Chattanooga business leader Jo Conn Guild was an outspoken critic of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). He was born in 1887 in Chattanooga, the son of a prominent engineer. He attended Baylor School, the University of Virginia, and Vanderbilt University, where he earned an engineering degree. He then spent four years working on Hales Bar Dam, a project begun by his now-deceased father. In 1913 Guild joined the Chattanooga and Tennessee River Power Company, which owned power rights to the Hales Bar facility. Two years later he became general manager of the firm.
In 1922 the Chattanooga and Tennessee River Power Company merged with the Chattanooga Railway and Light Company to form the Tennessee Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Guild served as vice-president of the firm until 1933, when he was named the company's president. Under Guild's direction, TEPCO became one of the South's leading privately owned utilities, serving over one hundred thousand customers in nearly four hundred communities in Middle and East Tennessee, including the cities of Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga.
Guild's greatest challenge came in the 1930s with the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority. A champion of privately owned power companies, Guild denounced the public utility as an unnecessary and unwarranted threat to free enterprise. He soon found a powerful ally in Wendell Willkie, then president of the Commonwealth and Southern Corporation, a giant utilities conglomerate. Together, Guild and Willkie waged a five-year legal battle against the TVA, challenging the constitutionality of the public utility in federal courts. The courts upheld the TVA act, however, and in January 1939, the United States Supreme Court dismissed their suit against the federal utility. A short time later, in August 1939, the TVA purchased TEPCO for $78.4 million.
Although TEPCO no longer existed, Guild retained control of the company's streetcar franchises in Chattanooga and Nashville, which he reorganized as the Southern Coach Lines. As president of this firm, he maintained the public transportation systems of these cities for several years and oversaw their conversion to bus service. He also remained active in Chattanooga's business community and served on the boards of many local corporations. He died in 1969 at the age of eighty-one after a colorful and controversial life.