Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame 2007

Nelson E. Bowers II

L. Hardwick "Hacker" Caldwell III

Ernest Holmes

Nelson BowersNelson E. Bowers II
Chattanooga native Nelson Bowers’ extensive experience in the automotive retail industry began in 1976 when he acquired the Volvo dealership in his hometown. Only one year after acquiring the dealership, he landed the BMW franchise for the Chattanooga area. He was just 30 years old at the time, but with hard work, dedication to customer service, and superior salesmanship, Mr. Bowers became a highly successful entrepreneur with diverse business interests.

By the mid 1990s, Mr. Bowers had built a top industry organization that included more than twenty automotive franchises in the Southeast, eight of them in Chattanooga and Nashville. These franchises had revenues of more than $250 million. In 1997, Sonic Automotive, Inc., one of America’s largest car retailers based in Charlotte, N.C., with more than 170 dealerships, purchased his primary dealership group. Mr. Bowers became a charter member of the Sonic senior management team and was executive vice president of acquisitions. After serving on the company's Board of Directors and leading Sonic's acquisition strategy, Mr. Bowers left the company in 1999 to pursue other business opportunities.

Among his diverse interests, Mr. Bowers became a principal of MB2 Motorsports, along with two other investors, which owned a car on the NASCAR Winston Cup Circuit. He divested himself of that interest in 2006.  In 2007, Mr. Bowers returned to automotive sales with establishment of a new Audi dealership in Chattanooga with his business partners; his son, Rick Bowers; and his son-in-law, Brad Cobb. Mr. Bowers also is an experienced investor in a range of industries and companies including telecommunications, health care, and wireless infrastructure.

The University of Georgia graduate played varsity football there and was a member of the 1964 Sun Bowl team. When a National Football League team was being organized for Tennessee, Mr. Bowers served on the committee which chose the name “Titans.” In his leisure time he enjoys quail hunting and flying his own aircraft as a licensed pilot.  Nelson is married to Pam Greene Bowers; they have two children, Rick and Courtney, and five grandchildren.

Hardwick Cladwell L. Hardwick "Hacker" Caldwell III
During the summers when he was a teenager, Hacker Caldwell worked at his family’s cooking appliance manufacturing company, Modern Maid.  His Great Grandfather had started the company, originally called Tennessee Stove Works, in 1904.  Mr. Caldwell’s Grandfather, L.H. Caldwell, and Father, LHC Jr., had both been President of the Company, which became known as Modern Maid in the 1960s.  The Caldwells sold the company in 1972. 

Mr. Caldwell graduated from McCallie School, the University of North Carolina, and served in the U.S. Army.  After completing his MBA at the University of Virginia, he returned to Modern Maid as manager of international sales.  In 1981 Raytheon, the corporate owner, decided to close the Main & Holtzclaw St. plant and move production to South Carolina.  Mr. Caldwell was fired.

During this period Mr. Caldwell, who had a modest inheritance, noticed that investment returns weren’t so good; that was the bear market of the 1970s. He wanted to try to get a better return, so he took half of his money and sent it to his friend Thorpe McKenzie in New York City who, along with his partner Julian Robertson, was going to start an investment partnership called a hedge fund named TIGER. It would use non-traditional strategies: shorting stocks, using options, and leverage. That was May 1980.  Mr. Caldwell was 32 years old.  No one had ever heard of a hedge fund.  Many thought he was crazy.

During the 1980s the TIGER Fund did quite well and helped pay for other of Mr. Caldwell’s business ventures that didn’t.  In 1990 he started a partnership that would invest in hedge funds.  TSWII, an acronym for his family’s stove company, was one of the very early fund of hedge funds whose main advantages were access to hedge funds that didn’t accept new investors, diversification of many strategies, and professional management.  TSWII started with $6 million and has investments of over $400 million today.  Its return to investors over sixteen years has been 15.6% versus the S&P 500’s return of 11.5%. 

For Mr. Caldwell, one of the most gratifying things about having a successful business has been the ability to give time and money back to the community.  He has served as President of The Boys’ Club of Chattanooga, Chairman of Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, a Trustee of The UC Foundation, Girls Preparatory School, and McCallie School, Chairman of The Hunter Museum of American Art, and a committee member of the 21st Century Waterfront Trust.  He is currently a Commissioner of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Chairman of the National Board of The Smithsonian Institution.

Mr. Caldwell is married to Kitty and has four kids, Kate, Betsy, Charlotte, and Hardwick, and a granddaughter, Grace.

Ernest Holmes Ernest Holmes
Ernest Holmes, Sr. was an engineer, inventor and entrepreneur. He was born January 17, 1883 near Huntsville, Alabama, and when his father took a job with the railroad, the family relocated to Chattanooga in 1885.

An excellent student, Ernest's formal education ended at the eighth grade, normal for the times. He joined the workforce at the age of 14 as a messenger in Fort Oglethorpe, an Army post during the Spanish American War, and later as a carpet and drapery installer for Lovemans Department Store.
Ernest was interested in all things mechanical and to the dismay of his parents began working for the Chattanooga Garage. Young Holmes soon became an automotive expert at a time when motorized vehicles were not commonplace or well understood. During this period he furthered his education in engineering through the International Correspondence Schools of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

By 1915 Holmes and a partner owned a garage and auto repair shop on Fort Street when one day an incident forever altered his life. John Wilder, owner of a local business school, drove his Model T Ford into swollen Spring Creek near present day Eastgate Center. A call went out to Ernest who arrived to find a frantic Wilder clinging to the axle of the overturned vehicle.
Mr. Wilder's son had been washed downstream by the raging current, but was later found unharmed. Now the job remained to retrieve the car.

The recovery took eight hours using blocks, rope and six men. On his way back to the repair shop, an exhausted Holmes began to formulate what might make the job easier should he ever encounter a similar situation. He tried several combinations of booms, cables, pulleys, and winches designed to lift an automobile by transferring most of the load to nearby trees or other suitable anchor.

By 1916, Holmes assembled his first practical recovery mechanism, which he called a twin-boom wrecker, and installed it upon a 1913 Cadillac Touring Car chassis which he had modified to accept and transport the device. This was the essence of his first U.S. Patent.

The marketability of such a product was not lost on Ernest, who, with his brother Curtis, began field testing a production version. In their new location at 318 Market Street, the Ernest Holmes Company, manufacturer of wreckers and towing equipment, was formed. Orders for wreckers began to flow. 

As automobile production soared, the company grew steadily, expanding and improving model lines and outgrowing several locations over the years.
Other towing equipment manufacturers came and went, but Holmes totally dominated the industry worldwide. During WWII hundreds of military wreckers built by the Chattanooga firm were a familiar sight to those serving in all theaters of the war.

Mr. Holmes died suddenly of an apparent heart attack on June 10, 1945 at the age of 62. His son, Ernest Holmes, Jr., assumed control and continued its successful operation until the company was sold to Dover Corporation in 1973. Wreckers bearing the Holmes nameplate are still produced today in Ooltewah, Tennessee.