Blount County assistant county mayor and finance director is the new Chief Executive Officer of Cherokee Millwright and Mechanical, a full service millwright and mechanical contracting firm located in Maryville and owned by Randy Massey.
Massey said Bennett, 41, starts his job as new CEO on Jan. 18.
Massey praised Bennett’s vision in answering why the assistant county mayor was hired for the CEO job.
“He doesn’t come in today trying to hold onto yesterday. He comes in today wanting to know how we can make tomorrow better,” Massey said. “His ability to come in like that is what made me go on the hunt for him.”
Bennett will be honored by the community and county with a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14, in Room 433 of the Blount County Courthouse.
Bennett said he’s excited to be joining Cherokee Millwright. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and my family to be joining a company that has such a commitment to excellence, commitment to quality and a real foundation of what terrific businesses are built out of. To have the opportunity to join a group like that is so exciting to me,” Bennett said. “It is unbelievable.”
Massey said he has known Bennett about six years and in that time has been impressed with how well the financial status of the county improved under his watch.
“I saw Blount County, and I think it is a very, very well-run operation,” Massey said. “Any question you ask about the county, Dave can answer. We were very impressed with his ability. I think he has a lot of tremendous skills with people, including people who work for him in the county, and they respect him. I thought he would be a great addition to our staff if he ever wanted to leave county government.”
The company owner said they talked about Bennett coming to Cherokee Millwright about a year ago. “I mentioned to him that if he ever wanted to get in the private sector, I’d want an opportunity to talk to him. We had an opportunity, and we approached him,” Massey said.
Massey said he first checked with County Mayor Jerry Cunningham and explained he was going to offer Bennett the chance to try out the private sector.
“We weren’t going to blindside a great friend and good mayor, Mr. Cunningham. This was discussed with Mayor Cunningham before we opened up on Dave,” Massey said. “We told Dave at the initial meeting that we had asked the mayor, and the mayor emphasized he would really hate to lose him but that when opportunity knocked and if Dave was going to get into private life, we would be a great firm for him.”
Massey said he also spoke with Blount Chamber Partnership president and CEO Fred Forster. “We did not do this behind anyone’s back. We contacted everybody we thought pertinent and explained to them that we felt he had a world of potential, and we’d like to help him explore it,” Massey said.
Cunningham said Randy and Angela Massey are very close friends of his and his wife, Janis. The mayor said when Massey asked about speaking with Bennett, Cunningham said he didn’t want to stand in the way of someone bettering themselves.
“I said, ‘Please talk to him.’ This is a golden opportunity for Dave,” said Mayor Cunningham. “It’s bittersweet. He’s done so much to put us in the position we’re in. He’s a buddy, and he’s been in the trenches with me. He is still helping me as we go through the process of finding his replacement. I’ll miss him. He’s loved by almost everybody. He’ll be missed by everyone. The things he’s done for this county are incalculable.”
Massey said when he offered the job, Bennett accepted it. “I talked to Dave, and he decided to give the private sector a try. We are absolutely thrilled he’s going to do it for us,” Massey said.
The outgoing assistant county mayor and county finance director said his first priority at his new job will be listening and learning. “I’m a big believer that when you go into something new, keep your ears open and your mouth shut, and you will learn more by listening than talking,” he said.
Bennett said that he has spent the majority of his professional career working in the public sector. “Hopefully I can help with a new set of eyes on things and the fresh attitude that I will bring to the table to help the folks there,” he said.
The Smith County native said he will be on a learning curve for a while as he starts his new job. “I think there are three things I most believe in, especially going into the private sector: I’m never going to be outworked. I want to work smart, and I want to work safe,” he said. “With those three things you can definitely get a competitive advantage. The team is there, and I look at it as an opportunity to join that team so we can do great things together.”
Bennett said Cherokee Millwright does installation and maintenance of industrial and mechanical equipment as well as relocation of businesses, and they have a lot experience in custom sheet metal fabrication. Joining the company was an easy decision for him, Bennett said.
“Although I absolutely love what I’ve been able to accomplish and love being a part of things here at Blount County, to be able to join such a strong team with the support they’ve got and the opportunity to take everything I’ve learned in the public sector and put it to use in the private sector, it became a no-brainer for the Bennett family,” he said.
Bennett said there were three lessons he learned in the public life he will take with him to the private sector. “Number One -- be a good listener. Number Two -- be accountable and be transparent, and Number Three -- always try to do the right thing,” he said.
Bennett said what he cherishes most is the relationships he has built while working at the county. “One of the great opportunities I’ve had at the county is to have been able to meet so many people,” he said. “The relationships I’ve been able to develop I’ll cherish forever. Those are things I’ll take with me.”
When asked about a future in politics, Bennett said he is 100 percent committed to his new job at Cherokee Millwright. “I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m excited about the future of Cherokee Millwright and all the great employees there,” he said. “In these economic times, first and foremost on my mind is making sure all those people keep these great jobs they’ve got and keep moving forward.”
As CEO of Cherokee Millwright and Mechanical, Bennett will have major responsibilities, said Massey. “We want him to bring his fiscal responsibility and build the team like they have built in Blount County, which I personally think is one of the best run governments we deal with. We want Dave to bring that same team concept to Cherokee,” Massey said.
Bennett is going to take a seat on the board of directors for all the company’s entities, which is about 26 different entities. “He immediately gets a seat on the operating board of directors, and we want him to bring his knowledge and fiscal abilities and make us better,” Massey said.
Massey said he anticipates Bennett will do a good job in large part because of his attitude. “There are a lot of people who want to come in and keep the status quo, and you can’t do that. This economy is showing people that coming in with life as status quo is not going to make it,” he said. “You better be creative, kind of inventive and have ways to give your customer more and let them pay less.”