Humble beginnings can often inspire -remarkable accomplishments. A fire in the belly, the thrill of competition, and even enjoying the role of underdog can help level the playing field for all who play the game of life.
Larry Pratt can relate. The UT major contributor and member of the Development Council is a prime example for how to win in business and in life by doing the right thing and doing it right. Now the president and CEO of First Savings Mortgage Corporation, the Washington, D.C., metro area’s largest private mortgage bank, Pratt recalls the days when he was just an ordinary kid growing up in Athens, Tennessee. “I was an average student and an average athlete. I didn’t have a lot of focus back then,” he says. “It took me six years to finish college.”
Indeed, by the time he graduated from UT Knoxville in 1973 with a B.S. degree in business, the young man had served in the military, married, and become a father, and he was holding down a part-time job at a bank. “I worked for the Athens Utility Board, did manual labor for a paper company, and loaded packages for UPS, sometimes working two shifts,” he says. “Although my parents weren’t privileged to attend college, they had the foresight to realize that a degree would open doors for me.”
And it has.
In 2006 Pratt made a $5-million commitment to build the Pratt Basketball Practice Pavilion at UT Knoxville, the lead gift toward building the $15–million facility. A groundbreaking ceremony last fall made it official, and the Pratt Pavilion is targeted for completion in October 2007. It includes two full-sized gymnasiums–one for each gender–and space for a training room, a weight room, and a film-study room.
“It is a dream come true for me,” the McLean, Virginia, resident says, “because it was the best way I could connect my father to UT athletics, which he loved, as well as recognize him for instilling in me a strong work ethic and a commitment to do the right thing–always.”
The late Floyd Pratt took Larry to his first college basketball game when the youngster was just 5 years old. Back then, the two journeyed to Knoxville once a year to watch the Vols play in the old Alumni Memorial Gym. Usually, however, they listened to the play-by-play on radio. An annual trek to Neyland Stadium to see a big-time college football game rounded out the Pratt family’s experience as Vol fans on campus.
Pratt learned early on that giving to others is an important aspect of life. “My late mother, Jessie, was very committed to charity work. She used to take me with her to visit the elderly and the sick to let them know that they had not been forgotten.” Today Pratt’s company supports affordable and fair housing programs, minority education efforts, Habitat for Humanity, and other projects that help people get a foot on the ladder to home ownership and economic success.
Both parents lived long enough to see their son reach a level of financial achievement they never experienced in their lifetime. “One of the best memories I have is buying my mother a clothes dryer in 1979,” Pratt recalls. “It was the first one she ever had, and it made me happy to give her something that could make her life a little easier.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my career,” he says. “I’ve worked hard, and I believe in treating people right. Money doesn’t drive me; competition does. So in my company, I like to create a culture where employees can succeed and develop their potential and build on their hunger to do better. My top four people have been with me for twenty years, and I’m proud that there’s little turnover among our hundred-and-fifty employees.”
Pratt is an avid golfer and a devoted dad to his grown children–a son, Brackton, and a daughter, Ashley Lehwald–as well as a proud granddad to Devon, 9, and Brady, 7 months. His love for UT is obvious, since he has decorated the first level of his new home in a “subtle” orange-and-white theme. And the conference room at his office, known as “the Tennessee Room,” is filled with UT memorabilia. “People who know me know how I stand on the Tennessee Vols,” he says with a big smile.
Pratt’s first gift to UT was not large. “I made small contributions for a few years, and then I was able to make a significant gift to men’s athletics in 2003. But people don’t need to wait until they have a lot of money to give,” he says. “There are many ways to make a gift. If everyone just gave a little bit, we could provide many more opportunities for our student athletes. We need to give them life skills they can use in a career after college to prepare them for becoming good citizens in the communities where they live and work.”
Pratt sometimes gives motivational speeches, and he often falls back on what his father taught him years ago: Never give up, keep dreaming, and always do the right thing. “You really can make a difference and, at the same time, help others achieve higher levels of success in life.”
Like father, like son.