20 under 40

20 under 40

May 31st, 2011 in Chatter

The Scenic City has been blessed with visionary leaders over the past two decades. As the next generation takes the reins, we wondered who will help shape Chattanooga's next 20 years?

To find the answer, we sat down with some of the best and brightest young leaders in our community. We asked how they found success, what they wish for Chattanooga's future and, most importantly, what makes them hit the ground running each morning. Our group was diverse, including every job title from realtor to restaurateur, attorney to engineer.

Some are building our future with bricks and mortar while others are shaping it through political policy. While their answers offer merely a snapshot of the individual, we discovered quite an impressive mosaic when pieced together.

Listen closely Chattanooga...this is your future calling.

Allen Atchley

Allen Atchley, 35

Vitals: Cardiologist with The Chattanooga Heart Institute • Husband to Rebecca and father to twins, Emma and Olivia, 3, and Caroline, 1

Wow factor: In college I was an All-American golfer for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

Favorite bands: Led Zeppelin, Jeff Buckley, Radiohead and Foo Fighters

Spare time: I love music, I've been playing acoustic guitar since I was a little kid. I own three guitars - my grandmother's (she was a bluegrass musician), my dad's and the one I got when I was 16.

Life-changing realization: I always thought I'd be a pharmacist through high school and most of college. When I decided I didn't want to do that I had a bit of a job crisis. A family friend got me a job at our local hospital as a nurse's aide, full time for a year. I realized I loved taking care of people and wanted to do more.

Most proud professional moment: The rewarding aspect of medicine is you have proud moments all the time. But if I had to choose one, it would be match day for my cardiology fellowship, which marked the fulfillment of my dream of becoming a heart doctor.

Lyndsi Sebastian

Lyndsi Sebastian, 26

Vitals: Marketing manager and event planner, Chattanooga Times Free Press • Fiancée to David Lane • Organizes all Chattanooga Times Free Press charitable contributions and philanthropic efforts

Favorite book: "Falling Up" by Shel Silverstein

Most proud professional moment: Planning a 400-person VIP red carpet movie premiere in 10 days. We had never produced an event like that, and I had never worked so hard to pull something off in such a short amount of time. I literally almost cried the first time the jumbo LED screen was turned on and the movie trailer began. Partly because everything looked so amazing and partly because I was relieved it was almost over!

Childhood aspirations: From the time I was in kindergarten I wanted to be a pediatrician, and did not waver from that plan until I was halfway through college. After a grueling physics class, I changed my major to marketing, started at the Times Free Press my last semester of college, and have been here ever since with no plans of leaving.

Dream job: I'd love to be a professional baby-namer.

If you could time travel and give advice to your 10-year-old self, what would it be? Don't sweat the small stuff.

If you could stretch a few more hours in the day, how would you spend them? Professionally, I would take more time to keep my desk clean. Personally, I would watch more TV!

Alan Cooper

Alan Cooper, 38

Vitals: Marketing and communications for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee • Husband to Jennifer and father to Kate, 7, and Mattie, 3 • High school and college football official for Division II South Atlantic Conference • Coach for daughter's softball team • Volunteer with UTC's Athletic Department, steering committee for NCAA Golf Championship • Leadership Chattanooga graduate

Favorite Food: Grandmother's ham and biscuits

Favorite Book: "The Boys of Winter" by Wayne Coffey

Most proud professional moment: I was co-selected by my peers and classmates to give the remarks at our graduation from Leadership Chattanooga. That was a pretty big honor. It gave me a good feeling to know they thought enough of me and another classmate to ask us to express the thoughts of our class.

Guiding principles: Three things my parents impressed upon me from an early age were integrity, fairness and loyalty - sometimes in words but always in action. In fact it was probably said less, but it was certainly demonstrated by the way they lived their lives, and still do.

Kim Perry

Kim Perry, 33

Vitals: Certified Public Accountant, Assurance manager at Decosimo & Company • Junior Achievement volunteer • Volunteer for various Chamber education initiatives teaching finance and budgeting to kids

Spare time: I love to sing, which stems from my parents. We used to write songs when we were kids and still do. I also love to read and run.

