Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame 2003
W. Allan Jones
W. Allan Jones founded Check Into Cash in 1993 and grew it into a billion-dollar-a-year enterprise. For nearly 25 years, before starting Check Into Cash, he expanded his family’s Credit Bureau business before selling it in 1998. Mr. Jones came into his father’s business at the age of 20 while a student at Middle Tennessee State University. He worked six-day work weeks and long hours to learn and grow the business started by his father, W.A. (Bill) Jones, Jr. Eventually, Credit Bureau Services of Cleveland grew to include nearly a dozen offices from Atlanta to Memphis. It was the largest credit collection agency in the state of Tennessee when the sale took place.
On a trip to the Tri-Cities area of northeast Tennessee to see about one of his credit bureau offices, Mr. Jones discovered a business that piqued his interest. A former Credit Bureau owner had opened a check cashing business in Johnson City. Mr. Jones decided he, too would get into the same type enterprise. In 1993, he began Check Into Cash, which made “payday” loans to walk-in customers. The loans terms were up to two weeks on $200 checks for fees ranging from $15 to $18. The business proved popular with customers and profitable for Mr. Jones, whose company had more than 700 Check Into Cash stores by late 2002.
Mr. Jones is chairman of Jones Management Services, the management firm for Check Into Cash and Jones Properties, LLC, which owns numerous historical buildings in downtown Cleveland. Mr. Jones was instrumental in helping restore the city’s downtown business district and relining city street with trees for aesthetic appeal and environmental stewardship.
An avid collegiate wrestling enthusiast, Mr. Jones founded and financed the first Cleveland-Bradley Wrestling club. His philanthropy includes giving to UT athletics, money to UTC’s wrestling program, and causes and institutions in his hometown of Cleveland. In 2002, he built the Jones Wrestling Center on the campus of his alma mater, Cleveland High School. He named the arena after his Dad, the late Bill Jones. He also joined another Cleveland businessman in providing a portion of the money to help Bradley Central High School built their center. Also, he serves on a number of community boards and was given Cleveland’s highest award, the M.C. Headrick Free Enterprise Award given by the Chamber of Commerce.
In 1993, Henry G. Luken III founded Telco Communications and the Long Distance Wholesale Club. The Dial & Save Service was developed through Telco Communications as a marketing name. It was one of the first dial-around long distance phone services in the United States, and it became phenomenally successful. Telco Communications and the Long Distance Wholesale Club merged in 1995. In 1996, Telco Communications generated revenues of $428.6 M, almost double the previous year’s total. Mr. Luken sold his interest in Telco in 1997.
When his non-compete restriction expired, Mr. Luken purchased approximately 30% of the shares in Covista Communication, Inc. of New Jersey and moved its headquarters to Chattanooga. Covista, a commercial and wholesale long distance provider since 1983, provides long distance and Internet services for residential and commercial customers. Covista brought over 200 jobs to the city. Covista’s facilities include a switching center near Main Street, a 250-seat call center on Highway 58 and its corporate headquarters in the Maclellan Building on Broad. It is one of only eight telecommunication firms with fiber-optic connections in Chattanooga.
Mr. Luken, a Kentucky native, lived in Florida before relocating with his family to the Chattanooga area. Other business interests include Equity Broadcasting of Rock, Ark. that owns several TV and radio stations, ACNTV a television home-shopping company where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board and CEO.
Mr. Luken has gifted the use of a portion of this hardware for a metropolitan ring to be used by MetroNet, a non-profit organization offering Internet connectivity in the city.
Mr. Luken’s avocational interests include yachting and old cars.