It was a landmark day for a former trunk slammer. Now Stefan Wilson has his own building to work out of instead of the back of a car like back in the day. A ceremonial ribbon cutting made it a formality Friday for Allevia Technology, the IT firm Wilson founded and operates.
Not that he stands on protocol — except for computer protocol. Wilson’s all about that.
Inside the building, staff passes by the heart of the old business — a walk-in safe. Allevia’s renovated structure at 1819 E. Broadway Ave., Maryville, formerly housed a CBBC Bank branch. Observers will note the trademark columns of the old building are still there, not the traditional white but covered in natural wood to accent the updated gray exterior.
Allevia Technology provides managed services and technical support for small businesses in Alcoa, Maryville, Knoxville and beyond. The focus is on firms with five, 15, 25 computers — enough to operate a small business, not enough for a full-time IT staffer.
Transforming the building was up to Leon Williams Contractors. Jimmy Hawkins, president of the Maryville-based contractor, said the minimum of walls and halls throughout the former bank simplified the refurbishing.
“It was a pretty straightforward build-out from the standpoint that (Wilson) liked having an open floor plan, having a lot of his guys in one large room where they could collaborate,” Hawkins said.
The biggest unexpected challenge was a moisture problem caused by a gable roof installed over the original flat roof. That the new owner didn’t switch plans during construction helped the process.
“He didn’t make a lot of changes,” Hawkins said.
Given that Wilson had been anticipating this for half his life meant he’d pretty well nailed down what he wanted. As for change, he’s all about that — in context, of course. “Technology changes so quickly,” he said. “Like that,” he added, snapping his fingers for emphasis.
AHS Tech Team
Wilson had been a member of Alcoa High Schools’ Tech Team founded in the late ’90s and overseen by Dr. Bob Kite, who attended the ribbon cutting. The team, whose members have gone on to jobs at companies like Apple and Cisco, laid the groundwork for the computerization of classrooms at Alcoa Schools.
At a time when “zero tolerance” policies deemed pocket knives unforgivably dangerous, the tech team members could wear bladed Leatherman tools clipped to their belts. Sort of a real-life revenge of the nerds.
The Alcoa Board of Education supported the students who were wiring their schools, and agreed to pay for a course that made Wilson the youngest A+ Certified Technician in Tennessee at age 14.
Wilson, now 33, said he had visions of having his own business at age 16. It helped that while friends were working fast-food making minimum wage, he’d go to somebody’s house for a couple of hours, fix their computer and take home $25.
“I thought, hey, maybe I’m on to something here — $12.50 an hour, oh my goodness.”
He moved on to the University of Tennessee, where he majored in business administration while doing IT work for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Knoxville. What he loved about that job was all the people he met working in the main office and at Chattanooga and Johnson City.
After college he carried on what he’d done in high school, servicing computers in people’s homes from out of his car.
“I call ‘em trunk slammers, because I was one. I did SJW Tech Services, that’s my initials. C.L. Wilson Income Tax Service, do you see a pattern here?” Wilson asked, referencing the name of his parents’ tax business that has an office in the new building.
Keeping his promise
Then he got a job offer from a Knoxville health care company. He made himself a promise that if after a year he didn’t absolutely love his job he was going back to “do my entrepreneurial thing.” After eight months, he’d decided.
“So January 21st, 2011, was the first day of Allevia and there was just me. I hired my first employee that year and we’ve been steadily growing ever since,” Wilson said.
He credits his staff for the upward trend. “They’re awesome.” His business card gives a hint at his managerial philosophy. Under the name Stefan Wilson are the words, “Benevolent Overlord.”
“I joke, I tell people, it’s easy to have double-digit percentage growth when you start from zero. It’s been a slow process of intentional growth. Not exponential, nothing insane. We want to take care of the clients we have as we go.”
Allevia Technology has 272 clients, give or take. Wilson leased a strip mall location on Louisville Road at Hunt Road, then set his sights higher with his latest move.
“I love this East Broadway corridor because it’s all small business, no big box stores, the main thoroughfare 50 years ago. It’s cool to be part of that vision.”
As he talked about his new/old building, Wilson pointed to a column in his office, one like the columns outside the front entrance.
“We thought they were like 6-inch, steel posts. Uh-uh, they’re brick. Those aren’t going anywhere.” The question from Hawkins was, “All right, Stefan, what do you want to do with these columns that have to stay here?”
“So we put ’em in reclaimed wood. It looks pretty cool, right? Kind of got a modern vibe to it. It’s just really neat the way everything turned out. I learned a lot through the process. I can’t wait to do it again in 10 years, five years, 15 years, whatever. It’s great.”
Things change in the IT world as quickly as a finger snap. This building that bears the Allevia Technology logo is a sign of change. It is not a signal that the vision of a 16-year-old kid with IT business dreams has settled in for the duration.
“I knew I wanted to own something that could outlast me, that could outlive me. I’m on my way. Not there yet,” Wilson said.