View from the Top: McDowells have climbed the ladd...

View from the Top: McDowells have climbed the ladder of success and are helping others reach new heights

When former MTSU business student Chuck McDowell founded Wesley Financial Group LLC in 2011, he thoughtfully considered what name would best exemplify his mission. He chose to use the name of John Wesley, founder of the 18th century Methodist movement, as a constant reminder of a simple guiding principle behind his business: helping people.

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”—John Wesley

Wesley Financial Group specializes in complete timeshare termination and timeshare debt elimination for individuals and families that have experienced fraud, misrepresentation, or lies during timeshare sales presentations. His company is now branching out into the mortgage and insurance industries.

As founder and CEO of Wesley Financial Group, Chuck has made a career of his passion for helping people, including supporting nonprofits through his company. His support of the Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at MTSU has been valuable beyond measure.

Jo Ellen McDowell graduated from MTSU in 1987 as she started her career at Opryland Hotel, which turned out to be a perfect training ground for the significant business endeavors that were to come. She then became vice president of the Tennessee Malt Beverage Association and eventually vice president of event management for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Chuck and Jo Ellen McDowell (Photos by Darby Campbell Firkus)

After moving to Franklin, Jo Ellen realized she was at the point in her life where she wanted to spend more time serving on nonprofit boards, volunteering, and helping people in general.

Jo Ellen’s commitment to the betterment of middle Tennessee is evident through her extensive service and the couple’s financial support of nonprofits in the area, including the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, Friends of Franklin Parks, Williamson County Animal Center, GraceWorks, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County.

Chuck and Jo Ellen, who initially met when they were in school at MTSU in the 1980s, reconnected at an MTSU fraternity event in 2011 and were married in 2012. True Blue is a family affair, with a third member of the family, Cameron McDowell, to soon join the ranks of Jones College alumni!

The McDowells have three children between them: Charles, Cameron, and Ferrell. They split their time between Franklin and Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, along with their dogs, Bud and Ollie, and their cat, Bises.

Chuck and Jo Ellen are exceptional philanthropists who have been generous with their time, insight, influence, and resources. Not only has Chuck generously supported the Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship program financially, but he also has offered his time, expertise, and mentorship to Jones College of Business students through his involvement in the Business Plan Competition.

The market demand for entrepreneurship courses has skyrocketed in recent years. The number of on-campus entrepreneurship programs has increased more than tenfold in the past three decades. The Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship major pulls from course offerings across the Jones College of Business to provide a truly interdisciplinary education. Students build a solid business education foundation with marketing, management, and accounting coursework. Learning entrepreneurship skills encourages analytical, organizational and interpersonal skills, and develops leadership and networking abilities. This real-world focus prepares graduates to seize opportunities, assume risks, innovate, and prosper.

Jones College is an engine of economic development in middle Tennessee. Through the support of friends, partners, and alumni, MTSU’s business college can provide students scholarships and opportunities to compete, make connections in the business community, and find mentors. With Chuck’s support, the entrepreneurship program continues to grow and thrive, hoping to expand into a school of entrepreneurship in the future.

Enterprise sat down with the McDowells to learn more about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, their passion for helping people, and why they’ve chosen to give so generously to the Jones College of Business.

What does it take to be an entrepreneur?

Chuck McDowell: I think a lot of people think they want to be an entrepreneur. It sounds great because you get to work for yourself and work your own hours. But if you’re the person who can leave the office at five and not think about your job until the next day, you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur. To be an entrepreneur, you have to be prepared for a 24/7 grind. Maybe some people can leave work when they leave the office, but it isn’t my experience with entrepreneurs.

I knew at about age 18 or 19 that this is what I wanted to do.

You also have to be a little bit crazy to be an entrepreneur. And to be willing to take on enormous risk when you’re starting out. Unless you’re ready to put $10,000 on the only credit card you have and max it out completely just to go into business—entrepreneurship is not for you.

