After abandoning her dreams of becoming a doctor, Tina Hodges joined her husband’s business, Advance Financial. In the years since, she has become the company’s CEO, growing it to more than $100 million in annual revenue. Despite her own success, Hodges still insists on normalcy, shunning flashy cars and toys while encouraging her children to work for the things they want.
Advance Financial’s back-end operations are in India. When did you start working there? 2015. We have our database that keeps all of our customer information there, and the architects and engineers that built it are from there, and we became friends with them in 2008 when they were with a different company. So we stayed friends, and when they were starting their own company they asked to build a software for us, and we said OK.
What do you like best about visiting? It’s corny to say that the people are so nice, but they are. They are so friendly. We’ve been able to take our daughters, and they were able to go to school in India with some friends of ours’ kids. The school was so wonderful — it was great. Everyone there was so hospitable.
What about the crowds? It’s so crowded — like New York is crowded, but it doesn’t seem like people are very nice. In India, it’s crowded, but everyone is still nice. You’re walking in very tight crowds. We went to a cricket game, and it was so crowded but everyone was happy and smiling. Everybody was so friendly. There was never that sort of negative energy you get when it’s too crowded.
What’s your favorite thing to eat there? I can never remember the names of the dishes. I used to think I hated Indian food, because I just ate Indian food at restaurants here. All the way there [the first time we went], I was like, “This is going to be terrible. What am I going to eat?” But when I got there everything they serve is so fresh — nothing is out of a can or out of a bag. Even if you order something like Italian food, you’re thinking, “This is the best spaghetti I’ve ever had.” I can’t say the names of their dishes, and I don’t even order. When we go eat with our friends, I ask them to get me something I’ll like then they’ll order food for the table. We eat family style. You eat with your hands.
You attended President Trump’s inauguration. How was it? It was great. I know that TV stations all put different things on, but 95 percent of the places we were were really excited. Everyone had on red, white and blue. Flags were everywhere. I think that people discount the fact that it’s someone becoming the president, whether you voted for him or you didn’t. The people that sat right next to me didn’t vote for Donald Trump, and they said, “I’ll probably never get to see this again. This is so neat.” … It transcends the person.
What was your favorite part of the weekend? There was a concert the night before the inauguration, called the Make America Great Again concert. It was just so nice to be outside with beautiful weather. Different sections of the military had their bands playing. There were fireworks, and patriotic music. Everyone there was being so nice. And it was at the Lincoln Memorial, so when Donald and Melania came out they were standing right at the feet of Abraham Lincoln and as they came down the stairs everyone was cheering and the music was playing, and you couldn’t help but get chills. There was security to get in, but they were just open. It was so beautiful and really neat. You really felt like they were there with you, not behind glass, just right there.
Did anyone make you feel starstruck? We met Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, and that was really cool. Nikki Hayley. With my daughters, we were trying to explain not only what the United Nations is but what it means to be the ambassador of the United Nations. We just kept saying she’s very, very important, so they got their picture with her. At the gala after the inauguration, there were people everywhere, so you couldn’t be starstruck.
What about the protests that weekend? I know there were some protests, and some people were arrested. But I feel like it was really contained. It didn’t impact us. Even when we were on the way to some events, there were protesters on the side, but they were on their row and we just went down our row. I think it was obviously smart that on Saturday that the women’s march had nothing to do with the inauguration. They let everything be over and let everyone who was there leave town, and then they had their march. That way they weren’t just caught in all the craziness.
Do you follow a daily routine? Every week is completely different. It’s different when you work with your spouse. When you have a business dinner, you’re both at the dinner, or when you have a conference, you’re both at the conference. There aren’t a lot of times where just dad has a business dinner, either you both do or you don’t, so our kids are now use to it whether it’s dinners or travels. Almost every week we have something going on. I couldn’t go back in time and say one week where we were home every night for dinner.
How is it working with your husband? It’s such a normal part of life that I can’t imagine if we didn’t work together. My parents worked together, and as soon as we started dating, I probably started telling him what to do. When we started dating he only had three stores [and] three employees, so if someone was sick, he was working in the store. If I wanted to see him, I had to go to the store. I started working there after we dated for a couple of months when someone went on vacation. Literally, we’ve been working together since we started dating. Before we had kids, we would ride to work together and drive home together and still now, we ride home together two or three days of week.