Little known fact: I'm the middle child of 10 children.

Favorite Book: "Perfection" by Julie Mitts

Childhood aspirations: When I was a kid I wanted to be a comedian because I love to laugh and make people laugh; I think it's contagious.

Secrets to success: I do a ton of laughing and praying, and I try to run at least 30 minutes a day. I also speak with at least one of my siblings every day. They keep me grounded.

Most proud moment: The day I passed the CPA exam. I'd had people in my life tell me I couldn't do it, so it felt really great to prove them wrong.

Life-changing realization: My mother passed away in 1998 and it caused me to take an entirely different perspective. I realized that life is short and we have to love, live and laugh hard.

J. Jackson

J. Jackson, 35

Vitals: General manager, Physique Fitness • Husband to Jana

Spare time: I love to cook. I'm a newbie foodie and getting into experimenting with different cuisines. I also love playing golf, biking, writing, acoustic guitar, traveling and exercise - although that's less of a hobby and more of a necessity.

Favorite food: My wife's shrimp and grits. She does this roasted red pepper sauce that's outstanding.

Favorite bands: Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers, John Mayer and John Butler

Most proud moment: Purchasing our first home together in Chattanooga. It was great to finally put down roots and find a city I really gelled with.

Secrets to success: Eating healthy, daily exercise and staying positive.

If I won the lottery, I would: Spend a year traveling to every NFL and MLB stadium watching live games. That's one thing I miss out on by working weekends.

Future goals for Chattanooga: I'd like to see more emphasis on citywide public transportation.

Marie Labrie

Marie Labrie, 24

Vitals: Paint engineering specialist for Volkswagen • Member of the Society of Women Engineers

Most proud professional moment: Graduating from UTC's chemical engineering program magna cum laude was my most proud moment. I'm the first in my family to get a bachelor's degree, and was one of only three other women in my entire department.

Life-changing experience: I'm French Canadian and I moved to the United States when I was 13. I actually didn't speak a word of English. I had my whole family in Quebec and a pretty big support system, then I moved with just my immediate family. It was pretty difficult but if you ask me now I'd say it was definitely worth it.

Secret to success: I try to learn something new every day. I think that's the only way to keep up with the world - it changes so quickly you have to be open minded and willing to keep learning to stay current.

If you could time travel and give advice to your 10-year-old self, what would it be? Be more interested in foreign languages. Growing up I never thought I'd speak anything other than French. Not only did I learn English, but now I'm taking German because we interact with our German colleagues on a daily basis.

Ben Friberg

Ben Friberg, 33

Vitals: Chapel manager for Heritage Funeral Home • Husband to Karah Nazor Friberg • Jazz guitarist for Ben Friberg Trio • Leadership Chattanooga graduate

Wow factor: Hiked across Arctic Sweden alone at 22 years old and took first jazz guitar lesson from a Swede who didn't speak any English.

Life-changing realization: My folks took me to New York when I was just out of high school to the Blue Note Jazz Club. I got to see Ray Brown and Stanley Turrentine. It was like a sonic tour of emotion and that, along with a Wes Montgomery CD my mother gave me, fueled my drive to pursue the craft.

When asked about considering a career in music: I guess music is more of a hobby, although we play about 170 nights per year, because it's something I do only for the love of it versus thinking "this has to work career-wise." I think when you get into that situation it's hard to have the same relationship with the music.

If I won the lottery: My wife is a gifted long distance swimmer [became the first Tennessean to swim the English Channel in 2008] so I would probably sail the world visiting all the popular straits and channels so she could swim them. I would need some sailing lessons first, but in high school I spent many hours in shop class rebuilding keels and rudders.

Cara Hicks

Cara Hicks, 26

Vitals: Account manager for fiber optics, EPB • Wife to Montague and mom to Jaxton, 7, and Eden, 1 • Board member, Young Professionals Association of Chattanooga (YPAC) • Leadership Chattanooga

Life-changing realization: Two days before I graduated high school - I had a full ride to the University of Georgia - I found out I was pregnant. I'd worked really hard from a young age to ensure I had a chance at getting a great education. So I headed to Athens anyway. My son was my motivator. It was very difficult but I kept my eyes on the goal because I knew I had someone I couldn't let down.

