Creating a Sense of Community in Northeast Tennessee & Southwest Virginia

Steve E. Grindstaff

CEO/Owner, Grindstaff Automotive Group

Steve Grindstaff has always given his cell phone number out to customers and, in fact, even before cell phones were popular he had one so that people could reach him when they needed to. “I was one of the first people in the area to have a cell phone, and the customers knew they could reach me. I was honest with them and I always took care of them after the sell; just like I do now. Most importantly, they helped me continue to grow by sending me customers from their own families and friends and without those customers then I wouldn’t be where I am at today.” Grindstaff, admittedly, wouldn’t be where he is today without a lot of help from a great many people but, he says, that’s part of what makes this region so great. “The Tri-Cities is my home and my heart. I have been fortunate to travel the world to see and experience cultures that make me so appreciative to not only be an American, but thankful for where I call home. The Tri-Cities is truly a unique area filled with giving people.” Despite living in a place that is filled with so many who work so hard for the community, Steve remembers a time when that extra help was not around: something he helps to remedy for today’s youth.

“I grew up extremely poor and have always felt passionate about helping other kids who grew like me. My drive came at an early age when I worked two jobs when I was around nine years old so I could help my mother make ends-meet while she was taking care of my sick grandmother. I didn’t like wearing hand-me-downs and holes in my shoes. I figured that life would only provide certain opportunities and that it was ultimately up to me if I wanted to change my circumstances.” Hard work got Steve on the road to success, but the poverty he came from always stayed with him in his mind. “Kids don’t always have positive mentors in their everyday life. I have always felt like I could help these kids rise out of their situations to know that someone from their similar background would support your dreams where I didn’t have anyone to do that for me.” With that mentality Steve set about to change things for those kids that were less fortunate and who needed that spark to get them going in the right direction. “I started the Carter County Academic Awards banquet twenty-plus years ago to reward the students who don’t get the recognition like sports teams do. I would either rent the Milligan College cafeteria or the Holiday Inn so the students could bring their family to celebrate their academic success. I would bring in Miss America, Miss Tennessee or even someone similar to me in business to show them you can graduate high school, go to college and lead a positive and successful life at any level.” Grindstaff’s reward for all of this is that adults have visited today him on countless occasions: seeking him out to tell him about their successes and happiness.

From the beginning of his career, Steve Grindstaff knew that there was a definite need for mentors in the area, especially, he says, “in my home town of Elizabethton.” Some of his fondest memories are when he did a school tour to all the Carter County Schools and Elizabethton City schools. “During the tour I brought the newest technology for the kids of all ages, which then were big Apple computers. This was in the early 80s, so everything was big including my hair. I also knew that there has always been limited funding for teachers in supplies. I made sure those teachers had the right tools to lead our kids in the classroom.” When he is not helping kids in the community however, he is busy running his business. Whatever you do, though, don’t call what Steve Grindstaff does-work. “I love what I do! I don’t feel like its work, maybe just a few times a year I do get tired and need a break but the car business is in my blood. I work 6-7 days a week almost fifty weeks out of the year. I work around the clock to make my customers happy, but most of all I do this for my family. Besides my customers and my family, the philanthropy work that we do makes both my wife and I fulfilled. Ashley and I care so much for our community especially charities helping children.” Asked what he wants to see for the future of the Tri-Cities area and Grindstaff is quick to answer with one word: growth. “I would love to see new business come to the area through the help of less taxes and regulations.” Aside from giving to the youth in the community, Steve is big on mentoring as well and ensures the success of his business by offering a mentoring program that helps new employees learn the business from the inside out: all with the help of a seasoned employee. Above all else, however, Steve Grindstaff is a man of his word; a trait he is determined to pass down to his sons. “I tell my boys that in this life there are two things you have: your name and your word. If you lose your word, you lose everything.” Fantastic advice for anyone!

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