Jim Steffner, Harry S. Probasco Inducted Into UTC College Of Business Entrepreneurship Hall Of Fame

Friday, April 11, 2014

Two Chattanoogans will be inducted into the UTC College of Business Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame on Thursday. Jim Steffner and the late Harry S. Probasco will join a group of individuals who represent the area’s entrepreneurial history and the innovators of today. 

The annual Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame event, presented by Miller & Martin, PLLC, is a celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit in the Chattanooga region honoring local innovators and showcasing their success stories. 

“Each year, we come together to honor individuals who have made a lasting impact in and around Chattanooga,” said Dr. Robert Dooley, dean of the UTC College of Business. “This year, we honor two gentlemen who embody the entrepreneurial spirit and provide great examples of business leadership.” 

Mr. Steffner joined his family business, Electric Motor Sales & Supply, Inc., in 1964. In the last 50 years he went on to form two other companies and grow EMS into a regional supplier for electrical, mechanical power transmission and automation equipment.

In 1968, Mr. Steffner formed Electric Systems Inc., a company that designed and built electric drives and controls for the carpet, textile, paper and non-woven industries. In 1972, he formed Metal Systems, Inc. MSI designs and builds control panels and system centers with plants in Chattanooga and Houston, Texas. The company became the largest system center builder in the United States and a national and international supplier. Combined revenue for these companies is $136,000,000.

Mr. Steffner is also partner in Perimeter Property, which owns the Wheland and U.S. Pipe property on South Broad Street in Chattanooga as well as other manufacturing sites.

Mr. Probasco was a Chattanooga businessman, civic leader and entrepreneur.

Mr. Probasco was born Aug. 10, 1858, in Harrison, Ohio, and received his early education in Lawrenceburg, Ohio. The Probasco family had been bankers in Europe since the 16th century and Mr. Probasco began work in his father’s bank at age 17. In 1884, the Ohio River flooded Lawrenceburg and he moved to Chattanooga and established himself in the brokerage business.

In 1888, Mr. Probasco formed the brokerage firm of Wiehl, Probasco and Company.  The first year profits of $12,000 were encouraging but the financial community was concerned that the world markets were unstable.  A financial panic followed in 1890 and resulted in seven of the town’s banks collapsing. Wiehl, Probasco and Company survived and rechristened itself Bank of Chattanooga in 1900. 

In 1905, Mr. Probasco formed a new bank, the American National Bank with capital of $250,000.  The business grew from a modest storefront operation into a national bank with capital and surplus of $300,000. In 1911, the business of the American National Bank was sold to First National Bank and Probasco embarked for Europe with his wife and his son.

Upon his return to America, Mr. Probasco, Ben Thomas (who founded the Coca-Cola Bottling Company) and E.Y. Chapin formed the American Trust & Banking Company on Jan. 15, 1912. Probasco served as president of this institution until his death on April 19, 1919.

“It’s special for us to be a part of this event,” said Jim Haley, chairman of Miller & Martin, PLLC. “Our firm has assisted many of our area’s first entrepreneurs and we’re pleased that many of today’s entrepreneurs also turn to us to assist them as they launch their businesses.  We believe our support of this very worthy effort is a great way for us to encourage the backbone of our economy: small business.”

Mr. Steffner and Mr. Probasco will be honored at a dinner where more than 200 community leaders, members of UTC faculty and students on Thursday are expected to celebrate their accomplishments.  To learn more about UTC’s Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame, and to see a full list of inductees, visit http://www.utc.edu/college-business/news-events/annual-events/hall-of-fame/index.php.

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