In keeping with our April Home & Garden themed issue – I wanted to feature a Southern Gentleman who had some affiliation with that field. Founder and CEO of Wesley Financial Group, Chuck McDowell seemed like a fabulous choice especially coupled with his being a real southern gentleman and lover of Williamson County. When we sat down, I wanted to know more about this successful businessman and what he believes makes a southern gentleman – among other things! Enjoy!
So, how did you end up living in Franklin?
CM: When my wife, Jo Ellen, and I decided to get married and buy a house together, we looked at homes with an open mind. We looked all over middle Tennessee and then found the “perfect” house. We loved it. The only problem was it didn’t have that “community” feel. So, we came to Franklin and found a house…and it just felt like home. After moving to downtown Franklin, we bought tickets to a performance at Studio Tenn for the Battle of Franklin production. It was as good as anything we have seen in New York. We were blown away. We were later invited to an event there, and one of the auction items was lunch with the Mayor, Ken Moore. We thought how great it would be to have lunch with the Mayor of Franklin. And then we all became friends. I think Ken and Linda help make Franklin what it is.
What do you love most about Franklin and Williamson County?
CM: Anything in Franklin and Williamson County we can get involved in, that is a good cause, we want to be involved. We want to truly be a part of this great community. The great thing about Williamson County is there are so many people who do get involved. It’s not just one or two families but rather, so many people doing so many things here. It’s our home, and it feels like we are a part of something. We could never leave.
How do you give back to the community, and why is that important?
CM: My grandfather and grandmother took my sister and me to raise a month before I turned thirteen. I went from being the poorest kid in school to the richest kid in school overnight. I look at that as being extremely blessed. I think that’s why it is important to me to give so much. We give to several causes and organizations important to us. I believe the reason I have a heart to give, is because when we were young, and before we went to live with my grandparents, we had people show up at our door for Thanksgiving and Christmas with food and toys. I didn’t understand why strangers were bringing us food until other kids started picking on me, telling me I was poor. Those early experiences have made me a better human being.
How did you get started in business and become so successful?
CM: My family had a company called McDowell Enterprises that was started by my great grandfather and great uncle along with my grandfather, Charles McDowell Sr., and I thought this was going to be my life too. I got a phone call when I was twenty or twenty-one, one night from my grandfather asking me to come to dinner. I told him I had a date, and he said, “I don’t care about your date. You be at my house tomorrow night at five for dinner.” Yes, Sir! And, of course, I was there. He sat us down and told us he had sold the company. My first thought was …what about me…what am I going to do? I called him the next day to apologize for my selfish reaction and told him how proud I was of his success and how grateful for all he had passed on to me. I owe all my success to them. Papa would go to job sites and run the equipment and get his hands dirty. Today, I walk through our office and say hello to each employee. I want to stay connected. That’s the same thing he did. I call it TOUCHING THE LINE. Even if you have never played sports, but were in P.E. class, you probably ran “suicides,” and there was always the kid that would stop a foot or even an inch short and then say, “I beat you.” Well, they didn’t…they didn’t touch the line. We give out awards here for people who TOUCH THE LINE. Good examples can be very simple in my mind, like a plate after dinner – don’t put it in the sink, put it in the dishwasher; or if you have a meeting at nine, be there ready at 8:45. I tell my co-workers don’t walk past trash on the street or wherever. Just because you didn’t put it there doesn’t mean you don’t need to pick it up.
So, when the company sold, I had to figure out what to do. I am an entrepreneur at heart. And I have failed a lot. If you are an entrepreneur, it means you must strategically plan a business, and you must attack it with everything you have. I tell people you have to act like you just fell off a boat in the middle of the ocean, and you have to swim, and every breath could be your last. That’s the way you need to go into any business. Some people ARE going to fail. But… “YOU ONLY HAVE TO BE RIGHT ONCE,” I say. I’ve been in the alarm business, a stockbroker, the mortgage business, insurance…a lot of businesses!
