Blount Countains honored in 40 Under 40

Bryan Rhoades

Bryan Rhoades

Stephen Johnson

Stephen Johnson

In the Monday, Jan. 18 edition of Blount Today, the Top 40 under 40 with Blount County connections were showcased. The individuals were among those honored at a reception at the Knoxville Convention Center on Jan. 14. Unfortunately, two of the individuals with Blount County connections were inadvertently overlooked and Blount Today regrets the error.

Here are Bryan Rhodes and Steve Johnson:

Bryan Rhoades, 33

Controller, Rush Fitness Complex

Bryan Rhoades applies a rookie mentality to his career.

“In sports, when you have a rookie, they’re hungry to make the team and … they want to do all they can to impress the head coach,” he says. “No matter what I accomplish here at the Rush, I always want to make sure my CEO and CFO know I’m hungry and that I want to keep improving myself.”

His path to improvement began when he was 24 and working as an accountant for a West Virginia firm. Two years earlier, he had started a Web-based sports memorabilia company.

“I leveraged it with a ton of debt to build up my inventory,” he says. With poor planning and without time to effectively run it, the company “went belly up” and Rhoades declared bankruptcy. “Which is pretty embarrassing for a guy who is an accountant and should be able to manage his own finances,” he adds.

That’s when a partner at his firm suggested he read financial adviser Dave Ramsey’s book. Rhoades became debt free and a facilitator for Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, which caught the attention of the Rush Fitness Complex when he applied for the controller’s job.

The Rush also took notice that Rhoades had been a national semi-finalist for the second season of Donald Trump’s reality television hit, “The Apprentice.”

“Obviously I didn’t get picked for the show,” Rhoades says. “But what came out of that experience was you can never be afraid to do something outside of the box.”

Rhoades’ laser focus on his career changed after his son, Lukas, was born with a birth defect in which the infant’s intestines and other abdominal organs developed outside his body. Lukas underwent six surgeries in the first six months of his life and today is a healthy and athletic 4-year-old.

“It was the turning point for me with my work,” Rhoades says, explaining his need to balance career and family.

He found that opportunity at the Rush.

Since joining the complex in 2007, Rhoades has seen the company grow to 19 clubs, and he’s also dropped 42 pounds and embraced a healthier lifestyle.

Today, when Rhoades teaches Ramsey’s Financial Peace program to his coworkers, he shares the stories of bankruptcy and the journey with his son.

“You have to use your mistakes and values and shortfalls to get stronger,” he says.

Steve Johnson, 34

Partner, Ritchie, Dillard & Davies

A desire to help people in difficult situations steered Steve Johnson to law school and a career in criminal defense work.

“I get a great amount of satisfaction in helping people,” he says. “Whatever they’re charged with or whatever they did, they are still human beings and deserve some measure of compassion and respect for their humanity,” he says. “That’s one of the things I love about this job.”

While doing his undergraduate work at Carson-Newman College, Johnson completed 10 hours of community service each week to maintain a scholarship. One of his volunteer jobs was as a probation officer in Jefferson County’s juvenile court.

“It was one of my first involvements with the court system and seeing what you could really do to assist someone,” he says. “That’s kind of where the legal bug first bit me.”

At the University of Tennessee, Johnson became involved in the law school’s pro bono programs, trying to “use the law to effectuate change,” he says.

He caught the attention of Jerry Black Jr., an associate professor and former director of UT’s Legal Clinic, who introduced him to local attorneys who helped shape his career.

One was Ken Irvine when Tennessee started a chapter of the Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing.

“It provided a real opportunity to feel like I could do something that really mattered,” says Johnson, who was the chapter’s student coordinator.

Another was Tom Dillard, who had Johnson help him with research for a congressional briefing paper. That work evolved into his clerking for Ritchie, Dillard and Davies, which hired him as an associate after graduation.

“You can be brilliant, a hard worker, have wonderful people skills, be tremendously talented, but if you don’t have the right mentoring, you can never realize your full potential,” he says.

The firm’s partners, including the late Robert W. Ritchie, have been those mentors.

“(Ritchie) taught me early on the importance of being an academic and a really good investigator as a lawyer,” he says. “Those who are able to take this profession to the next level are those that are able to marry the two together.”

Johnson became a partner in the firm within five years and today volunteers at UT’s law school and through local, state and national bar associations.

“I feel like I can help make an impact in the access to justice that people receive,” he says.

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