Yellowhammer Multimedia on Monday released the inaugural, 2019 class of the Yellowhammer 15.
The preeminent honor for those in the private sector that are moving Alabama forward to better days, the Yellowhammer 15 is a new annual list released by Yellowhammer.
Through job creation, economic impact, community involvement and philanthropic endeavors, these exemplary leaders in their professional fields make our great state a better place to live, work and raise a family:
The perfect exemplar of the Alabama Dream, Billy Ainsworth founded Steel Processing Services in 1983. A decade later, that company became Albertville-based Progress Rail Services and soon was the world’s largest builder of diesel-electric locomotives and one of the largest integrated and diversified suppliers of railroad and transit system products and services.
This all happened with Ainsworth at the helm, and his entrepreneurial and business acumen have only grown in repute following Caterpillar Inc.’s purchase of Progress Rail in 2006 for more than one billion dollars.
In fact, Caterpillar asked him to continue as Progress Rail’s CEO after the acquisition – which he did while serving in additional roles for Caterpillar such as senior vice president and strategic advisor until this March when the Alabamian reached another incredible milestone.
Ainsworth’s 25+ years at the helm of Progress Rail ended when he received this recent promotion to become just one of eight officers of Caterpillar.
He is now a group president of Caterpillar, having the responsibility for the company’s important Energy & Transportation segment, and this 1978 graduate of Auburn University is helping lead international operations for a Fortune 100 company that posted revenue of over $54 billion last year.
However, the climb to the top is not Ainsworth’s biggest story. Along the journey, he has remained committed to his community in Marshall County and the state of Alabama.
In a recent interview, Ainsworth identified his company’s values – which he has lived out over the course of his career and life: “integrity, excellence, teamwork, commitment and sustainability.”
There is perhaps no greater example of this than a story Yellowhammer News helped tell in 2016. Ainsworth was integral in the founding of both Project Literacy and Project Graduation, along with Progress Rail initiatives such as Christmas for Kids and major donations to Big Oak Ranch.
As Attorney General Steve Marshall once said, Ainsworth and Progress Rail are an “outstanding example of a corporation who cared to give back to the community,” further calling them “a shining example of how corporate/government partnership… can reshape communities and change lives for years to come.”
Tommy Brigham’s alma mater says that it seeks to equip its graduates with the ability to “talk about the ways in which your work has had an impact on you, others, and the world.”
The good people at Emory & Henry College can rest assured that Brigham is able to do exactly that – and then some.
He is one of the most successful real estate developers in Alabama. His ventures include having founded Brigham-Williams in 1982, serving as chairman and president of RealtySouth and his most recent endeavor, co-founding ARC Realty.
It is ARC Realty where he has been able to apply the teachings of his faith and decades of experience interacting with people. With “ARC” standing for “A Relationship Company,” Brigham and his business partners have sought to create a unique organizational culture built on the principle written in Philippians 2:3-4.
“That means that when our agents walk in the door, when our employees walk in the door, we’re serving them,” he recently explained to the Living Life on Purpose podcast. “Our first and foremost focus is to serve them with whatever tools, technology, training, professional standards we can provide because we want the buyer and seller to feel the same way. We want our agents serving above self.”
His work outside of business has been guided by the same compass. Brigham is a true servant. A mere sampling of his charitable activity includes his involvement in ministries to the poor as far away as Uganda and as close as Birmingham. He serves on the board of directors of Cornerstone Schools, helped found First Priority and has worked with Prison Fellowship for many years.
Brigham’s work truly has had an impact on others and the world.
One of the most consequential leaders in the storied history of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Stephanie Bryan in 2014 became the first female elected to the position of Tribal chair and CEO.
A constant on Yellowhammer’s Power & Influence list since then, Bryan has shown over the course of her unprecedented career how truly generational leaders can change the fortunes of an organization or community.
In fact, as of last year, the tribe’s economy had grown a stunning 1,000% since Bryan began serving as vice-chair in 2006.
She has also been intently focused on ensuring this growth benefits every member of her tribe, as Bryan helped spearhead the effort to provide healthcare to all tribal members and led the initiative to establish the Buford L. Rolin Health Clinic and the Lavan Martin Assisted Living Facility.
