A conversation with ChanceLight’s CEO Mark Claypool
By Eleanor Kennedy
Working as a social worker in the 1990s, Mark Claypool felt children in Tennessee weren’t getting the support they needed. So he decided to start a company that would provide that support through a variety of vehicles, without putting up barriers based on funding or geography as often existed at the time. Seventeen years later, he’s grown ChanceLight Behavioral Health, Therapy and Education into a company with more than $150 million in annual revenue that provided behavioral health, pediatric therapies and special education services to more than 20,000 students in 2016. A lover of history, Claypool unwinds from his day job with a good historical book or TV show or, on the weekends, some fulfilling woodworking.
Talk to me a bit about the founding of the company. What led you to create this business? I founded the company in 1999. I was a social worker working for the state of Tennessee. I just felt like there was a large gap in services for children. We were at that point removing a lot of children from homes for a variety of reasons and placing them in institutions that were very expensive and, in my opinion, very ineffective at that point. I really wanted to build a company that was focused on the needs of kids first.
Can you talk a little bit about the rebranding you did a little more than a year ago? We had this phenomenally sexy name of Educational Services of America, which told everybody absolutely nothing about what we did. We wanted to have a name that we could go more to our customers with that said we do this breadth of work, not just one thing. And so that was the impetus for changing the name; we wanted a name that was much more specific, but was also much more about behavior.
Where will we find you a typical Saturday? You would find me more than likely in my home woodshop.
Has that always been a hobby of yours? Probably for the last 20 years. My wife and I when we were first married started renovating houses and had to learn how to do a lot of things that way, and it sort of translated into a hobby. It’s a lot of fun. It’s relaxing.
What’s the thing you’re most proud of that you’ve built? I make pens and little things, nothing terribly monumental. It’s just fun to relax and actually do something with your hands and kind of see a finished product. We have the great satisfaction of seeing children make progress and getting the great feeling off of that, but it’s good to do something with your hands every once in a while.
Do you read much? I read a lot. History is another one of my hobbies. ·- I’m reading a wonderful book on Winston Churchill right now. In terms of business books, I’m also a consumer of those with some regularity. Anything Jim Collins wrote, I think they’re just very well thought-out books.
Did you see any big holiday movie releases? Well, we saw “Rogue One.” I’m a huge Star Wars nerd, so we saw that on opening night. I loved it.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? An astronaut.
When did you decide that was not the future for you? When I figured out that to be an Air Force pilot at the time was probably the precursor to being an astronaut, and I had terrible vision and I was a chubby kid. Neither of those things were going to work really well for that, so I gave up on that.
Do you travel a lot? I do.
Where’s your favorite place that you’ve traveled to? Well, I travel for business. I don’t travel for pleasure a lot because after I travel for business I just want to stay home. I do spend a lot of time in California and Arizona, some lovely places, but I’m usually working.
Do you have any pets? I have a Labrador retriever, Daisy. She’s 2 years old.
What’s your morning routine? I get up at 6 a.m., drink coffee, read my Bible, check my emails, eat breakfast, get ready for work, get to the office by 8:30 a.m.
What was the first job you ever had? I was doing a lot of handyman work for a fella who owned rental properties. He would send me in when tenants left to clean out the house, tear up everything, tear out the carpet so he could come in with a crew and do renovations.
Title: Founder and CEO Company: ChanceLight Behavioral Health, Therapy & Education
Address: 1321 Murfreesboro Pike, Ste. 702, Nashville 37217
Education: Middle Tennessee State University, BA and MA