As he has grown in his career over the past couple of decades, Erin McAtee can point to one or two mentors who have made a lasting impact on both his professional and personal life.
Now the director of operations for the Franklin-based Narrow Gate Trading Co., the business side of Narrow Gate Ministries located in Hickman County, McAtee still recalls the valuable lessons he has learned from those influential leaders — lessons not so much of profit but of people.
They’re part of his DNA.
“I’ve had one or two notable leaders in my life who truly poured into me and helped grow me and care for me, and they just impacted me very deeply,” McAtee says. “And that desire has grown in me to do that for others and to pass that along, and to develop a culture where that’s as important — really, more important — than the bottom line.
“I’ve had to make the decision that I’m going to care more for that than just driving the bottom line. At some point, caring for people and spending time in leadership development with your team costs you something. It will cost you time that you could be spending pushing marketing, doing tactics, being strategic. It does cost you something to invest in people, and I guess I’m saying that it’s worth it.”
McAtee came to Narrow Gate in October 2020 with the idea to add coffee roasting to the operation’s lineup that included woodworks and leather goods. He and his wife, Bethany, had met with Narrow Gate founders Bill and Stacy Spencer, and eventually convinced them to absorb their E&B Coffee Roasters business they had started in Nolensville.
In time, McAtee was asked to go beyond coffee beans and also become leader of Narrow Gate’s leather and wood interests. This would include leading and helping to inspire those served by Narrow Gate Ministries, troubled young men in their late teens to early 20s who go through the program as a way to seek a new direction in their lives.
“Erin didn’t realize it, but he was an answer to prayers that we had,” says Don Lawrence, chair of the company’s board of directors. “We quickly transformed that from just moving a coffee company into Narrow Gate to us having an influential leader.
“He’s tasked with managing those three areas with three different product lines and three different operational structures, all while meeting the needs of these young men who are coming [out of the program] and ready to get out into the world.
“If you look at what he pours into them on a daily basis, not only professionally but personally, serving them and being there for them on so many other levels than just business, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody else in Williamson County that has more influence. These young men are better husbands, better fathers, better workers, better contributors, and we’ve seen that over and over again.”
McAtee has an entrepreneurial spirit that dates to his childhood, when at age 6 he made and sold bracelets to friends and classmates and later “made a living” selling candy bars in junior high school. But if his motivation for running a business as a youngster was simply to make some spending money, he realized a higher calling as his career got on track after college. He learned how to balance the goal of making a profit with the importance of being an inspiration to his employees.
“I care about quality a lot, and I care about being very good at a craft,” McAtee explains. “But there’s more to life than that, a lot more. The thought of being part of an organization that’s transforming lives of young men and still be excellent at craft got me very excited. I thought that’s something I could do for a long time and be very content. It’s a lot more than just growing a business.”
When he and Bethany opened their coffee shop in Nolensville, one of the first employees he hired was someone he met over the phone. Ben Lyons moved to Tennessee from Orange County in California, where he was a barista. McAtee taught him how to roast coffee, and Lyons now oversees operations for Narrow Gate Coffee.
“I think Erin is an exceptional leader,” Lyons says. “We interact very well together. A lot of how I lead has come from Erin’s influence.”