Forum to Honor Greenville Entrepreneurs

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Their stories may be different, but the four local entrepreneurs to be honored next week at the Greenville Tech Foundation’s annual Entrepreneurs Forum have two things in common: They’ve been successful in business and they’ve made a contribution to the Upstate.

Marion Crawford, Walter Davis, Jennie Johnson and Barbara League join the 82 entrepreneurs previously honored.

“Greenville was started by entrepreneurs, people who wanted to start a business,” said Bob Howard, president of the Greenville Tech Foundation. “To this day, it’s still an entrepreneurial city and Greenville Tech is an entrepreneurial college.”

The Forum began in 1999 when Greenville Tech “decided it wanted to honor people who have made Greenville a great place to live,” Howard said. The honorees are those who have been successful in business and who are active in the community in terms of charitable giving and leadership, he said. Previous winners choose each year’s honorees.

Crawford launched the full-service marketing and public relations firm Crawford Strategy in 2010. The firm has grown rapidly since its start and now has more than 30 employees. The firm’s clients include major healthcare systems, physician and dental practices, educational institutions, wealth management firms and real estate developers.

Crawford serves on a variety of boards, including the Cancer Society of Greenville County, the Urban League of the Upstate and Artisphere.

Davis is co-CEO, director and a founding member of CertusBank N.A., a nearly $2 billion organization. He has led CertusBank to become the largest South Carolina-based SBA lender and a leading mortgage originator in the Southeast.

Davis, who was executive vice president of retail credit and direct lending for Wachovia Corporation and a principal in the real estate syndicated capital markets group at Bank of America before CertusBank, was born and raised in Greenville.

Johnson is executive director of the Liberty Fellowship. She was previously president of Liberty Insurance Services, the largest third-party administration firm in the life insurance industry, and executive vice president of RBC Liberty Insurance.

Johnson was awarded the Order of the Palmetto for her work in community and statewide organizations.

League is chairman of the board and CEO of G.F. League Company, a manufacturer of close-tolerance component parts for industrial machinery and equipment that was founded in Greenville in 1917.

League has served on numerous boards with a focus on the arts, education and the elimination of discrimination.

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A Q&A with this year’s Entrepreneur’s Forum honorees

What was a game-changing moment in your career? 

Crawford: Though not directly related to my career, a game-changing moment in my life was when I married my husband, William Crawford. He has been a source of strength and has encouraged me throughout my career.

Davis: A pivotal point in my career came when I accepted the opportunity to move to Charlotte. This career move gave me broader business experience and deepened my knowledge base in areas that I had not been exposed to up to that point. It’s given me the ability to bring that knowledge back to Greenville in my work today.

Johnson: Moving from staff to line management.

League: The decision to leave my comfortable established secretarial service business that I founded and grew to enter into a career in manufacturing.

What’s the best advice anybody has given you?

 Crawford: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” I have found that if I treat others the way I want to be treated, things tend to go more smoothly and are more enjoyable.

Davis: The best advice I’ve been given and try to live by is to never let anyone have higher expectations for me than I have for myself.

Johnson: Always measure yourself against those who are better than you are – it’s the only way to grow.

League: Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

What advice do you find yourself giving often?   

Crawford: Dot your I’s and cross your T’s. Whatever you are working on – whether it is a marketing plan, a press release or Web copy – I constantly remind myself and those around me to be thorough. It is better to be painstakingly accurate than to experience the pain of a careless error.

Davis: I advise people to always do your best work no matter how small the task may seem to you. Every great work is made up of small tasks – none more important than the other.

Johnson: Learn enough finance to understand financial statements.

League: Be still and listen. Patience and perseverance always prevail.

If you could change places with somebody, who would it be and why? 

 Crawford: It would have to be very temporary because I like things the way they are. But perhaps it would be fun to be a singer-songwriter like Norah Jones or Sheryl Crow.

Davis: If I could changes places with someone, I would want to be one of the founding fathers of our country during the Continental Congress. I am intrigued by the vision and leadership that was required in establishing our Constitution as a sustainable document to serve generations as well as being a part of establishing the foundation for the greatest experiment in world history.

Johnson: Enjoy what I am doing, so can’t think of anyone

League: God and I are still working on me. However, I would love to have Bill Gates’ mind and resources to be in a position to improve the quality of life for our community.

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