The Mississippi Business Journal had been conducting the 50 Leading Business Women program for several years when a staff member had an epiphany. If the 50 Leading Business Women were the best in the state, then choosing one as the best of the best would make her Business Woman of the Year.
With that, a new awards program was born at the Mississippi Business & Technology EXPO. This year, Joey Garner, vice president of LEC operations at TEC, was crowned Business Woman of the Year during the Business Woman of the Year Luncheon held Jan. 15 in the Mississippi Trademart. A full house was there to celebrate Garner’s addition to the list of other Business Woman of the Year recipients, winners who include such notables as Dr. Frances Lucas-Tauchar, president of Millsaps College, and Sister Mary Dorothea Sondergroth, chair of St. Dominic Health Services and the first Business Woman of the Year winner.
“Honestly, the success of the Business Woman of the Year program was not a surprise,” said Ashley Varnes, MBJ account executive and a key organizer of EXPO. “The 50 Leading Business Women program was already immensely popular by the time we launched Business Woman of the Year. The enthusiasm for 50 Leading Business Women simply carried over into the Business Woman of the Year program.”
The excitement built as this year’s class of 50 Leading Business Women filed in for the awards luncheon. All 50 of the women were recognized; however, 10 were singled out as finalists for Business Woman of the Year, culminating in the announcement that Garner was the winner.
Garner certainly has proved that she belongs in elite company, and she began showing it at an early age.
Born and raised in Bay Springs, the daughter of TEC president Joseph Fail, and his wife, Nancy, Garner was a standout scholar-athlete at Bay Springs High School. She won the state doubles tennis championship there, and played basketball for four years.
Her extracurricular activities and experience were just as impressive. Garner was a member of the marching band, played in the concert band and was a cheerleader. Her classmates voted her Miss Bay Springs High School, and she was first alternate to Mississippi’s Junior Miss.
Garner was valedictorian of her high school class, and decided that she wanted to go out-of-state to continue her studies. Past that, she was unsure.
“When I started college (Vanderbilt University), I wanted to be an engineer like my dad,” Garner said. “I quickly realized engineering was not for me.”
Changing gears, Garner earned a degree in English from Vanderbilt, where she was also active in Campus Crusade for Christ and the Delta Delta Delta sorority.
While she was a little unsure about her college career, Garner knew where she was headed when she left Tennessee — back home to the family business. TEC is an 85-year-old firm that has grown to the point that today it owns and operates local telecommunications companies in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee.
Garner hit the ground running, and was successful. Her first job was to develop a corporate newsletter at TEC. Eighteen years later, that newsletter is still being published.
Today as vice president, Garner has little time for newsletters, but plenty of time for family. She met her husband, James Garner, on a blind date at a Bryan Adams concert in Jackson. They married in 1991, and have three children — Jessica, 11, and Joseph and John, 8. A “large” family, the Garners also make room for a small zoo that includes two cats, three rabbits and three fish.
Garner admitted that early in her working career, fear was a major motivator, but since she has been able to enjoy her success.
“When I first started working, I had to overcome my fear of what people might think of me, being the ‘boss’ daughter,’” she said. “I strived every day to do my best and work harder to prove to myself and others that I was serious and that I could get the job done. Now, I’ve outgrown those fears.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com.