As the only business magazine in Nashville, Nashville Post embraces its role as a modern-day chronicler of important business news. It also revels in its role as a historian of bygone business days. It is a privilege to present a first-of-its-kind hall of fame for business people in Nashville.
The first inductees into the Nashville Post Leadership Hall of Fame have made a lasting impact on their industries and on business in the Music City. Nashville-born or not, they have helped define the region's business identity.
Understandably, this first round of inductees is heavy on history. After all, today's top CEOs would be hard-pressed to match up with those selected from over two centuries of business history in Middle Tennessee.
The present day, however, will catch up. Following the induction of this class plucked from Tennessee's rich business history, we expect future lists to celebrate living legends of Nashville's business present.
Roy Acuff (1903-1992) and Fred Rose (1897-1954)
The founders of the first music publishing company in Nashville, and the first exclusively devoted to country music, Acuff and Rose can be credited with establishing Nashville as the "third coast." The two were among the first four inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Acuff, a country crooner and national superstar beginning in the 1940s, and Rose, an Academy Award winning songwriter who wrote songs for the likes of Gene Autry, launched their company in 1942. An overnight success, it became the repository for most of the popular songs and songwriters over the next 20 years (and even to this day). The company signed then unknown Hank Williams Sr. to its stable of writers in 1946.
A.M. Burton (1879-1966)
Raised on a tobacco farm in Trousdale County, Burton eventually got a job in Nashville selling insurance. When the company he worked for went out of business, Burton decided to start his own insurance company and got buy-in from a handful of investors, including Guilford Dudley Sr.
The Life and Casualty (L&C) Insurance Co. of Tennessee launched in 1903, eventually becoming one of the largest insurance firms in America and a key contributor in making Nashville a leading insurance center in the South. Burton was president for nearly half a century. He is also credited for his significant role in building up Nashville-based Lipscomb University.
Joel Cheek (1852-1935)
While selling coffee by horseback, Cheek began experimenting with his own blends. In 1892, he convinced the owners of Nashville's Maxwell House Hotel to sell his coffee exclusively. The company he then launched grew rapidly, in no small part because Cheek was more than just a good food scientist – he was also an excellent businessman.
Cheek's introduction of Maxwell House in New York City was a study in marketing genius – remember the big smoking cup on Times Square? Postum Co. (later General Foods) came calling in 1928, paying a record sum for the business and product, which remains "good to the last drop" 80 years later. The Cheek family name remains a highly visible one in Nashville, largely due to the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum of Art.
Edwin Craig (1893-1969)
In 1901, Tennessee deputy insurance commissioner C.A. Craig of Nashville, with other investors, purchased for around $17,000 at auction the National Sick Accident Insurance Co., re-branding it National Life and Accident and introducing the logo "We Shield Millions."
Two decades later, C.A.'s son, Edwin, a field representative turned company vice president, and an interested observer of the nationwide phenomena of radio stations rising up country-wide, convinced L&A's board to venture into radio as a good marketing tool. WSM-AM was born.
Soon, the Grand Ole Opry radio show was introduced. Under Craig's leadership, a tool that was intended to sell insurance became the best-known and longest running radio program in history (and sold a lot of insurance in the process).
Erskine Bronson Ingram (1931-1995)
Ingram took over his family's $2 million oil, barge and lumber business in 1963. The company grew exponentially under his guidance, expanding into book distribution in 1970. That division grew to control over half the wholesale book distribution market to retail bookstores in America.
In 1978, Ingram split up the business with his brother. He took Ingram Book, Ingram Barge, and other entities from which he forged Ingram Industries. The barge business became one of the largest inland waterway carriers in America. The book business expanded to include software distribution, which in turn became Ingram Micro, the largest distributor of microcomputer hardware and software in the world. (Ingram Micro went public in 1996.)
Ingram also formed Ingram Entertainment, today the nation’s largest distributor of DVD software. Tennessee's first billionaire, Ingram was also a major philanthropist and community leader.
Jack C. Massey (1904-1990)
Massey is the only businessperson in American history to take three unrelated companies – Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hospital Corp. of America and Winner's Corp. – public. A druggist turned surgical supply company owner, Massey's real successes in business only began to occur later in his life – in fact, after he came out of retirement.
After buying Harland Sanders' chicken recipe in the early 1960s, Massey grew KFC into a nationwide chain, playing a key role in the modern fast-food industry. In 1968,at age 64, he co-founded HCA, pioneering for-profit health care. He also began Massey Investment Co., forerunner to Massey Burch Capital Group.
In the '70s, he aided the rise of Wendy's restaurants and later founded Mrs. Winner's fried chicken. Belmont University's business school is named in his honor.
James C. Napier (1845-1915)
A race riot in 1856 that temporarily ended black education in Nashville caused Napier, like other free, financially able black students, to evacuate Tennessee for Ohio, where he continued his education. He returned to Nashville during the Civil War while the Union occupied the city. He earned his law degree in 1872.
For the next four decades, Napier could best be described as Nashville's most prominent African American. Napier was the first black member of the Nashville city council. In 1911, U.S. President William Taft named him Register of the U.S. Treasury. Between 1911 and 1913, Napier’s signature appeared on all paper money printed by the federal government. He co-founded the One Cent Savings Bank (now Citizens Savings Bank). And in 1905, Napier helped organize the Negro streetcar strike and the subsequent creation of the black Union Transportation Co.
Napier's name remains prominent around Nashville, affixed to an elementary school, a community center and park, and one of the city's oldest public housing developments.
John Overton (1766-1833)
One of Tennessee's greatest buyers, sellers and developers of land, Overton founded the city plot that became Memphis. Overton was also heavily involved in Nashville's development, and he helped create the Nashville charter of the Bank of Tennessee. A political and presidential adviser to Andrew Jackson, he helped usher in the first westerner to successfully take the White House.
A Tennessee Supreme Court judge, Overton created numerous legal precedents for state law. He was also a tax collector who, as supervisor of revenue for the Southwest Territory, collected taxes on 450 liquor distilleries. Also a planter, Overton operated the 2,300- acre Travellers' Rest Plantation in Nashville, which to this day remains a key cultural and tourist attraction for the city.