Her impact, while historic for her tribe, has also reverberated across Alabama and the nation.
Whether it be the tens of millions of dollars in charitable contributions, sponsorships and mutual aid agreements spread across the Yellowhammer State during her tenure, covering all of the funeral costs for recent east Alabama tornado victims or paying to help relocate and improve Redstone Arsenal’s Gate 9, Bryan continues to be a role model for handling success in the best way possible.
“I will always stay humble, no matter how far we grow as a Tribe,” Bryan has said. “I will always remember where I come from and how blessed I have been.”
One wonders whether Greg Brown has ever met an opportunity to serve his community and his state that he did not accept. Beyond the quantifiable success of his business, the stewardship of his time, energy and resources have provided a model for others looking to ensure Alabama continues moving forward.
As chairman and CEO of B.R. Williams Trucking, Inc., his company employs more than 315 people with locations in Oxford, Mobile, Anniston, Eastaboga, Piedmont and Tallahassee, Florida. It provides trucking, warehousing and logistics services and manages 1.5 million square feet of warehouse space with a fleet that travels the entire continental United States and Canada.
Within the business community, he has held voluntary leadership positions for the Alabama Trucking Association, American Trucking Association and Business Council of Alabama. Brown is also a member of the board of directors of NobleBank & Trust in Anniston.
His past chairmanships in local communities include the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, the North East Alabama Entrepreneurial Center and The Donoho School. He has led the Oxford Rotary Club and the Anniston Museum Endowment and served on the boards of the Knox Concert Series, YMCA of Calhoun County and the Alabama Policy Institute. Additionally, he is a Sunday School teacher and Deacon at The First Baptist Church of Weaver.
A vocal proponent of the need to prioritize education in the state, Brown also serves as a member of the board of trustees at Jacksonville State University.
As Alabama seeks to mold its next generation of leaders, Greg Brown’s approach to the opportunities around him provides a guide for that development.
Bill Carr is a visionary who has shown entrepreneurs and business leaders across Alabama what is possible with an idea and a commitment to serving the best interests of your clients.
Founder and managing partner of an accounting firm based out of Enterprise, his firm Carr, Riggs & Ingram is one of the fastest-growing accounting firms in the country and has experienced year-over-year growth since its inception in 1997. It has been categorized by Accounting Today as a top 20 CPA firm nationally. The firm, as currently constituted, employs nearly 2,000 professionals and has offices in 65 locations across the United States.
The firm cites its core values as the driving influence behind its operation and growth. Its “CRI” philosophy is client service, respect and integrity. As an example of that philosophy at work, Carr often tells the story of his representation of a manufacturing company in his native Samson, Alabama. Referred to the company by an existing client back in 1977, Carr met with the owner of the company who had become disabled and faced some unique challenges in order to operate his business. Carr built a lasting relationship with the company and the family who ran it, and they are still a Carr, Riggs & Ingram client today.
Carr’s business acumen has never been in question. With his various business interests beyond Carr, Riggs & Ingram, he has been a job creator throughout the Wiregrass and beyond. Yellowhammer News has recognized Bill Carr in a previous year as one of the most influential regional leaders in Alabama.
Representing some of Alabama’s largest institutions, such as the Retirement Systems of Alabama and the Community College System, Bill Carr has left his mark throughout the state.
When it comes to titans of industry, Mark Crosswhite is in a league of his own. However, his impact extends far wider than his 1.4 million+ customer base or his 7,000+ group of employees.
Chairman, president and CEO of Alabama Power Company, Crosswhite is an Alabama-made juggernaut who personifies everything good about our great state. A native of Decatur, he received his bachelor’s degree in 1984 from the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) and his juris doctorate in 1987 from the University of Alabama School of Law.
Crosswhite’s civic involvement is the stuff of legends. He recently led the efforts to return the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) to glory, still serving as chair until later this year. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
He has served as chairman of the board of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama and on numerous corporate, civic and nonprofit boards, including the Birmingham Zoo, Birmingham Business Alliance, Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc., Southern Research, the University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, UAB Health System and Leadership Birmingham. He also serves on the President’s Advisory Council of the Freshwater Land Trust and is a member of the President’s Cabinet of the University of Alabama.
