UTC honoring three who made mark here

UTC honoring three who made mark here

April 8th, 2012 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

Starting a business isn't for everybody.

Few have the stomach to put it all on the line, day after day. It's not just the house, the car and the future that go back to the bank if the business fails.

A dream -- the steely determination that drives an entrepreneur forward day after day -- dies along with every bankrupt company.

Harshad Shah isn't the first Chattanooga-area businessman to hit it big by taking risks and working hard. But he is among a group that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga will honor April 12 for their entrepreneurial contributions to the region.

The College of Business will celebrate three of Chattanooga's business pioneers as part of its ever-growing Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame.

Shah still works every day to keep the fires burning at Hamilton Plastics, the company he founded here after immigrating from India.

He started out making plastic bags that were roughly twice the quality of existing products using one-third of the material. Now he produces a wide variety of plastic bags, liners and films for the poultry and medical fields.

Though Shah is debt free and profitable after 26 years, he's not quite ready to lean back and put his feet up.

"I'm spending more time at Hamilton Plastics because here you can put in a $1 million machine and do $4 million revenue to pay it off in five years," said Shah, who also develops real estate as part of the 3H group.


Hamilton Plastics now generates $7 million in gross income each year, running 24 hours per day at its 300,000-square-foot factory on Amnicola Highway.

Shah is a founding director of a local bank, CapitalMark Bank and Trust, and recently launched a new division of Hamilton Plastics in Arizona.

But like any first-generation success story, the glow of today's triumph can overshadow the heartburn of yesteryear.

After he received his degree in chemistry from Northeastern University, he managed research and development projects for Glad Bag division of Union Carbide in Chicago, and later moved to Dalton, Ga., trying to make ends meet.

Out of nowhere, the owner of a Michigan-based chemical testing company called Shah and offered to sell him the company for $30,000.

He moved the company from Michigan to East Ridge, then to east Chattanooga, and finally to Amnicola Highway.

"We started in 1986 with no employees, one machine and a future," he said.

His 37,500-square-foot plant grew nearly tenfold and now supports 150 local jobs.

Shah still somehow finds time to work on a dozen hotels owned by 3H Group, in which he is a partner, and CapitalMark Bank and Trust is expected to hit $1 billion in assets after growing from an initial investment of $35 million.

"When we decided to put a company together, I decided if I made a couple hundred thousand dollars, I'd be a rich man," he said.


The UTC College of Business also will honor Gordon Parkhurst Street, who grew Wheland Foundry & North American Royalties into a nationwide operation, with its "pioneer" recognition.

Street bought the foundry from the Wheland family in 1945 for $1 million, using money he didn't have.

Like many businessmen, he sought a loan. But having no collateral, he secured it using "his good name," according to his son, Gordon Street Jr.

After a string of deals with automotive manufacturers, "Over half of the cars in America had castings made by Wheland in them," Street said. "We grew to second in size only to GM's own foundry."

The company went public in 1969, with Street retaining 70 percent ownership, and went private again in 1989, seven years after his passing.

His success occurred partly by chance and partly through a tireless work ethic, a willingness to take risks and a sense of honor, his son said.

"He was an interesting creature of the Depression," he said.

Just before the 1929 stock market crash, Street was working as an engineer on a project to build a resort off the Texas coast. When the markets tumbled and the real estate became worthless, he was hired on as a teller at the bank that had repossessed the resort, his son said.

"There were three of them working at the bank," Street said. "The president, the vice president and him."


Without warning, the other two were hauled off to jail for fraud, leaving Street as the somewhat surprised sole owner of a bank. But his sudden rise in status was bittersweet, because the bank's Depression-era depositors were eager to get their money back, even though the bank's loans weren't being repaid.

"For three years, he had loans paid off in cabbage and melons, and when he had paid back all the depositors he locked the bank, dropped the key in the river and drove back to Chattanooga," Street said.

During World War II, his engineering prowess designing ship guns and anchor wheels was noticed by the future head of outsourcing for General Motors.

After he acquired Wheland, the man called him up.

"The guy took him into a room at General Motors and showed him a wall with every single part GM made, and the guy said 'Look at all these parts, which one do you want to make?'" Street recalled.

His father "chose the simplest thing he thought he could make -- a brake drum," Street said.

Within a few years he had paid off the loan and then some, employing 2,000 at the four locations. He expanded into oil drilling, taking small interests in the wells in exchange for discounted parts.

Though remains of the company ceased operations in 2002 after the Sept. 11 World Trade Center attacks led to slumping auto sales, the oil wells still are paying off, according to Street.


Renee Haugerud, who UTC will honor for her work in Chattanooga's Finance for the Future Initiative, is a rare type of person.

She's a woman on Wall Street, one of only 2 percent of female portfolio managers.

"Power and money talk," she said in 2011. "You get the power and money and you have the power to make change."

The firm she founded, Galtere Ltd., has been featured by nearly every financial publication for its unorthodox trading schemes that play against the typical herd mentality seen in the stock market.

Growing up as the daughter of a Minnesota sheriff in corn country, she learned to love trading while walking around the family's corn field.

Her first job at agribusiness giant Cargill simply expanded on the lessons of supply and demand that she already had picked up on the family farm.

But despite moving into the company's in-house hedge fund trading department -- which she helped create -- Haugerud was "the wrong gender, the wrong political persuasion and very opinionated," she told Barrons.

Rather than turn from what she enjoyed, she founded Galtere in 1997, which now employs more than a dozen traders and managers with a fund worth more than $1.1 billion.


In 2011, Haugerud helped launch UTC's Finance for the Future initiative with a $1.5 million gift. The one-of-a-kind institute teaches trading techniques to students using a mock-trading floor with a dozen $23,000 Bloomberg terminals.

She believes in the power of women to even out economic turmoil. And she has statistics to back that up. Women, she says, have a steadier hand at the wheel, holding onto investments longer than men. Men, on the other hand, tend to make more short-term investments.

It's called behavioral finance, and it questions the theory that people always make rational choices.

"Typically the more females are in power in any given country, the more budget expenses shift to health care and infrastructure," she said.

As a result of her gift, UTC has become a major center for behavioral finance in the U.S., hosting a national symposium on the topic in late 2011.

UTC will honor Haugerud, along with Shah and Street, at an April 12 reception at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club.