Jared Bigham is a former teacher and principal who now heads up Chattanooga 2.0. (Photo: Contributed)

Editor’s note: Ask the Exec is an occasional question-and-answer series with Chattanooga’s top leaders, such as CEOs, CFOs and executive directors. Email [email protected] to suggest someone for this feature. 

Each morning, Chattanooga 2.0 Executive Director Jared Bigham looks forward to going to work because he’s passionate about what his organization is doing.

“It’s an honor to get to be in on the ground floor of a movement that will help improve the quality of life for students,” he said via email.

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Chattanooga 2.0 is a nonprofit that works to improve local academic excellence and career readiness. The organization focuses on people and aims to develop a talent pipeline so students and other residents can access work opportunities.

Success will mean that employers can look locally to find qualified talent, instead of searching outside Hamilton County, he also said.

Chattanooga 2.0 has two “bold” community goals to reach by 2025.

The organization aims to:

  • double the percentage of Hamilton County public school graduates who get a postsecondary degree or certificate from 30 to 60 percent by 2025
  •  increase the overall percentage of local adults with a college degree or technical training certificate from 38 to 75 percent by 2025

Bigham, who comes from a family of educators, said he’s been called to this mission.

“It’s a unique opportunity to take what I learned from my previous roles of being a teacher, principal, and policy advocate and apply that experience to supporting a cradle through career continuum,” he said.

Describe yourself in five words.

Daddy, husband, competitive, adventurous, faith

List three characteristics of your leadership style.

A) Recruit and hire talent, then get out of his or her way.

B) Never think you’re too good to pick up a piece of trash in front of your building or mop up a spilled drink.

C) Everyone has a family life, and I never expect them to compartmentalize that.

Do you have a process for making difficult decisions? If so, what is it?

When possible, I like to talk to two or three people about the issue to get multiple perspectives.

I appreciate when these people push back on my thinking because it either helps me refine my decision or opens my eyes to an alternative I may not have considered.

But once I make the decision, I do not hesitate or act with uncertainty.

If I make a mistake at that point, it will be made going 100 mph.

What challenges come with being the leader of a nonprofit?

Funding is always an underlying stressor for most nonprofits.

Since we rely on others to invest in our work, nonprofits are very results driven, and rightly so. In a sense, your “product” is the confidence you can generate in relation to your organization’s results.

Work-life balance: What does that mean to you? How do you achieve it?

First and foremost, I’m a husband and daddy.

I have five kids, so there is always something going on at our house after school and on weekends.

I don’t know that I actually try to balance work and life because my work has always been something I really enjoy.

My family is usually immersed along with me in the job I’m doing.

I’m almost always accompanied by one of my kids or my wife when I travel for work, and my 14-year-old twins have been to more education conferences, summits and convenings than most fifth-year teachers.

My wife is also an educator, so our personal and professional conversations have a lot of overlap, as well.

I guess that the “balance” is my family knowing that even though I love what I do and work extremely hard, they will be my priority no matter what. If you asked them, I think they would say I do a pretty good job of that.

What’s your favorite one-line quote?

I’m going to cheat and give two short quotes:

“Ninety-nine percent of failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.” —George Washington Carver

This quote reminds me of the philosophy of personal accountability that my high school baseball coach, Todd Rollins, instilled in my teammates and me.

We literally ended every practice and started every game in a huddle yelling, “No excuses,” in unison.

The idea that we should own up to our mistakes and learn from them has always stuck with me.

The ability to admit you’re wrong or have made a mistake is becoming rarer than a three-eared mule in today’s culture.

“Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education.” —John F. Kennedy

This quote is so true and so scary given our current level of investment in education across the country and the systematic undermining of high-quality public education.

Would you rather be able to change the past or see the future?

I would only want to see when the Vols are going to win their next national championship.

Who are your role models?

My parents and my grandfather. All three have taught me the importance of hard work and have been amazing examples of how to live a life of service.

If you had to give one piece of advice to a younger generation, what would it be?

Never be afraid to admit you do not know something or that you are wrong. I trust transparent people willing to own their faults a great deal more than people that act infallible or pretend they have all the answers.

What’s the last book you read, and/or favorite book?

Ted Alling recommended that I read “The Education of Eva Moskowitz.”

He said he read it in two days. It took me four, but he was right. [It’s] a very interesting read.

“The Hobbit” is my all-time favorite book.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I would love to be a professional golfer. I love competition, camaraderie and being outside.

Professional golfer checks all those boxes. However, my 16 handicap takes this question to the realm of fantasy rather quickly.

If I’m pinned down to reality and my skill set, then I would say I would be a writer. I love writing, and I think it would have taken only small twists and turns in my professional life for that to have been a reality.

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