And, under his leadership, the Alabama Power Foundation, as well as other philanthropic and charitable endeavors of the company, continues to outdo itself when it comes to serving the people of Alabama.
After all, under Crosswhite’s steady hand, the company is excelling in much more than keeping the lights on – call that the “Power of Good.”
Bestowing the “greatest ever” designation on someone is never as easy as it might seem. In the midst of its current historic run, Joe Fine’s beloved Alabama Crimson Tide are confronted with the enviable dilemma of deciding whether Paul “Bear” Bryant or Nick Saban is the greatest college football coach ever.
For those who follow Alabama’s governmental affairs and lobbying world, the decision is much easier.
Public service dominated the early part of Fine’s career. He served as District Attorney for Franklin County and Assistant Insurance Commissioner for the state of Alabama. Soon, he was elected to the Alabama State Senate where he served two terms, including a term in the powerful position of President Pro Tem. Awards and recognition came steadily for Fine. However, his most significant achievement was yet to come.
Following his career in public service, Fine was able to develop and implement a business plan in a way in which all entrepreneurs aspire. Through innovation, application and a relentless work ethic, he was able to build a business to service a fundamental principle of our republican form of government: people should have the ability to seek redress in their government. He capitalized on the simple notion that it is not economically viable for each store owner or business executive to take time off and go to Montgomery themselves.
At the time when Fine started his governmental affairs practice in Montgomery, there were few others in the business. And no one who employed the type of focus and intensity he did. As one long-time member of the Alabama Legislature told us, “Joe Fine essentially invented lobbying in the state of Alabama.”
The mark that Fine has left on public policy and politics in Alabama will be felt for generations. Sometimes determining who is the greatest ever at something is not all that difficult.
Johnny Johns has the type of distinguished record as a business leader that puts him in rarified air. During his tenure holding the positions of chairman, president and CEO of Protective Life Corporation, the company’s market value increased from $580 million to $5.6 billion.
Johns shepherded the acquisition of Protective by Dai-ichi Life of Tokyo, Japan and continues to serve an active role in Protective’s dealings with Dai-ichi as its wholly-owned U.S. subsidiary. As leader of Protective, Johns was known as an innovator, an advocate for the company’s aggressive acquisition of life insurance policies and a promoter of a corporate culture valuing its employees and work environment.
Yet, Johns’ legacy will be his efforts to make the people and places closest to him better.
In both the business community and the community-at-large, he has sought to empower those around him. He served as chairman of Birmingham Business Alliance, Business Council of Alabama, McWane Science Center, Innovation Depot and Boy Scouts of America – Greater Alabama Council.
His extensive philanthropic activities include fundraising and leadership roles for Children’s Aid Society, Railroad Park, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Innovation Depot, McWane Science Center and Pre-School Partners.
He served as co-chair of The Campaign for UAB and, in his time as president and CEO, Protective Life Foundation made almost $40 million in contributions across Alabama communities.
Booker T. Washington once said, “Success in life is founded upon attention to the small things rather than the large things; to the everyday things nearest to us rather than to the things that are remote and uncommon.”
The sustained success Johnny Johns has enjoyed will long resonate with those whose lives were enhanced because he cared about the place he lives.
The CEO of Dynetics in Huntsville, Dave King is on the front lines of Alabama’s continued ascent as an international leader in the aerospace and defense sectors.
He has helped lead in this field for decades now, having been a former director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center with an incredible career at the agency.
Now, he is at the helm of an Alabama company that is at the forefront of innovation. Be it keeping our nation safe or taking Americans back to the Moon and beyond, Dynetics is a worldwide leader in their field.
Founded in the Rocket City in 1974, the company is now wholly employee-owned.
This community-mindedness is evident in Dynetics’ operations and their priorities. Enjoying record successes, King recently explained what makes Dynetics so special.
“We are investing and reinvesting in our communities, helping create a better place to live, not only for our employees and their families, but everyone around us. I believe we have a moral imperative to do that,” said King.
