First-time entrepreneurs have only an 18 percent chance of their business surviving. In the first few years of starting Columbia Metropolitan, Emily and I were quickly becoming part of the 82 percent who don’t make it; that is, until we met Joe Anderson, president of BellSouth. Start-up capital was running low and revenues were not exceeding costs. We either needed more capital or more sales, and we went to Joe for advice. He patiently listened to our dilemma and then said, “You just need to sell more advertising,” and picked up the phone and started calling people. That was the precise turning point that re-directed our little ship of a business away from the crashing shoals and back out to sea.
Joe, a native of Anderson, South Carolina, and most likely related to the family that founded the town, went to the University of Georgia for his undergraduate degree and then to the University of South Carolina for his MBA. At USC, he heard Southern Bell was a good company to work for and a smart career choice. After marrying Carol Gerrard, also from Anderson, he joined Southern Bell (which eventually became BellSouth) in 1967.
“I thought that working for Southern Bell would keep me in South Carolina, but shortly after joining they sent me to Florida where we lived for several years.” In 1986, Southern Bell (BellSouth) returned Joe to Columbia as corporate officer of South Carolina operations, a position he held until 2000 when he retired.
These were turbulent times in the telecommunications business due to the 1984 divestiture of the Bell system mandated by the federal government and the fast-paced changes in technology. “The whole industry was rapidly changing with the advent of cell phones and new long-distance companies, but we were still heavily regulated. We had one foot in this highly competitive new environment and the other in this regulated environment, and, of course, there were constant challenges. The telecommunications industry has now evolved into an exciting world of customer choice and new technologies everywhere!"
Joe fondly remembers the occasions when famous people came to Columbia, such as Pope John Paul II, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sarah Brightman, and Jimmy Stewart. “People you wouldn’t expect came to Columbia mainly because of the university, and it was a unique opportunity to meet them.”
Joe, a champion of Columbia, was deeply involved with the Columbia Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of the Midlands as chairman of both. He also served as chairman of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and many other organizations. The Columbia Chamber recognized him as Ambassador of the Year and the United Way as Humanitarian of the Year. On the personal front, Joe loves all kinds of music and constantly has it playing throughout his home, while Carol majored in music and taught piano for many years. He is an avid listener of National Public Radio’s Piano Puzzler and classical music.
Looking back to the early ’90s, Joe says, “When you and Emily came to Columbia to launch Columbia Metropolitan, there was a void — a niche waiting to be filled.” Asked why it’s important for a city to have a thriving city magazine, Joe responds, “It brings an energy to the city. It makes people appreciate the potential around here. Columbia Metropolitan gives a singular focus on the good things of this area.”