CLEVELAND, Tenn. (Jan. 19, 2010)—Brenda Lawson, founder of Brenda Lawson & Associates LLC, became the 31st recipient of the coveted M.C. Headrick Free Enterprise Award during special ceremonies at the 84th Annual Meeting of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce. The meeting convened Tuesday, Jan. 19, in the Professional Development Center of Life Care Centers of America.
The Headrick Award is the highest award given by the Chamber of Commerce and honors the ideals of the late M.C. Headrick, a successful Cleveland businessman who staunchly believed in the concept of free enterprise: “Put men on their own to make economic decisions, and let them reap the rewards or lack of rewards from those decisions.”
“Brenda Lawson is a driven entrepreneur,” Sandra Rowland, marketing/communications director for Spring Creek and Brenda Lawson & Associates, said. “She has a 30-year track record in successful business development that has spawned a series of success stories.”
The first of those success stories began in 1980 when she co-founded two rent-to-own businesses and a deferred presentment business. Lawson managed the financial and organizational growth of those companies, which served 17 states with more than 1,500 employees and revenues exceeding $100 million.
“The successful sale of these companies to publicly traded entities is a testament to her ability to build strong value in self-sustaining businesses that are envied by much larger corporate concerns,” Rowland said.
Bypassing the easy route of early retirement, Lawson instead took the road traveled by M.C. Headrick many years ago. In the spirit of free enterprise, she began again to build and acquire businesses that allowed her to use her managerial skills to create new value, and she assembled a handpicked workforce of more than 50 in these new ventures over the past 10 years.
“When other entrepreneurs were struggling during tough economic times, Brenda paid attention to detail as she invested her monies and spent her dollars wisely,” Rowland explained. “And she has never lost sight of her obligation to her employees.”
Brenda Lawson & Associates is a management company formed for the oversight of several businesses that fall under her tutelage. Under this umbrella, Lawson serves as president/CEO/principal of Railcar Custom Leasing LLC, a leasing company for railcars; Railcar Innovations LLC, which focuses on the innovation and application of new mechanical designs for the railcar industry; Raccoon Mountain Holdings LLC, expansive mineral interests; and Spring Brook Community Developers LLC and Spring Creek Holdings LLC, commercial and residential companies.
Lawson’s two newest ventures are Friendly Auto Group Inc., a three-location auto dealer, and, more recently, Reflections Commemorative Portraits LLC, a product provider to the bereavement industry.
According to Rowland, the one phrase that best describes Brenda Lawson is “down to earth.”
“Brenda loves a challenge, and she approaches every challenge with a down-to-earth attitude and perspective. Plus she’s always thinking of others who may be impacted by her decisions.”
Over her 30 years as a businesswoman, she grew from four to more than 2,000 employees in her businesses. She currently employs 52 in her companies.
“Unlike some businesspeople, Brenda is a hands-on leader in her companies,” Rowland said. “She meets with staff regularly to give support and input. When wrong decisions are made, she is always understanding and supportive, redirecting the project in the right direction and assuring a successful ending.”
Rowland continued, “Because of her compassion and concern, she manages to keep a dedicated staff of people who respect and admire her for the way she handles the day-to-day operation. She and her husband, Stan, work hand in hand and are involved in every aspect of their companies.”
This year’s Headrick Award winner does not take her good fortune for granted.
“Brenda has never lost her roots nor forgotten her beginnings,” Rowland noted. “Much like the late M.C. Headrick, she loves her hometown of Cleveland and strives to support it in every way possible.”
Lawson is an active member of the Bradley/Cleveland Education Foundation and the Cleveland Business Roundtable. She serves on the board of directors for United Way of Bradley County and the Boys & Girls Club of Cleveland. She is president of Cleveland 100 and a past president of Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce. She has served on the Chamber’s Public Affairs and Airport Task Force Committees, co-chaired the Climbing to New Heights campaign and currently chairs the Charting Our Future campaign leadership team.
“Brenda’s love of Cleveland is also evidenced by the Creating Christmas Memories Foundation,” Rowland said.
Years ago she founded this shopping spree to create Christmas memories for children in need in the Bradley County and Cleveland City School Systems. Through the foundation, more than 1,450 children from infancy to age 13 participated this season.
Lawson has also significantly impacted organizations outside Bradley County with her leadership and resources. She is an ardent supporter and second largest donor to The University of Tennessee and serves as a member of the UT Development Council and the Executive Committee of the University of Tennessee Alliance for Women Philanthropists. She co-chairs the capital campaign for the University of Tennessee. Lawson serves on the UTC Foundation Board of Trustees and the UTC Advisory Board for the College of Business.
Lawson’s community involvement earned her recognition as the 2001 Sertoma Service to Mankind Award, 2004 UTC College of Business Entrepreneurial Honoree, 2006 Entrepreneur of the Year and 2007 Southern Conference Distinguished Service Award.
Lawson and her husband, Stan, are the parents of Ashley, Toby and Zach.
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