at Brevard, North Carolina, following an emergency appendectomy.
Zeboim Cartter Patten
Zeboim Cartter Patten founded the Chattanooga Medicine Company in 1879 to produce popular remedies for people in the hills and mountains of Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia.
The first medicines Mr. Patten’s company produced were from herbal concoctions known by native American Indians of the region. Cardui, a menstrual relief preparation derived from the dried leaves of an herb unknown in American gardens, and Black-Draught (“For All That Ails You”) were the company’s early mainstays.
Chattanooga Medicine Company is now known as Chattem Inc. and is a multi-million-dollar-a-year producer of pharmaceutical specialties. Products include Bullfrog sunblock, Pamprin pain reliever, and Flexall 454, among others.
Mr. Patten's other business interests included purchase of The Chattanooga Times in 1879 with associate Thomas Henry Payne. In 1902, Mr. Patten became the first president of the Volunteer State Life Insurance Company which built its own building at the corner of Georgia Avenue and East Ninth Street (now renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard). He was vice president and director of several banks in Chattanooga and a real estate developer. He was one of two owners of the Hotel Patten, the other being John T. Lupton.
According to Zella Armstrong’s “History of Hamilton County,” Mr. Patten “contributed much to the growth of Chattanooga and was one of its admired citizens. His gift to Hamilton County of the Girls Home at Bonny Oaks Industrial School is of incalculable benefit. He was a Democrat and interested in good government. He helped to organize the Tennessee River Improvement Association and gave much toward the development of the Tennessee River.”
Mr. Patten’s first wife, whom he married January 25, 1870, was Mary M. Rawlings, daughter of Daniel Ritchie Rawlings and Martha Goodwin Rawlings, pioneer citizens of the Chattanooga area. She died in 1872. Their daughter, Elizabeth Olive Patten, married John Thomas Lupton.
In 1901, Mr. Patten married Sarah Avery Key, daughter of Judge David McKendree Key and Elizabeth Lenoir Key. Their only son bore his father’s name, Zeboim Cartter Patten. The elder Zeboim Cartter Patten, son of John Adams Patten and Elizabeth Cartter Patten, was born in Wilma, Jefferson County, New York on May 3, 1840. He died in Chattanooga on March 20, 1925.
John C. Thornton
John C. Thornton is the founder and former chief executive officer of American Rug Craftsmen. The company is the leading manufacturer of machine-made rugs in the United States, and it also is the largest producer of decorative floor mats.
Under Mr. Thorton's leadership, American Rug was twice named Wal-Mart’s Vendor of the Year from a pool of 8,000 suppliers. It has also been named J.C. Penney Supplier of the Year. And American Rug Craftsmen has been on INC Magazine's list of fastest-growing companies in America.
Mr. Thornton founded the company in 1984 and built it to revenues of $100 million. He has since been named Entrepreneur of the Year for the Southeastern United States.
In May 1993, Mr. Thornton and minority partners Dr. Bob Fowler and Mr. Dale Reynolds of Chattanooga sold American Rug Craftsmen to Mohawk Industries. Before starting American Rug, Mr. Thornton was General Sales Manager for Beaulieu of America and served six years in various management roles with Salem Carpets of Ringgold, Georgia.
In 1994, Mr. Thornton founded American Weavers, a Calhoun, Georgia-based manufacturer of afghan throw blankets and tabletop products. As the majority owner, he served as chairman of the board. In a few short years, this company became a leading supplier to Wal-Mart and K-mart in these product categories. Mr. Thornton sold his majority interest in this company to a consortium, led by the Stephens Group of Little Rock, Arkansas.
Mr. Thornton began developing high-end residential properties in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in 1991. In June 1997, a new entity, Countryside LLC, was formed with the express intent of acquiring the Crescent H Ranch in Jackson Hole. Development of the ranch tracts has been phenomenal. The result has been a benchmark for this type of construction in Jackson Hole.