Favorite singer: Francesca Battistelli

Secrets to success: Making time for rest and creating margins is important. Day to day, I think having prayer time and putting God first in my life is key for me to function and not be crazy! And having goals - short-term, long-term and ultimate goals - keeps me motivated. In the busyness of life when you really focus on your goals and think big picture it helps to get through some of the stuff that's not so easy.

Kate Gilbert

Kate Gilbert, 36

Vitals: Business manager for The Strauss Company • Wife to Mark and mother to Anna Mae, 2, with baby girl on the way • Leadership Chattanooga graduate • Advisory board for UTC's Construction Management Program (a first in Tennessee)

Favorite food: Anything made out of a potato.

Secrets to success: Definitely my morning cup of coffee! Every day I try to take some time to be reflective and to quiet my mind, even if it's just five minutes. I think because I have a big personality it's good to take a step back and think about how I interact with people.

If you could squeeze a few more hours out of the day, how would you spend them? I would sleep! Well, sleep or exercise because I get up really early to workout - about 4:30 a.m. But it's nice to have that time in the morning to just chit chat and know there won't be any interruptions. It's my "me" time.

Keeps me going: One of the biggest motivators in my life was being in the military and having people who were superior to me say, "You're top notch and I have high expectations for you." It was important to me to try and live up to that.

Wendy Dixon

Wendy Dixon, 38

Vitals: Realtor, manages own team for Crye-Leike • Wife to Herby and mother to Sadie, 13, and Allen, 11

Favorite Food: Italian - You can't go wrong with gobs of cheese and garlic bread.

Life-changing moment: My husband and I were partners in my father's construction business in Florida. When we moved here we flipped a coin to see who would go to real estate school. I got into it as a part-time thing but ended up absolutely loving it. It's true that if you do what you love, success will follow.

If you could squeeze a few more hours in the day, how would you spend them? I'm a workaholic, pulling 15-hour days, so to be able to just sit on the couch with my kids would be huge.

Secrets to success: I treat all of my clients like family, and always try to answer all phone calls and emails promptly. And prayer - if I didn't have prayer I wouldn't have anything.

Shalin Tejani

Shalin Tejani, 28

Vitals: CFO for Hamilton Plastics • Husband to Niti and father to Niyam, 7 months old • Development chair for Re:Start, Center for Adult Education • Leadership Chattanooga graduate

Wow factor: Started real estate development company at 20 years old. Earned MBA in one year with Emory University's accelerated program, which accepts only about 30 people each year.

Spare time: I love playing golf, spending time with my family, and we travel quite a bit. My wife and I were both in a capella groups at our individual colleges, so singing is a hobby we both try to keep up with.

Favorite book: "Night" by Elie Wiesel

Secret to success: I love people. I try really hard to remember faces and names, not just to have a vast business network but it kind of grounds me and teaches me. Also family time is my peace time. Everything's always so hectic it's nice to come home and decompress. It's a stress relief for me to be able to play with my son. Finally - checklists. They keep me centered. It's tough to focus when you're trying to do so many things.

Monica Raymer

Monica Raymer, 29

Vitals: Physician Assistant and director of the Center for Facial Rejuvenation • Wife to Scott and mother to five boys - Trey, 11, Colten, 7, Maverick, 2, Gage, 1, and Brae, 3 months

Favorite bands: Aerosmith, Smashing Pumpkins, Led Zeppelin

Spare time: Right now the only hobby I have is working out, and I don't know if it's so much a hobby but a way to try and fit into regular clothes again.

Finding her career path: I always knew I wanted to do something in medicine. We were really poor; my mom is a nurse and her doctor's office was my babysitter. I was probably the only fifth-grader who could recognize the difference between red and white blood cells under a microscope. When I was little I wrecked my bike and the doctor let me literally help sew up my own hand.

Life-changing realization: Finding out I was pregnant with our second son. I had really been medical school driven until then. I was still young but my mindset completely changed. That's when I decided to go to PA school.