How did you get into the business you’re in now?
CM: When my first wife passed away, I spent three years curled up in bed. And finally, I just knew I needed a place to get up and be. So, I took a job at Wyndham selling timeshares in Nashville. It took me about six or seven months to figure out what was going on. It was then I realized my job entailed having to lie all day, every day. Even though I was broke, I quit. I have always had that conviction in me. I know I can quit doing the wrong thing, and God is going to take care of me. Some door IS going to open. So, I started calling people I had sold to and told them that what I said to them was a lie. This was hard. For the most part, I didn’t know I was lying to them at the time, but in the end, once I realized what we were selling, there were some people I did know I was lying to. It’s horrible to say, but if I had not had to do that, I would not be sitting here talking with you today.
Turned out, someone I called ended up referring me to two people. These two people offered to pay me. When that happened, I thought THIS might be a business. Soon enough, a guy I worked with at Wyndham and I started the first timeshare exit company on earth. If there was another one out there, we didn’t know about it. He and I eventually split up, and I formed Wesley Financial Group – where we grew to 500 employees. What most people think when starting a new business is: Can I make money? Can I market it? And is it good for the consumer? I believe it should be turned around: Is it great for the consumer? Can I market it? And can I make money? Now, that’s a great business. That’s what I have done with Wesley Mortgage. It’s great for the consumer. I want it to be THE local, middle Tennessee mortgage company.
Who are the biggest role models or mentors in your life?
CM: My Grandfather is my mentor, my hero and my savior. Without that man, I would be dead or in jail. And, of course, my grandmother.
Then there is Jay Abraham. Forbes magazine listed him as one of the Top 5 business executive advisors/coaches in the US. Now, I don’t consider myself a CEO. I am an entrepreneur and a salesman. I love the art of the sale. This man and his genius mind dramatically changed my business and instilled in me to surround myself with the sharpest people I can.
There is also Jim White – who taught me to sell. When I was sixteen years old, I sold Cutco Knives. It’s a great experience for a young person to learn the basics of sales; how to ask the proper questions. He was the first person I ever heard say: “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason,” because a good salesman listens twice as much as they talk: Ask a question and shut up and listen. They will tell you what you need to know to sell them. Jim took me under his wing and treated me like a son. He taught me everything I needed to know about sales.
And then: Zig Ziglar! I wouldn’t be where I am without Zig Ziglar! I was selling insurance and in my car a lot going from town to town selling small business insurance. My sales were down, but when I started listening to Zig Ziglar while driving - my sales went up.
What advice would you give to a young gentleman like my oldest son, who is now in college? In life and in business?
CM: Find something you really, really enjoy doing and do it. Don’t listen to anybody else. Follow your dreams. I think everyone is born with certain skill sets that other people are not born with. Pick out who you are real quick. Get a mentor. Surround yourself with the winners.
What are your hobbies and pastimes?
CM: Spending time with my wife, she is my best friend and also being with my two sons. I do enjoy golf. I don’t play enough to be good, but I enjoy it. I like to fish, and I love to play poker!
So, what do you think it means to be a gentleman?
CM: Simple things like opening the door, saying yes sir, yes ma’am, doing what you say you’re going to do, being kind to people, smiling to people you don’t know walking down the street. All of those things matter to a gentleman. But for me, there are more specific things like I try to send four-five messages per day to people I appreciate. Just taking a minute to say – I just want you to know I was thinking of you and I appreciate you. It’s doing the next right thing whenever possible. You know: Touching the line.
Your Southern Gentleman
Johnny Birdsong, Publisher at YOUR Williamson, is a Kentucky native and Williamson County convert but above all, a Southern Gentleman. In upcoming issues, this column will feature Johnny to offer time-honored advice in the area of manners, hospitality, and what being a gentleman means as he chats and visits with such gentlemen from all over our county. You never know who he may be sitting down with next!