By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
“Faith is an essential element of my story,” local business executive Mike White says in a low key conversational style where his thoughts and words are carefully considered. He describes the approach as a conscious “pregnant pause” strategy.
“Success is not monetarily how much I have in the bank, but how well I have served my family and my customers,” the President and Chief Executive Officer of Multi-Media Solutions, Inc. told us in a recent teknovation.biz interview.
From his office a block off Hall Road in Alcoa, the lifelong Blount County resident talks consistently throughout the interview about his faith, his family and the ways in which they have continually guided and enriched him.
“I’m a rich man . . . not by dollars,” White says.
To understand White’s business philosophy, one must first understand how his family, his faith and his early life experiences have impacted him. We will cover the personal side of White in the first article in this series, then focus on his business world in the subsequent articles.
White was born in Maryville in a family that he describes as “a diversity of personalities.” He says his parents had “two different driving personalities.” His father was an athlete – the competitor. His mother, who is 82 years old and still works daily as a Teaching Assistant, always has advised her son to “be calm, take your time.”
Describing himself as “slow academically,” White says he did not get his first “A” until middle school. “I am not a natural athlete,” he added, yet he lettered in all sports at Everett High School excelled in baseball and golf “through persistence.” This trait would be important in White’s professional life.
The high school graduate says he “planned a path from high school that would allow me to obtain Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering and an MD so that I could design and install artificial limbs. I wanted to be able to bridge engineering with medicine to help those in need of lost limbs.”
In the end, White pursued the engineering path.
College presented another challenge for which the Blount County native is eternally grateful.
“I was a walking zombie,” he says about working the overnight shift for Delta Air Lines and going to class during the day. Yet, White graduate from UT debt free and as the owner of a house.
Faith became a part of White’s life at an early age and has continued to be an integral driver throughout his life. He is a lifelong member and leader of First Baptist Church in Alcoa. He was challenged about the time he graduated from high school to be more involved in his church.
“Don’t play Christian, but be one,” White recalls John Wilburn, the church’s minister, saying to him. The result was spending every Saturday for more than five years knocking on doors as part of the church’s bus ministry to those who were economically challenged and whose parents did not support bringing them to church.
“On Saturday we knocked on doors in these neighborhoods encouraging them to attend the next morning when the bus came by,” White explained. “My bus usually brought in 60 to 70 children and young people and even senior citizens every Sunday morning.”
One of the bus drivers was White’s father.
“It changed my life,” he says. “I learned to get over my fear of talking to people.”
At age 19 – young by any standard, he was asked to be a Deacon at First Baptist Church and has served continually since then with the exception of required breaks after each three-year term.
His faith and church work “gave me my moral compass,” White says.
Fresh out of college, the Blount Countian knew he was not cutout to be a classic engineer. So, what did he do? The second article in this series will cover White’s early career.