Chris Castleberry

Chris Castleberry, 36

Vitals: Assistant vice president of voluntary benefits for UNUM • Husband to Gretchen and father to sons Rylan, 3, and Keegan, 2 • UTC Alumni Board of Directors • Leadership Chattanooga graduate • Activities Committee for United Way

Favorite book: "Good to Great" by Jim Collins

Childhood aspiration: I wanted to be an electrical engineer. I've always been into setting up home theatre systems as a movie and music buff. Of course I didn't take into account things like physics and calculus that are pretty critical to engineering - much more complicated than wiring speakers together.

Closest call: Watching the funnel cloud form in Ringgold about a quarter of a mile from his home, and escaping without damage.

Secrets to success: It sounds archaic but No. 1 is starting every day with a to-do list - you've got to have a plan. Also I try to be very responsive, whether it's a phone call or email. It builds credibility.

Josh Carter

Josh Carter, 33

Vitals: Restaurateur, co-owner of St. John's Restaurant and St. John's Meeting Place • Husband to Nancy and father to Gus, 9, Beatrix, 5, and Henry, 3 • Sunday School Superintendent at New City Fellowship • R3 International Volunteer

Favorite food: Any type of seafood.

Favorite book: "The Brothers Karamazov" by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Most proud professional moment: When St. John's was given its first Wine Spectator Award of Excellence in 2004. Building a recognized wine program is one of the most fun and challenging aspects of my work. It's always a good feeling to get affirmation from a respected and well-known part of your industry. This year we're hoping for our eighth award.

If I won the lottery, I would: Travel all over. I love to travel with my family as much as possible, so I'd love to write a book about traveling with children by taking my family to different countries and experiencing the cultures and foods. Our babies have always been our best ambassadors.

Secrets to success: Praying, running and having dinner with my family.

If you could time travel and give advice to your 10-year-old self, what would it be? Study harder. Give back more. Be bold in your beliefs.

Taylor Monen

Taylor Monen, 29

Vitals: Restaurant owner, Urban Stack and Taco Mamacita • Wife to Mike and mother to Lily, 5 and Simon, 2 • Volunteer of the Year for her kids' school, Aleph Bet

If you won the lottery, what would you do for a living? I would volunteer. It's always been a big part of my life. There are a lot of causes I feel strongly about and if I didn't have to work or make money, that's what I would want to do.

Life-changing moment: When I was a senior in high school my best friend passed away in a tragic accident. I think about it almost every day. I decided at that moment I'm never going to say I can't do something because I'm scared or I don't have enough time. It made me grow up quickly and realize life is very short.

Secrets to success: Coffee! I drink a latte every morning and I guarantee that's a big part of what gets me through the day. Also I thrive being around people, and filling my life with conversation and little moments. And every night I try to read to my kids. It's one of the most rewarding times of my day. I get to escape into the children's book and spend time with Lily and Simon. It's one of the best stress relievers.

Michelle Chastain

Michelle Chastain, 33

Vitals: Private banking manager for southeast Tennessee, Regions Bank • Wife to Jared and mother to Grey, 2 • Mentor for Emily's Power for a Cure Marathon • Leadership Chattanooga graduate

Wow factor: Last year her entire team made Chairman's Club - the top performance award for the company.

Favorite food: I'm a certified chip-aholic.

Current book: "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell

Childhood aspirations: Everything from a zoologist to an author to a journalist to a musician - I wanted to be in a rock band at one time. So I've had a pretty interesting journey to banking.

Life-changing realization: Getting married and then starting a family was definitely life changing because I've always been very independent. Of course when you get married you make sacrifices and compromise with your partner, and you do the right thing to make your relationship healthy and balanced - there's a lot of give and take.

Most proud moment: One was becoming a mom; the other was realizing I could balance motherhood and work. I have really supportive people here at the bank and that made it so much easier to transition.

