How to get into 40 Under Forty


By Scott Robertson

Every year around this time, I get inundated with questions about the 40 Under Forty program at our sister publication, The Business Journal of Tri-Cities, TN/VA. That’s because the application deadline for this year’s class is almost here. We will cease accepting nominations Friday, Aug., 19 at 5 p.m.

40 Under Forty is a prestigious honor. The program recognizes businesspeople under the age of 40 in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia – the rising stars of our regional business community.

Past honorees have gone on to become CEOs, CFOs, private business owners and government leaders. The program’s alumni include Steve Smith, the president and CEO of K-VA-T Food Stores, parent company of Food City; Steve Johnson, developer of The Pinnacle shopping center; Ron Ramsey, Lt. Governor of Tennessee; Tony Treadway, owner of Creative Energy; David Davis, former Congressman from Tennessee’s first district. The list of leaders in the business community goes on and on – Chris Bowen, Tommy Greer, Lottie Fields Ryans, Steve Darden, Brad Hoover, John Lundberg, Robert Van de Vuurst, Jeff Banyas, Miles Burdine, Joe LaPorte, E.C. Goulding, Todd Norris – and those names are all from the first couple of years.

As you might expect, the list of young professionals wanting to join the club is long and already distinguished. But there can only be 40 honorees every year, which means the competition to be included is fierce. Every year, some very fine young people are omitted from the class, simply because there are more than 40 fine young businesspeople in the Tri-Cities.

So, as I said, I am asked each year many variations of the question, “What can I do to give my nominee the best chance of making it into this year’s class of 40 Under Forty?”

Some folks ask, “Would it help if I bought an ad?” No. The judging process has nothing to do with who spends money with our company. There are “honors” out there that you can buy your way into. 40 Under Forty is not one of them. Every honoree is included on merit, as decided by an impartial panel of judges not employed by our company. In past years, major event sponsors have seen their nominees not make the class.

The key is the nomination. The most successful nominees, year-to-year, are the ones whose nominations are accompanied by the most thorough, well-written letters of recommendation. Some folks just go with the 200-word online nomination and leave it at that. But we have always stated that the judges prefer to have that nomination form accompanied by at least two letters of recommendation – one from someone in the community who can speak to the nominee’s business acumen and accomplishments, and the other from someone who can speak to the nominee’s community service. Letters beyond those can speak to other aspects of nominee’s character.

Nominations are accepted at, and letters of recommendation are accepted via email at or via U.S. Mail at:


The Business Journal

1114 Sunset Drive, Suite 2

Johnson City, TN 37604

Attention: 40 Under Forty

Mailed letters must be post-dated by Aug. 19. This year’s 40 Under Forty gala will be at The Millennium Centre Oct. 14. We hope to see you there.


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