The company has been a major supporter of causes such as Village of Promise, HudsonAlpha Foundation and the Riley Center.
Like all great leaders, that focus starts at the top. King personally has made giving back of himself a priority, currently serving as vice-chairman of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation board.
From rural Chilton County, Jimmy Parnell’s rise to become a four-term chairman of the board, president and CEO of Alfa Insurance and the Alabama Farmers Federation is already set to leave a legacy for future generations to benefit from.
Parnell, a fifth-generation farmer, is at the helm of Alabama’s biggest industry at a pivotal time in history.
His leadership continues to help steer the federation past serious challenges – and his vision has paved the way for tremendous growth potential in areas of the state that need it most.
This has come through policy efforts, such as the federation’s support of rural broadband efforts and commonsense regulations.
Yet, the crowning jewel of Parnell’s tenure, when all is said and done, is sure to be the Alabama Farm Center in Chilton County.
When completed, the center is expected to have an annual economic impact between $40-55 million for the surrounding area.
Parnell, as chair of the federation’s foundation, is responsible for this landmark project. But he also oversees one of the state’s most giving organizations and corporations, with Alfa and the federation regularly making huge contributions to community and educational causes.
Duty, honor, country.
These are the values espoused by Jimmy Rane’s Great Southern Wood Preserving, Inc. and its flagship brand, Yellawood.
However, these are also the ideals by which Rane has lived and led.
Speaking at the grand opening of Abbeville Fiber recently, Rane stressed, “You’ve got to have a purpose [in life].”
Driven by that three-word purpose, Rane has become Alabama’s richest man and a worldwide industry titan.
The money, though, for him was never the end goal. To Rane, his fortune is much more of a means, which is evidenced by the unparalleled ways in which he gives back.
Whether it be the millions and millions of scholarship dollars the Jimmy Rane Foundation has given to college students or a host of other causes, philanthropy is near and dear to his heart.
But his true impact is much, much more than monetary contributions.
Congressman Bradley Byrne recently remarked, “I don’t think any of us totally appreciates what Jimmy Rane does for this part of Alabama and Alabama as a whole.”
For the people of southeast Alabama, Rane is many things – “hero” being one term used to describe the “Yella Fella.”
He is, however, also a role model.
Rane does not just live out his purpose – he instills these values in others.
The world would be a much better place with more Jimmy Ranes.
When it comes to increasing his civic and philanthropic involvement, it’s seemingly never over for Britt Sexton.
His day job(s) serving as CEO of Sexton Inc., CEO of FS Financial Inc., managing member of Sexton Investments LLC and leader of the Sexton Charitable Foundation merely begins to describe how the Decatur man spends his time.
An influential trustee for the University of Alabama System, Sexton is on the executive committee of the Morgan County Economic Development, the University of Alabama President’s Cabinet, the Crimson Tide Foundation and the Decatur Rotary Club. He is a past chair of the Decatur General Hospital Foundation.
Known as one of North Alabama’s greatest philanthropists, Sexton and his wife, Susan, have also endowed scholarships at UAB, among a seemingly unending list of items he supports.
Sexton has had a large influence on many in Alabama for years, but his rise over the last decade has been especially remarkable.
From being named first to Yellowhammer’s “Local Leader 20,” followed by recognition on the “Who’s Next?” list and finally the Power & Influence list itself, Sexton has become one of the most meaningful Alabamians – without most of his fellow residents knowing it.
As one of the leading figures in the United States space program, it is no surprise Jody Singer has been recognized as a University of Alabama Legend.
A native of Hartselle, Singer has held numerous positions of increasing responsibility throughout her 32-year NASA career in the areas of human spaceflight, technology and science flight missions programs and projects.
When she was named the 15th director of Marshall Space Flight Center — and the first woman ever to serve in that position – her legendary status was cemented.
With an approximately $2.8 billion budget, Marshall Space Flight Center has a well-documented legacy in rocket engineering and is charged with innovation and technical development for the nation’s space systems.
As director, Singer oversees everything for one of NASA’s largest field installations, with nearly 6,000 on-site and near-site civil service and contractor employees. Economic impact estimates say that the center is, directly and indirectly, responsible for more than 24,000 jobs across North Alabama.
