The name Beverly Robertson answers who has been named interim president and chief executive officer of the Greater Memphis Chamber. The person that Robertson is – and long has been – speaks to the quality of the choice.
The selection of Robertson, who worked for Holiday Inn Worldwide for 19 years and is former president of the National Civil Rights Museum, was made by the chamber’s board of directors and officially announced Wednesday morning.
Robertson formally steps into the position in January 2019 and is set to serve for one year. She is stepping up in the wake of the death of Phil Trenary, who was killed downtown on Sept. 27 in a robbery as he was walking home from a chamber-sponsored event.
During an embargoed conference call with The New Tri-State Defender on Tuesday afternoon, Robertson, 66, said several factors were involved in her decision to accept the interim president/CEO responsibility at the Greater Memphis Chamber – the private, non-profit, membership-driven organization viewed as the lead economic development agency for Memphis/Shelby County.
“I’m a native Memphian and I love my city,” said Robertson, who will become the first female to serve as Greater Memphis Chamber president.
Noting that it is “very challenging for many minority businesses to survive,” Robertson said the chamber is uniquely positioned to have a positive role in turning the challenge into a plus for the city.
“Transformative change is possible and the chamber has a great opportunity to affect transformative change in this regard,” she said.
Robertson emphasized her determination to build on what Trenary started in terms of looking for ways to widen the range of businesses the chamber serves and involving the community in growing businesses and commerce.
“In addition to her extensive experience at the helm of an internationally recognized nonprofit organization, Beverly’s leadership experience in both corporate America and small business make her a perfect fit for the organization,” Richard W. Smith, chairman of the chamber and president and CEO, FedEx Trade Networks, Inc., said during the conference call interview.
“She understands the needs of our membership and our community and we believe she is the right person at the right time to continue the work that we’ve started,” Smith said. “Our city has tremendous momentum and I expect under Beverly’s watch, the Chamber will continue to be a strong voice of positive change in our community.”
Smith said he was “laser focused” on finding someone for the CEO position that would send the right message to the community as far as how hard the chamber is working to include minorities, women and other groups. He said Robertson is a marketing person at heart and what the chamber needs is to, “sell a vision to a market. That’s what a marketing person does.”
Robertson said in the small business sector, young entrepreneurs, especially millennials, “are starting new businesses that are growing by leaps and bounds.”
Robertson worked at Holiday Inn Worldwide for 19 years in a diverse range of positions. Upon leaving corporate America, she was asked to become interim executive director of the National Civil Rights Museum and ultimately spent over 17 years as museum leader and president.
She raised over $43 million during her tenure and guided the annual Freedom Awards to global prominence, including visiting President Nelson Mandela in his South African home to personally appeal to him to attend the ceremony. Under her leadership, the museum achieved world-class status, becoming accredited by the American Association of Museums, being voted one of the Top Ten Treasures in America by USA Today and one of the World’s Top 10 Most Iconic Sites.
“I love my city and I believe that Memphis’ best days are ahead,” Robertson said in the release detailed her appointment to the Greater Memphis Chamber position. “I am honored to work with the strong leadership team that Phil put in place at the Chamber and I look forward to working in collaboration with our business and government leaders, helping to retain and attract good jobs and to help the Chamber realize one of its primary goals of opportunity for all.”
Robertson completed the Executive Leadership and Management Graduate level program through the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and she completed the prestigious Getty Museum Leadership Institute in Los Angeles.
She serves on a number of community and national boards and works with a diverse range of nonprofits across Memphis and the surrounding communities.
She and her husband, Howard, have three adult children and one granddaughter.