When you have seen as much as some people, it makes you more grateful for what you have! Jeff Williams has been a lot of places since he grew up in Jonesborough and it all led him right back here to what he has always considered home. This guy has quickly become a dear friend to me and I want you to get to know him a little better too. I give you, Jeff Williams.
BRIAN: Jeff thanks for taking time to talk with me so people can learn more about you. Will you please start by taking a minute to tell those who might not know you a little about where you grew up and what that was like?
JEFF: I was born in Baltimore, and moved to Jonesborough when I was 10 years old. It was the late 1960’s and the appeal of raising their family in the same small southern town where my Mom grew up was enough for my parents to relocate here. It seems like a cliché, but life was absolutely a slower pace and simpler in that era. As a 12 year old, I had a paper route that I delivered on my bike, throughout most of downtown Jonesborough. Not quite Mayberry-esque, but a very safe, secure and, I think easier time in many ways to be a kid. Most of life revolved around your immediate community, whether that be school, sports, church or family. Looking back, I can’t imagine not growing up where I did. Except for the rare occasions (such as now) that I’m asked the specific question, I never consider myself anything but a native Tennessean.
BRIAN: You have had a great career and could pretty much take your pick of where you want to live. Why do you love it here so much that you choose to stay?
JEFF: My wife, Robin, and I lived in Jupiter, Florida for the first 12 years of our marriage. It’s a beautiful place and on cold days like today, pretty doggone appealing. Robin had a job opportunity with a Real Estate developer that was building 1,500 – 2,000 residential units a year. The market there was crazy. In her first two years she sold something like 400 condos, townhomes and single family homes. While I was job interviewing I worked for my brother-in-law that first summer, in his stone masonry business. It was the hottest summer of my life and hard work. I learned a deep appreciation for those who create, build and work with their hands for a living.
My interviews led me to a sales position with a national real estate title underwriter. Commercial and Residential real estate was booming in South Florida and I was able to grow some great relationships in the industry. A couple of years in, I was offered a chance to join a national real estate information services company as the GM for their subsidiary based in West Palm Beach. It was an awesome business experience and I learned a lifetime of valuable lessons about what can be accomplished when you’re willing to work hard. We grew the company significantly and I was promoted to President towards the end of my first year there. The short version of the story is, at about the 5 year mark we ended up selling a big piece of the company to a partnership consisting of several of our customers which resulted in a couple of senior positions being eliminated, including mine. I took a few weeks off to hang out with Robin and our one year old daughter, then went to work for one of my previous customers. God always had another opportunity in waiting.
As good as life in Florida was, I always had an urge to be back in East Tennessee. It took a few years, but Robin, who grew up in South Florida and is a Gator, eventually, gave in and we moved back to Johnson City in the summer of 1995. Even on days like today, when the morning temps are in the teens and the driveway is icy, I am thankful she agreed to let me come home! Some of the friends we were fortunate to make while in Florida are still close and I’d never want to change that experience, but there’s something about the mountains and having four distinct seasons that make this place special. We’re a regional community now more than ever before. When I was a kid we were a pretty insulated place. If you grew up in Jonesborough it was a pretty sure thing that your friends and your life centered on that town. The same was true no matter what city or town in the region you called home. Today my neighbors are originally from India, Brazil, Canada and all over the US. We have great educational and professional opportunities. And, I can still get my wife to the beach in just over 5 hours if she needs a quick fix. Our daughter, Mattea, is here too and I’m very thankful for that.
BRIAN: This is my absolute favorite question to ask people. Faith is a huge part of life in this region and I know you are a guy who takes his faith seriously. What will you share about faith and how it impacts your day to day?
JEFF: I grew up being really involved in the Church and I’m grateful that my parents were committed to that being an important aspect of life when I was a kid. The Christian faith teaches that salvation cannot be earned, but rather comes through His grace. It’s unmerited, but real. In a world where we’re taught to work hard and earn our way, it’s comforting to know that God isn’t looking for or expecting perfection. He’s not asking for blemish-free living. I have a long list of flaws and imperfections and am thankful for that unwavering grace. Life, and all we experience, can be a tremendous blessing while simultaneously being next to impossible to navigate. I can’t imagine trying to do it on my own.
