The father of The Factory at Franklin gives his recipe for success.
Born in Leipers Fork in Williamson County, developer Calvin Lehew has rubbed elbows with presidents and international world leaders, but today you can find this gentle, unassuming soul in his office at The Factory in Franklin, his latest entrepreneurial venture. Thirty-five years ago, he built Carter's Court in a Franklin, a retail center that resembled a European village, and it soon became the seventh-largest tourist attraction in the state.
Calvin's philosophy is simple: "The Factory is for artists and creative folks. What I want to do is bring out more of the artist in people. I want an environment here that is conducive to creativity. We have about 11 learning centers here. To be able to open a place in The Factory it either has to be creative, unique, artistic, musical or food. We have five restaurants here. Even our offices here fit that theme."
"We have learning centers for children where they come in and make pottery or take music and painting lessons. Kids need to create something themselves to build a positive self-image. I don't want this to be a shopping center. I want it to appeal to the creative, right brain. I want to bring out things in people that they didn't know they had. I think we do an injustice to our children by not letting them go the route they want to go. So much religious teaching makes us feel unworthy. But Jesus said, 'I come to give you life and give it more abundantly.' Young people need to know that they are worthy of being whatever they aspire to be."
"I didn't appreciate small town life then because I wanted to see the lights of the big city," Calvin says. "Mrs. Gore offered me a job through Sen. Gore as a page in the Senate in 1956. That's when this country boy went to the big city – Washington D.C. I was an elevator operator and lived on E. Capitol St. on the third floor of a boarding house.
"That was something quite different for a teenager. That was one of the greatest times of my life. I got to know five presidents, three of them on a personal daily basis before they became president – Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, when they were Senators. I look back on those years and wonder why I didn't enjoy them more. I met Kruschev and the leaders of the world at that time."
"I worked for his dad and go to know him when he was just a kid and he and his sister Caroline would ride my elevator. He and Garth sat right out here in front of my office for the interview and only a few weeks later, John was killed in the plane crash."
"I bought the Factory about seven years ago and we've opened in phases. First we did an environmental clean-up. Then we began opening up sections with a restaurant called Magnolia's, and one of the main buildings with antiques and furniture stores. Before we even had the roof on, Faith Hill did a live broadcast here."
Practically a member of the Gore family, Calvin has many stories about his years in Washington with them. "I will never forget the time I was driving Senator and Mrs. Gore to some kind of dinner at the White House. When we got there, Sen. Gore said, 'Calvin, you've never been to one of these shindigs. Pull your car over there and come on in here with us.' He was in a tux and Mrs. Gore and their daughter, Nancy, were in formal dress and I wasn't. That's what I liked about him."
"I was Al Gore Jr.'s babysitter when I was there. He's nine years younger than I am. One time, when the Gores were out of town, I was staying with him overnight. It was Sunday morning and I had the TV on low and he comes in, about half awake, rubbing his eyes, and he sees me watching television. He said, 'Calvin, why are you watching TV? The New York Times is right outside the door there.' He gets the paper and lays it on the dining room table and starts reading it – not the funny papers but the front page. He was 7 or 8 years old. He was never a child, the youngest of the children and he was always with his parents."
"When he was running for president, I had lunch with him and some other people downtown and he asked me, as political candidates will do during a campaign, 'How I am doing, Calvin? Is there anything I need to do differently?' This was when everyone was advising him on how to dress and look. I said, 'No, Al, just be yourself.' He laughed and said, 'Nobody’s ever told me that before.'"
"He started out in theology at VU and his parents programmed him – either consciously or subconsciously – to be a big leader. But I don't think that's where his heart was. People emulate their parents and are programmed by watching others."
Those years inspired Calvin to become a success in whatever he set his mind to and he eventually became a popular speaker on positive thinking. "I used to give seminars and workshops on success principles. I had this board and wouldn't let the audience see what was written on it at first. I'd tell them, 'When I flip this over, I want the first thought that comes to mind – regardless of your age, whether or not you're married or have money – what's the first thing that comes to mind?' I turn it over and it says 'What would you do if you knew you could not fail?'
"On his radio programs, the essence of Earl Nightingale's message was about what we think about. He said if you do these five things, you can do, be and have anything you desire – set a goal, believe in it, have faith, act and give and receive. If you don't have a good self-image, you will not succeed. Our success comes from the neck up.
"Our thinking causes us to be successful. Philosophy, psychology, spiritual teachings – Jesus said, 'As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. Be ye transformed by the renewing of your heart.'
"When I was attending George Washington University, Mrs. Gore asked me, 'What are you going to do with your life?' I said, 'I don't know – I guess I am going to be a congressman.' She was good at giving advice and she was smart and she said, 'You ought to go back home and graduate from your home college.' So that’s when I transferred to the University of Tennessee my senior year.
