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Against All Odds Luncheon Inspires Students

Bill Courtney Speaking to Students at “Against All Odds” LuncheonBill Courtney Speaking at a Professional Development Seminar.

Bill Courtney, a local Memphian, entrepreneur and star of the Academy Award winning documentary Undefeated, spoke to a group of about 200 Fogelman College students at the inaugural “Against All Odds” Luncheon. The luncheon series is offered through the Avron B. Fogelman Center for Professional Development. Courtney’s enthusiasm, humor, real-world experiences and ability to “keep it real” made a dramatic impact on the audience.

Courtney, founder and president of Classic American Hardwoods, immediately began his presentation in a candid fashion by discussing some of the personal and professional challenges he faced when trying to launch his business. He had invested nearly everything he had into the entrepreneurial business venture when the economy turned south. With a wife and four young children, Courtney had a choice whether to quit his dream or persevere with hard work to turn an idea into a reality. Courtney chose the difficult road and now is the successful owner of an international, million dollar business.

According to Courtney, he achieved his success by “dreaming big, working hard and serving others.” These three mantras have been the guiding force throughout his life, he stated.

He encouraged students to explore their dreams instead of being ashamed of them; using examples of Memphis visionaries such as Fred Smith founder of FedEx, Kemmons Wilson Sr. founder of Holiday Inn and Clarence Saunders, founder of Piggly Wiggly.  “If you don’t dream – you die,” challenged Courtney.

Next he discussed hard work as the most crucial component to success. He clarified that we are all guaranteed the pursuit of happiness – not simply the right to be happy. Instead, Courtney suggested that by working hard and following dreams students could achieve happiness. He quoted his friend Kemmons Wilson Sr. saying, “You only have to work half a day to be successful…the first twelve hours or the second,” to fully illustrate his point.
Finally, Courtney challenged the students to consider their legacy. He stated that by first serving others, they will be more likely to follow in the future. “What you do for yourself dies with you,” said Courtney. “What you do for others’ lives forever.”

The luncheon was concluded with a lively question and answer session. According to student feedback, “the luncheon was one of the best events they had attended in college.”

The next “Against All Odds” Luncheon is coming soon. For more information, contact Kathy Tuberville, Director of the Avron B. Fogelman Center for Professional Development, at

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Last Updated: 5/8/13