Joe Ferguson is named 2018 Chattanooga Area Manager of the Year

Joe Ferguson is named 2018 Chattanooga Area Manager of the Year

April 8th, 2018 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region
EPB Chairman Joe Ferguson is the 2018 Chattanooga Area Manager of the Year.

EPB Chairman Joe Ferguson is the 2018 Chattanooga...

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

About Joe Ferguson

› Position: Chairman of EPB

› Age: 83

› Education: He graduated from Memphis State University in the 1960s and 20 years later went back to school to complete the executive development program at the University of Tennessee

› Career: A native of Memphis and graduate of Memphis State University, Ferguson came to Chattanooga to work at Chattanooga Glass Co., where he served as a vice president; later as president of Burner Systems International; founder of Advanced Vehicle Systems, and president of the Enterprise Center.

› Board service: Ferguson has served on advisory and other boards at Chattanooga State Community College, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the Chattanooga Area Manufacturers Association, the Rotary Club of Chattanooga and Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church

› Personal: He and his wife, Virginia, have a grown son and daughter


Manager of the Year event

› When: 11:30 a.m. luncheon on June 6

› Where: The Chattanoogan Hotel

› Winner: Joe Ferguson

› Sponsoring groups: 14 area business associations and educational facilities jointly sponsor the annual evaluation.

› Tickets: Individual tickets are $60; tables for eight are $500.

› Web site:


EPB Chairman Joe Ferguson, who helped guide Chattanooga's electric utility over the past quarter century as it built Chattanooga into the Gig City, will be honored next month as the 2018 Chattanooga Area Manager of the Year (CAMOY).

Ferguson will be recognized with the region's top management award during a luncheon June 6.

"Honoring Joe Ferguson as Chattanooga Area Manager of the Year 2018 is the most appropriate way to celebrate his remarkable success and numerous contributions to the greater Chattanooga community," said Carolyn Stringer, chair of the 2018 CAMOY event. "His efforts have consistently focused on driving economic progress."

Since he came to Chattanooga more than a half century ago to work at the former Chattanooga Glass Co., Ferguson has worked to help businesses and the community to innovate, grow and collaborate. As a manager, executive vice president and president, Ferguson helped expand both Chattanooga Glass and Burner Systems International in the 1970s and 1980s before helping to launch Advanced Vehicle Systems (AVS), the Enterprise Center and EPB Fiber Optics.

Ferguson led EPB through initiating a fiber optic smart grid network – a development that led to one of the country's most intelligent, self-healing electric distribution systems and made Chattanooga the first city in the world to deliver gigabit-speed internet to every home and business in EPB's service territory.

In addition to reducing power outages in half, which EPB estimates has had a $50 million benefit to local electricity users, the smart grid has also proven to be a powerful economic development tool for attracting companies from across the country and branding Chattanooga as "the Gig City.

Ferguson said he is eager now to capitalize on EPB's fiber optic technology by working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Dr. Thomas Zacharia to facilitate smart grid research. Working with U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., who praises Ferguson for leading EPB "to establish the most advanced power distribution network in the nation," Ferguson helped establish a local office headed by ORNL's Jeff Cornett to assist area companies through research by the Lab's top scientists.

Prior to serving EPB, Ferguson worked in manufacturing for more than two decades making soft drink bottles at Chattanooga Glass when the company expanded from two plants to seven production facilities, and making gas burners at Burner Systems International, where he led the acquisition of Europe's biggest gas burner maker, Furigas B.V.

Not all of Ferguson's ventures have been so successful. In the 1990s, Ferguson launched Advanced Vehicle Systems, making some of the country's first battery-powered, electric buses. Although AVS ultimately shut down as a business, Ferguson used his experiences to conduct a worldwide search for an emission-free vehicle on behalf of CARTA and helped promote CARTA's free electric shuttle program. Nearly 22 million passengers have enjoyed this free service 25 years later.

In 2003, then Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker tapped Ferguson to head the newly developed Enterprise Center, a city-backed nonprofit organization which offers programs based on Chattanooga's dynamic culture of innovation, entrepreneurship and technology. During his tenure, Ferguson focused much of his attention on supporting a high-speed rail line between Chattanooga and Atlanta. Although initial studies were done for a Maglev train similar to those already successfully operating in China and Europe, funding for the project ultimately stalled.

"We're going to ultimately see high-speed rail in this country, and I think the Chattanooga-to-Atlanta route is one of the prime areas because we can't just keep adding more lanes to I-75," Ferguson said. "But it's going to take some more time."

Ferguson said some initiatives have not worked out as well or fast as first envisioned, but having a forward vision and the right people to implement that strategy is key to success.

"You have to keep moving forward and the key to execution is getting and training the right people," he said.

EPB President David Wade said Ferguson was an early advocate of technology entrepreneurship and progressive ideas in Chattanooga.

"It took his style of leadership — listening to the ideas of others, connecting people for collaboration and then trusting their knowledge, opinions and outcomes — to move Gig City forward," Wade said.

Rick Hitchcock, a former partner with Ferguson at AVS and an attorney who has worked for EPB and Chattanooga's Enterprise Center, said Ferguson "knows the value of management by walking around.

"When he walks into a room, you know he is there, and is presence commands your attention," Hitchcock said.

At EPB, where Ferguson has served under five different mayors, Ferguson helped lead another costly venture that ultimately has proved more successful that even he envisioned. EPB picked up an early MetroNet venture that Mayor Corker had launched to offer higher speed internet links and ultimately build the nation's most ambitious fiber optic network for a city its size.

Aided by a $111.6 million federal stimulus grant, EPB laid fiber optic links to all of its electricity customers and installed IntelliRupters and other devices to create a smart grid that replaced the need for manual meter readers and allowed the utility to more quickly respond to power outages.

The same fiber optic lines used to build the smart grid also enabled EPB to enter the telecommunications business and create the first citywide gigabit internet service in the Western Hemisphere.

"I took a big gulp when we decided to issue more than $220 million in bonds and go into the biggest debt we had every undertaken to build our fiber optic system," Ferguson said. "But I could see the potential benefits and I knew our staff had studied this issue and were ready to make it work."

Today, EPB Fiber Optics has more than 96,000 subscribers who not only get faster broadband connections, but also video and telephone services and help cover some of the cost of EPB's smart grid.

Ferguson will be the 33rd recipient of the Chattanooga Area Manager of the Year award, and the third from EPB. Former EPB Presidents Ken Baxter and Harold DePriest are among the former winners of the annual honor, which is given each year during National Management Week.

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 757-6340.