"I took psychology and philosophy in college because it was an elective. I majored in business because money was always my goal. Because of Earl Nightingale, I set my goal to be a millionaire by the time I was 35. "When you set a goal or intention, automatically little miracles start taking place. Your hunches and intuition will tell you what to do. You’ll start receiving phone calls and seeing people."
"You don't have to be an expert to succeed. A fraternity brother and I went down to Tallahassee, Fla., in 1963 to open a Jerry's restaurant. It didn't work but we liked Tallahassee. It was the state capitol and Florida State was there. We looked around and said what does this town need? A discount drug store! Let's open one. We were crazy – we didn’t know a thing about pharmaceuticals. We discounted everything 20 percent everyday. We hired pharmacists on a 50-50 profit basis. When you don't know what you need, hire somebody who does.
"We sold lots of beauty products to the Florida State girls and the housewives. They'd come in and buy a case of their favorite Aqua Net hairspray.
"Problems? Yes. We didn't want to pay for expensive shelving so we bought this cheap, pressed sawdust board. We stocked the shelves for the Grand Opening, went home to grab about three hours sleep, came back to open the store – there was green shampoo all over the floors because the shelves had all collapsed.
"I didn't know how to file our drugs with the State of Florida and they almost put me in jail. Morphine and narcotics are supposed to reported every 30 days. I didn't know that. We kep making mistakes but we corrected them.
"Soon we opened other stores in Albany, Ga., Gainesville, Fla., and then in Dothan, Ala. When I sold out to my partner, we had stores in three states.
"My point to that story is that you don't have to be an expert or have a degree to become whatever you want to. I became the largest custom home builder in Williamson County and I couldn't build a dog house.
"I know how to get people involved. I know how to use faith, believing in yourself then acting toward your goal.
"Then something told me that to make that millionaire goal faster, I needed to get into real estate. You could borrow lots of money and have equity.
"Well, I hit that $1 million net worth at 33, not 35 – it was one of the most disappointing days of my life. I was expecting that when I became a millionaire, all my problems would be over.
"I had stopped-up commodes, leases where I hadn't been paid and leaky roofs. But the point is that it isn't the destination of the journey, it's that – wow, this stuff works. Set a goal, believe in it, have faith and act, you can do, be, have anything. Especially the materialistic things.
"I haven't gone after fame so I don't know about that. If you don't feel good about yourself and help others you'll fail.
"The Factory is a demonstration of that. If I had known that just the electrical work alone on this building and the next one would be $650,000, I wouldn't have done this project. Not knowing what you're getting in to can be one of your biggest allies. Ignorance, low I.Q., I call it. That's what’s made me successful. I'm sincere when I say 'not knowing what I was getting into' was a blessing. You have to give to receive. So I thought, I’m going to try something else.
"Thirty-five years ago I decided to develop a European village with a Southern flair. So I built Carter's Court in Franklin across from the Carter House. It became the seventh largest tourist attraction in Tennessee.
"Four banks turned me down on financing for The Factory. The fifth bank, First Tennessee, said okay. Then when I was looking for permanent financing, a man in banking here in Franklin, Rufus Bagsby, called me and said he wanted to talk with me. He said, 'When I was 17 years old and my wife was 16, we came and sat in front of your desk when you were a loan officer for Security Federal. You went out of your way to make us a $14,000 loan on our first house. We weren't even of legal age but you went overboard to make us that loan. I want to pay you back. Today I have a $10 million loan with him at a low interest rate.
"Several years ago, I was on my way to Japan. I was into the study of the mind and what causes people to be successful. On a layover in San Francisco, I saw a book called Science of Mind and it got my attention. It was by Dr. Ernest Holme. The principles in the Bible from a positive standpoint. It all dovetails into psychology and philosophy.
"If I do something negative to you, it will come back to me. Maybe not from you, but from the universe. Eastern religion calls it 'karma.'
"People are afraid to fail. It's more comfortable to be in a comfort zone than to venture out and appear ridiculous. People will love you for being yourself.
"My father, who only had a third-grade education, taught me to never put anyone down for the way they're dressed because someday you may have to walk up to their mahogany desk and ask them for a job. That stuck in my mind. I'll never forget that.
"I'm surprised because the odds were against me on The Factory. But the more success I’ve had, the less I'm surprised. I'm studying infinite intelligence now and am looking to my next big task. But it won't be in the physical world but in the mental.
"The Factory has turned out better than I could ever have imagined, even with the problems, I keep going back to the common denominator. Earl Nightingale said success is 'the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.'
"Success can be the person that wants to open up a little business or the school teacher, or housewife – money does not bring happiness."
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