We asked USS founding father Mike Smith and children Chris Smith and Shannon Smith Carter to tell us a little bit about the USS family history. One can attribute the success of the family-owned, family-operated foundation and waterproofing company in the Nashville area to the loyal collaboration of the Smith family unit as well as the implementation of their vision to improve the lives of others and excel at foundation repair.
Vision of a Foundation Repair Company
In the late 1980s, Mike Smith and co-worker Sam Lockhart, who previously owned a waterproofing company, acknowledged a shared vision and brought it to life. Deciding to combine their fields of expertise in masonry and waterproofing, in May of 1989, the two formed the Indiana-based foundation repair company United Dynamics, Inc. Over the years, the duo wanted to expand the business, but they agreed that the company name did not describe what they did or support their vision to branch into other markets. So, Founders Mike and Sam teamed up with entrepreneurs in Chicago, IL, and Lexington, KY, and set their sights on Nashville, TN, to encompass all that they wanted to do in foundation repair in these new cities.
Son Chris Smith recalls working at his dad’s foundation repair company from an early age during his “school breaks, Christmas break, summer break, all breaks,” in Jeffersonville, IN, claiming he “grew up with a shovel in hand.” His employed involvement began in high school, working with the UDI production crew until 1992 when he moved to Nashville, TN, to attend college. It was at Trevecca University that Chris moved from production to selling jobs out of his dorm room, and it wasn’t long before his remote efforts achieved for him the title of Regional Manager in Tennessee and Kentucky.
Mike’s daughter Shannon Smith Carter joined the team part time while she and her husband operated a consumer video production company in 1994, three years after she graduated from Liberty University with a degree in communications. Shannon created work order packets, handled sales data entry, and became the primary point person for incoming calls for UDI’s major markets: Louisville, Southern Indiana, Chicago, Cincinnati, Lexington, Charleston, WV, and Nashville, TN.
“My father has always been entrepreneurial,” recalls Shannon. “Growing up, I was accustomed to seeing his successes from the fruit of his work ethic, pursuit of Godly wisdom, and a life partner (my mom) who shared his vision and walked alongside him. It was our family’s way of life. He was ALWAYS present, as both a father and provider.”
The Launch of USS
As business grew and with his son Chris succeeding in Nashville, Mike saw the opportunity to fully introduce the vision of a dependable foundation repair and waterproofing company serving Nashville, Middle Tennessee, and Southern Kentucky that homeowners could trust. “Our main goal was to keep homes stable and dry,” said Mike. But the business gained so much momentum in foundation stabilization and basement wall realignment services after moving to Tennessee that they were soon able to add teams specializing in waterproofing, earth retention, micro piles, and pressure grouting, as Mike had hoped. It was time.
On June 23, 1994, Founder Mike Smith and son Chris Smith launched foundation repair and waterproofing company United Structural Systems, Inc., known as USS, in Tennessee. In the first year of business, USS outfitted a six to eight-person crew from Indiana that soon grew to ten USS employees. This enabled them to discontinue the use of Indiana crews, who were traveling from IN to TN to complete USS projects and organize their own production crews for the foundation repair and waterproofing company serving Nashville and people across Tennessee.
USS leads increased for Chris and work eventually took precedent over his college studies. “…We were high-tech with pagers and fax machines,” Shannon remembers, smiling. “I would page Chris his leads when he moved to Nashville, and then fax a copy of his messages at the end of the day.” After four years of business courses at Trevecca, Chris relocated off-campus to become a part-time college student so that he could “buy-in” to the ownership of USS. In 1996, Chris Smith moved from sales to co-owner, and the Whites Creek, Tennessee-based operation where Chris resided became the new home office for USS in Tennessee.
In 1999 Chris convinced his father of the need to further invest in Nashville and better serve Middle Tennessee by severing ties with the Indiana offices. USS had utilized UDI, with Shannon’s help, to manage their payroll, phones, and other administrative needs remotely, until October 31, 1999. On this date, Shannon moved to Whites Creek, TN, to take over these administrative roles from her new home office, which was a half-mile down the street from Chris’s house and the shop where USS crews operated. Mike cut ties with the northern companies he helped organize, and in the spring of 2000, he and his wife Janice moved south to reunite with children Chris and Shannon and their efforts to keep up with the growth of USS.
Mike says his best memory of USS is “being in business with Chris and Shannon.”
In less than twenty years, the USS foundation repair and waterproofing company in the Nashville area expanded its team to over 100 employees and added other services such as concrete lifting and encapsulation. Shannon Carter attained co-ownership and additional family members were hired including Mike’s wife Janice Smith, former Office Manager; Shannon’s children Chad and Cara Carter; and Chris’s daughter Katelyn Smith.
Mike’s dreams of making a living as an entrepreneur naturally merged with his passion for hiring and developing people. The creation of the USS mission statement improving lives by guaranteeing our best says it best. Not only did Mike continually strive to offer his best to homeowners through USS services, but his desire to see the USS team—to help his team, guide his team—to succeed was just as important. Both his vision and his efforts resulted in the evolution of a highly esteemed company—focused on customer service and integrity (the best in their field), as well as a company culture designed to improve the lives of all the individuals of the USS family.
The influx in hiring and develop development in the early 2000s prompted and required a move from the Whites Creek, TN, home office to a larger facility. Just as the Smiths acknowledged the need for more space, a former church friend approached them with a proposition to assume ownership of a former boat factory on Boat Factory Road in Pleasant View, TN. The larger piece of property became home to USS in April of 2003, suiting their necessary expansion. Here, Owner Chris Smith was able to form a second company on the premises in 2012. Titan Products allowed the Smiths to make the products utilized by USS, helping cut costs and manage their quality control. “I didn’t dream it would become what it is today. I didn’t know we would leave Indiana and grow the business to this size in Tennessee,” reflects Mike Smith.
The Smith Family Legacy
The legacy of USS began with Founder Mike Smith who was born on October 10, 1946, in New Salisbury, Indiana. He spent his childhood in Corydon, IN, with his father Charles Elwood Smith, a self-employed masonry contractor born in August of 1913, his mother Dorothy L. Smith, and his sister Ellen McWhirter. Mike’s post high school education took place in Indianapolis at STI, Sams Technical Institute, now ITT Technical Institute, and in Nashville, TN, at Trevecca Nazarene College where he earned an associate degree in tool design and a bachelor’s degree in communications, respectively. He also enrolled in graduate studies at the University of Cincinnati for organizational behavior. Following college, Mike worked in Indiana as a draftsman and brick mason and married Janice Alstott on June 19, 1967. They had two children: Shannon, born in Evansville, IN, on July 11, 1968, and Chris, born in Cincinnati, OH, on April 10, 1974, who grew to share the same vision and help run the family business.
Today, USS is the #1 foundation repair company in the Nashville and Middle Tennessee area and employs over 120 family and friends that contribute toward its rising success in Middle TN, Southern KY, and Northern AL. The organization has undergone numerous expansions to its headquarters in Pleasant View, TN, including multiple onsite renovations and additions of remote offices like USS South in Lewisburg. Mike, Chris, and Shannon all remain very involved with daily operations, playing an integral role in fostering the USS family culture—a culture that persists to not only improve the homes of USS customers and the business of foundation repair, but also grow the hearts and minds of those on the USS team—the driving force of the company. With dreams of growing into other markets, Mike, Chris, and Shannon agree, “USS is blessed with a team of dedicated people ensuring that our future is in good hands.”