Is it easy to transition from working together to spending time together at night? It’s interesting. Even when your kids have no idea what you’re talking about, they know when you’re using a work tone of voice. Our 9-year-old even, when she was five ,would say stop talking about work, but she wouldn’t even know what we were talking about. Now two of my cousins work here, and I have three families that are mystery shoppers, so even at Thanksgiving people are talking about our business.
You’re a Nashville native. What do you think about Nashville’s boom? I hope we can keep up with it. Rapid growth has its challenges down the road that you can’t see now. You can study other cities, and I think that’s great. I’ve been able to go with the Nashville Chamber to study other cities. … Nashville can only grow so much, and then you have to think about Wilson County schools because people are just moving right there to Mount Juliet. Look at Williamson County schools. It’s great to see so many companies are moving there, but you have to plan for carefully because sometimes you don’t know what to do when it moves so fast.
Where’s your favorite place to go in the city? Like to go out since I never do. I’m a real homebody, so my favorite place to go is not in the city.
Where did your first paycheck come from? My dad. Bellevue Animal Hospital. My dad is a veterinarian, and like it or not, we had to clean animal kennels. All the times we were out of school were heavy boarding times for pets, so we were out there all the time. And when I graduated from college, I had four months before my next program started, and my dad was like, “You’re working here.” Lots of dog bites and cat scratches.
Who makes you laugh? My husband for sure, mainly because he doesn’t try to be funny. We laugh a lot in our office, and we laugh at ourselves a lot. We can have really intense discussions, and people will think we’re fighting, but we’re just really passionate. And just as much, we’ll be laughing hysterically. If you’re not having fun at what you’re doing, then you should just do something else. It’s stressful enough to own a company and have a job, but if it’s also not as fun as it is stressful, then do something else because it’s not worth it.
What’s your most embarrassing moment? I can think of things in high school, where I was like I can’t believe this happened to me. But I think as an adult, you’re just gonna make mistakes. A lot of times when you’re younger an honest mistake is completely humiliating, but then you get older and those aren’t bad. I haven’t had a super idiot move so far. … I’ve never like fallen off a stage.
Talking about high school, were you a troublemaker or teacher’s pet? Oh teacher’s pet for sure. I even sat at a desk that wasn’t even with the classroom but right next to the teacher. … When we sat alphabetically, I was like no, no, no because I always wanted to be in the front. It wasn’t until my junior or senior that I was like why am I studying so hard? One of my friends asked me why are we studying so hard. We knew we weren’t going to get full scholarships to Harvard, and what difference does it make if your twelfth or you slip a rank, so my whole senior year, I stopped stressing out about school. I was still a teacher’s pet, and when I was home from college, I would go visit my teachers or have lunch with them after school.
Would you fund your children’s startup? No, I would not. We are parents that are really against the current of common culture. I want my kids to have to work for something. I don’t want to give them things, so when they’re five, seven and nine that might mean they’re not getting an iPad or an iPod.… It’s small things now, but I literally just told my daughter the other day when she was saying something sassy, “I’m not buying you that, and I’m also not buying a car.” And she was like, “You’re not buying me a car?” Some people say it doesn’t matter if you buy your kid a Land Rover for their 16th birthday, but maybe it does matter, so I’m going to try it my way. Am I terrible?
No. My dad bought himself a red truck for my sister’s 16th birthday. Exactly. I’m not saying it’s wrong. I have friends who bought their kids new cars for their 16th birthdays, so it’s right for their family. Mike always tells our kids we’re raising them Amish.
What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? I usually don’t get a whole lot of surprises, but on our wedding day, Mike gave me a pair of pearl earrings. No. 1, I was shocked he even knew you gave someone a wedding gift. I had been out doing something, and I came home, and it was sitting there with a little card in the bathroom. I was so surprised that he even knew I could wear them, and that he even thought ahead to get them.
Do you still have them? Yes. I wore them when we were in D.C.
What’s been your biggest splurge? I don’t know. We drive used cars. I have an 1980s Jeep. Actually between that and the pearl earrings I have some good gifts. I bought the Jeep in college and totaled it, so I stored it in a family member’s barn for like seven or eight years telling myself I would fix it, and then Mike snuck over and had it restored. Then he gave it back to me restored, so that was a really good gift. I always forget about it because I have owned it before, but that was a really great gift. People are like, “I saw you in your Jeep, because you’re the only business dressed female driving a Jeep around town with the top off.”