Andrae McGary

Andrae McGary, 31

Vitals: City Councilman, District 8 • Radio host, Talk Radio! 102.3 "Live and Local" • Husband to Cheryl and father to Imani, 7, Zion, 5, Elijah, 3, Isaiah, 1, and one on the way • Board member for YMCA, Public Art and Chattanooga Green Committee

Favorite books: "The Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri, "Paradise Lost" by John Milton and anything by Mother Theresa

Life-changing realization: We live in one of the roughest areas in town, and for years my wife tried to persuade me to get involved. I finally relented and went to a neighborhood association meeting. This woman walked straight up to me and said, "Baby, I've been praying for 15 years someone would run for city council, and I think you're the man." People saw something in me I didn't see in myself.

If I won the lottery, I would: Start my own fashion label and use it as a platform. Middle school and high school were all about art for me [went to high school with Norah Jones and Erykah Badu]. I feel like fashion is a place where all of my experiences and backgrounds could converge.

Proudest professional moment: Getting the referendum passed to sell alcohol at the Tivoli. For 10 to 15 years people had been fighting for it and everyone said, "You're not going to do it." I was a young guy, didn't really know anyone, but somehow, some way it came together. It kind of validated me.

Charlie Bethel

Charlie Bethel, 35

Vitals: Director of corporate affairs, J&J Industries • Georgia State Senator, District 54 • Husband to Lynsey and father to Henry, 8, and Jeb, 6 • Coach for sons' recreation leagues (baseball, football, basketball)

Childhood aspirations: I wanted to be so many things - veterinarian, doctor, lawyer, truck driver, professional athlete. I'm thankful I had parents who taught me what you did was really less the question; it's more about who you are, and that if you took care of being good and doing your best you'd find something to do.

Secrets to success: I try to take time to be quiet each day. We're all so busy we convince ourselves we don't have the time, but if you take the time to slow down I think it really pays off. I've also found that when I focus on what I can do for others, my own problems tend to get solved along the way.

Future goal for Chattanooga: One thing I'd like to see is citizens and leaders across the area really embrace the regional strength of the tri-state area. I'd like for all of us to have a greater appreciation of how interconnected we are.

If you could time travel and give advice to your 10-year-old self, what would it be? Don't worry so much about girls because you end up with a really good one.

Scott Cooper

Scott Cooper, 35

Vitals: Economic development project manager for TVA • Husband to Molly and father to Clarke Rose, 16 months, and soon to be dad to brand new baby girl • Leadership Chattanooga graduate

Favorite food: Wife's chili

Favorite band: The String Cheese Incident

Life-changing realization: When I was 16 I was diagnosed with a heart condition called cardiomyopathy. I basically had to quit anything that required a lot of running, which were all the sports I loved. When you're 16 you think you're invincible, so it really does set you back a bit. It was an eye opener for me.

Future goal for Chattanooga: I feel like sometimes we have a second-class mentality, like "We're just Chattanooga." We discount what's in our own backyard but we've competed around the world for projects and won. I'd like to see people recognize how great our city really is.

If I won the lottery, I would: I love aviation, so I'd probably learn how to fly. I'd take my family all over the place by plane looking for food, kind of like that show, "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives."

Blair Bennington Cannon

Blair Bennington Cannon, 35

Vitals: Attorney for Leitner, Williams, Dooley and Napolitan • Wife to Eddie and mother to Grace, 4, and Addie, 18 months • Board member for Tennessee Bar Association's Young Lawyers Division • Leadership Chattanooga graduate

Spare time: I like to read and sew; I'll make dresses for my daughters. And I like watching reality TV - it's my vice.

Childhood aspiration: I grew up in a legal family so I wanted to be a lawyer from a young age. As I got older, I annoyed some of my teachers always playing devil's advocate. I can remember several of them saying, "You need to be a lawyer - you like to argue."

Proudest moment: Graduating from law school. It's something I'd always wanted to do, and while I have very supportive parents, they didn't do it for me. I had to take the initiative to make it happen and to succeed while in school. To me that makes it better because it is my accomplishment.

Life-changing realization: I took a year off between college and law school to do AmeriCorps and got placed in Chattanooga as a reading tutor at Eastside Elementary. Growing up here, I thought it'd be familiar but it was like being in a different city. It definitely offered a different perspective.