Jenny and Randy Boyd welcomed about 100 Leadership Knoxville alumni to their elegant west Knox County home recently where they participated in a wide-ranging discussion that covered subjects from politics and education to pets, music and sports.
The occasion was an installment of Leadership Knoxville’s fundraising series called “Behind the Scenes.” Prior to the Boyds, community leaders including Jim Clayton, Pete DeBusk, Dee Haslam, Kreis Beall and Ken Lowe have participated in the series, as well as former head UT Football Coach Derek Dooley, artist Richard Jolley and wiz music promoter Ashley Capps. It’s a great series.
Randy Boyd is the chairman, CEO and majority shareholder of Radio Systems Corporation, the parent company of PetSafe, Invisible Fence and Sport Dog. Last year, he took a leave of absence from his company to join Gov. Bill Haslam‘s administration as an adviser to the governor on higher education. He and his wife also are owners of the Tennessee Smokies baseball team, an Argentine winery and two nightspots in Knoxville’s Old City. To say he is a “Renaissance man” would seem to be an understatement.
Here are a few highlights of remarks made by the affable couple:
- Randy, whose goal is to make Knoxville “the most pet-friendly city in America,” says we are making headway by “increasing the demand and decreasing the supply” of unwanted pets. In 2008, he said, 12,000 animals in our community were euthanized each year. Last year, the number was down to 6,000. He attributed the high number of euthanized animals to a “culture” that treats animals as property. “We send buses of pets up north every year,” he noted, where there is a shortage.
Tennessee Achieves, an outgrowth of KnoxAchieves, the nonprofit he founded to provide access to community colleges to all high school graduates, is succeeding. Tennessee Achieves sent 320 kids to college its first year. Of those, 68 percent were first-generation college attendees. And 75 percent came from households with income less than $50,000.
- Jenny Boyd said she started playing the fiddle at the age of 38. She said it was a “dream come true” for the couple to purchase the former Manhattan’s eatery in the Old City and turn it into the popular Jig and Reel, modeled after the music pubs she and Randy visited in Scotland. “I discovered that it’s hard to find people to play with and we asked ourselves, ‘Why don’t we have something in Knoxville like they do in Scotland where folks can just show up and play together?'” That’s exactly what the Boyds have done with the Jig and Reel. Instruments are available for anyone to play. “If you come in for dinner and we are playing, there are instruments on the wall you can just pick up,” Jenny said.
- She joked that it is now impossible for her to give up her music. “I can’t after Randy bought the building for me!” she laughed. The Boyds also have bought the former Patrick Sullivan’s Saloon across Central Avenue from the Jig and Reel. It is being remodeled into a UT-themed steak house.
- In response to a question, she said the Old City is on an upswing. “But we need more retail,” she noted. “There are too many clubs that are only open on weekends.”
- Randy was asked the difference between operating in the private sector and the public sector. “In government, everything will take three or four times longer than you think,” he said. “There are a lot of stakeholders so it takes a long time to get something accomplished. But if you can get something done, it is transformative. It makes so much more of a difference.”
- One questioner asked what we in Knoxville can do to help improve things. “Adopt an animal,” he smiled, adding that he and Jenny have just adopted a dachshund, their second dog (in addition to two cats and a parrot). “Be a mentor for Tennessee Achieves. And support our governor!”