Entrepreneurs learn to accept loss and failure, but they do this with resiliency. Everybody wants to own their own business—until they do and they go bankrupt, have their credit plummet, and have to start all over again. You have to be willing to put everything on the line—you might lose your house, car, and business—but to succeed, you have to be able to dust yourself off and try again even when your friends tell you that you’ve lost your mind.

After I married Jo Ellen, who is very organized and budget-minded, I reined in the significant risks. Our different life approaches balance things out. Before that, I always used to say, “Ready, fire, aim!”

I hire the best people I can and let them do their jobs.. . . I hire the right people, and I pay them above average, but I expect them to always touch the line.

Jo Ellen McDowell: I have always been extremely independent, so it has taken an adjustment to trust someone else willing to take those risks. In many ways, I am much more conservative than Chuck. However, I want him to fulfill his dreams and goals in life. I feel like it is part of my job as his partner to support that. Chuck also realizes that we are different in that way and that it has taken a lot of trust to be there with “turning over the reins.” His risks are now very calculated so as to be respectful of my trust and our security. He is very conscientious in that regard and much less of a “gunslinger” than he used to be—both for me and for himself. Our brains work very differently. Our diverse work experiences and professional careers have made for some interesting conversations on business!

What is your guiding principle?

Chuck McDowell: The quote by John Wesley about doing all the good you can is my guiding principle. I consider it to be the touchline in my company. Back when we were in P.E. class, we had to “run suicides,” where you have to run back and forth across the gym, touching each line as you go. Sometimes it might look like you’re moving slower than the other guy, but he isn’t making sure to touch each mark and comes up short. Going that little extra bit to touch the line matters. It is also what I expect of my employees. Everybody touches the line all day, every day.

Wesley Financial Group was named in Business Intelligence Group’s 2020 Best Places to Work award program, which identifies organizations doing all they can to improve performance by challenging their employees in fun and engaging work environments. What about your company culture makes your employees so happy?

Chuck McDowell: I hire the best people I can and let them do their jobs. I don’t believe in micromanaging. As long as you get the job done, I don’t care what time you came in. If you have a child that is sick, stay home. Family comes first. The bottom line is that I hire the right people, and I pay them above average, but I expect them to always touch the line.

That’s why we won the Business Intelligence Group’s award, were listed as a Fortune Best Workplaces for Women for 2020, and were ranked No. 1 in the large business category of the Nashville Business Journal’s 2020 Best Places to Work. By treating our employees well, our company succeeds. I attribute our debut at No. 203 in the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Private Companies last year to having happy employees who want our company to do well.

Jo Ellen McDowell: Chuck has created an environment that feels like a family. When I visit his office or if I go to a party where I’m around everybody, you can tell there’s a very familial feeling amongst the employees and the way they interact with him. I think that there’s something to that, that if people can be themselves and feel like they’re part of a unit that creates something bigger than themselves. They’ve created an environment where people are happy and genuinely feel cared about.

What led you to choose to give back as a mentor and financially support the Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at MTSU?

Chuck McDowell: I feel really blessed to be in the situation I’m in and to have built what I built. I enjoy giving back. When I was getting started, I didn’t have that many entrepreneurs to help guide me. When I was at Cutco knives, Jim White taught me how to sell and taught me how to ask questions. Most importantly, he taught me how to shut up after the question. I also remember watching my grandfather and learning from him. I recognized that most young people don’t have that opportunity. When I met Joshua Aaron through the Business Plan Competition, I really liked what he’s doing with the Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship program, and I wanted to contribute.

Jo Ellen McDowell: Chuck and I met at MTSU. MTSU is our alma mater. It was a place that I learned a lot both in class and outside of class. I grew up a lot there and have some great memories from my time there. I was afforded opportunities that gave me a wonderful career that is very meaningful to me. I had experiences there that shaped my life. We both love the idea of helping young people with direction, guidance, and support.

Thank you for your time and all you do to support Jones College and entrepreneurship at MTSU!

Employee acct 9/12/13 by LAM (PZRNFAC)