The magnitude of that impact, and the people and families it affects, is not lost on Singer.
“When I look at how the ‘Rocket City’ has played a part, and will continue to be a part of writing the chapters of human space exploration and discovery, I am proud to be from Alabama,” she told Yellowhammer News earlier this year. “It is wonderful to contribute to something bigger than myself and important to our nation. It is so rewarding to wake up every day and know that I contribute to a workforce dedicated to discovering the unknown, enabling human space exploration and making a difference in our everyday lives here on earth.”
As president and CEO of PowerSouth, Gary Smith leads an energy cooperative fiercely committed to developing communities across Alabama. And Smith has his company well-positioned for that leadership role.
A graduate of the University of North Alabama, where he was recently appointed to the board of trustees, Smith has led PowerSouth from his current position since 2000. PowerSouth is the second-largest utility provider in the state and distributes electricity to 39 counties in Alabama and 10 throughout northwest Florida.
With some major economic development successes and having fought to expand high-speed internet access for rural communities, PowerSouth was named as a top utility in economic development by Site Selection.
Smith maintains an acute awareness of what it means to fulfill the infrastructure needs of rural communities, including through broadband expansion.
“Communities without strong information infrastructure are rarely viable candidates for economic growth. Businesses will only locate where they can communicate,” Smith explained to Yellowhammer News.
In addition to promoting the development of the communities its members serve, Smith’s company works to promote growth across Alabama as a member of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama and the Alabama Marketing Allies, which showcases the state to site selectors and other prospective industries.
This is all part of the company’s economic development plan promoted by Smith called the PowerSouth Playbook, which was created in 2016 to complement the activities of the Alabama Department of Commerce.
When Alabamians seek out leaders devoted to developing communities to improve economic opportunities and enhance quality of life, they need not look any further than Gary Smith.
Character in leadership matters in every organization. The effect of a leader who leads with the best interest of others in mind fuels productivity and has a multiplying impact throughout the organization.
Tim Vines, president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, ascribes to that approach for his company. Vines leads the largest provider of healthcare benefits in the state, serving nearly 3 million members. His company employs more than 3,600 people and has a presence in every county in the state of Alabama.
Vines has worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield for 25 years, holding various management positions throughout his time there. He ascended to his present position in November 2017.
He is a LaFayette, Alabama native who graduated from Auburn University, where he was a member of the baseball team. Perhaps the most clear statement of his leadership style came as part of a video series in which he took part on behalf of Auburn last year.
Vines said, “Everything I try to do every single day is to make sure that I do it with honesty, with integrity and with uprightness. And in doing so, I am representing my God, I am representing my family, I am representing my company and I am representing my university well.”
And his volunteer and community activities are extensive. He is a past chairman of the board of trustees for Samford University. He is a member of the board of directors for the American Red Cross Alabama Region and the Better Business Bureau serving South and Central Alabama. Vines is also a Deacon at Shades Mountain Baptist Church.
During his time as board chairman at Samford, university president Andrew Westmoreland remarked, “He’s one of the finest leaders that I have ever known, and we are extremely fortunate to rely on his effective involvement at Samford.”
More about the Yellowhammer 15:
Unlike the Power & Influence 40 list, a person can be recognized in the Yellowhammer 15 only once in a lifetime. Not only will this honor be exclusive, but the accumulation of inductees over time will also compile a “hall of fame” type list synonymous with the pinnacle of professional and civic achievement.
However, this list is about more than just honoring these leaders — the Yellowhammer 15 is a call to action.
Over the coming months, Yellowhammer will encourage these 15 honorees to recommit themselves to the transcendental efforts that landed them a place on this prestigious list. Brighter days for Alabama are possible because of leaders like these.
For now, enjoy the Power & Influence 40, which will be released over the remainder of this week, starting with numbers 31-40 on Tuesday.
This all leads up to the main event, with both the Yellowhammer 15 and the Power & Influence 40 being celebrated through the 5th annual Power of Service event, which will take place Thursday, October 17, in Montgomery.
Read more about the event here.