BRIAN: Now we are down to music. I have always been a musician as far back as I can remember because music is just magical to me. Tell me, how long have you been involved with music? Also, what do you tell people who don’t know you about your current group about it as well as how to get your gig schedule and info?
JEFF: It’s the same way with me. I can’t remember not being involved with music in some form or fashion. I never considered myself talented enough to make a career of it and I’m fascinated and a bit awestruck at those that do. Like a lot of folks my first introduction to performing was in church. It’s incredible how many singers and players learned their craft in that way. We’re members of Christ Fellowship Church in Kingsport and I get a chance to sing there with some really talented musicians when they let me!
The “current group” you referred to is an 11 piece dance band, Spirit of Soul (SOS) that’s been playing together for the last 8 or 9 years. Having a 3 piece horn section makes the group a little unique in this age of synthesized horns. We’ve played The Greenbrier; Virginia Tech; most of the Knoxville Country Clubs; a lot of weddings and galas in the Tri-Cities and for some reason seem to be particularly popular in the NC High Country. We’re a dance band, so that plays a big part in deciding what new tune will make the cut. Our leanings are towards Motown; Earth, Wind & Fire……….a lot of 60’s and 70’s stuff, but we’ll throw in some Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Michael Buble and Meghan Trainor. I love seeing how many millennials sing along with the old tunes we play. Some of this stuff is timeless. Fred Goodwin (keyboards) and Melanie Aldridge (trumpet/vocals) do most of our arrangements and I have to say never simplify it. This band prides themselves on playing some tough pieces and not taking the easy way out. It’s more work, but a better sounding end result. Last month we were fortunate to have John Gardner join us on drums. John’s been a session drummer and Grand Ol Opry house drummer forever and has played with everybody in Nashville.
As the least talented in the group, I handle the bulk of lead vocals. I tell the band all the time, anyone can sound good with that kind of talent behind them. You know, it’s therapeutic. It may have been a hectic week. Life may be a little tough. Then you get on stage and your alter ego has this incredible opportunity to just sing and hopefully allow the audience that same chance to escape for a few hours. It’s a hobby for us, but definitely hard work. In a typical gig we’ll play 40-45 songs. Wouldn’t trade it for anything! You never know when the ride will end, but I hope it’s no time soon.
BRIAN: And, you and I met through our work and quickly realized we make great friends because we share a lot in common and know a lot of the same folks. Tell people what you do and how they can find out more about your work so they can get involved!
JEFF: I love getting to know people and learning their story. Where have you been? Where are you today? Where do you want to go? The business world in 2017 is often a reflection of our instant gratification society in that we don’t take the time to get to know one another. Building and developing those relationships is the most rewarding thing I do professionally.
We have a couple of great publications that I’m proud to represent. The Business Journal of Tri-Cities Tennessee/Virginia is a publication that, since 1988, seeks to deliver information to help businesses, whether a one-woman startup or an international giant, grow and prosper locally or globally. We just had the opportunity to publish a centennial magazine for the City of Kingsport’s 100th anniversary. It was an honor to have had the invitation from Kingsport to do it. This year will mark the 25th anniversary of a couple of events The Business Journal hosts. “Healthcare Heroes” is a celebration of the folks who by going above and beyond the call of duty every day, help to make our region a healthier and better place to live. Nominations are currently open for this year’s event. The other event, “40 Under Forty”, recognizes young businesspersons who excel both professionally and in service to his or her community. I encourage your readers to consider nominating someone they know and admire for either of these honors. They can go to bjournal.com and follow the link for either event.
The other print product, The Johnson City News & Neighbor, is a weekly community newspaper that is carrier-delivered every Wednesday to 31,000 homes in the Johnson City, Jonesborough, Washington County market. We publish the good news of the community including a lot of middle school, high school and local college sports. It’s the biggest home delivery of any newspaper from Knoxville to Roanoke.