The Black Business Association of Memphis, a leader in minority business growth and development for the city, has named Ernest Strickland as its new president and chief executive officer. He began his new job Thursday (April 1).
Strickland, who has served the Greater Memphis Chamber for the last 15 years – most recently as senior vice president for workforce development – brings extensive experience in economic development, along with hands-on practice as a business owner.
BBA’s new leader comes at a time when many minority businesses have closed permanently, locally and nationally due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Others continue to struggle to keep the doors open. Only a few are thriving.
“Ernest is the right man at the right time,” said former BBA president and CEO Mark Yates, now chairman of the BBA Board of Directors.
“He will ultimately take BBA to the next level.”
Strickland’s Chamber job provided networking opportunities with executives from top companies worldwide.
Traveling the globe representing Memphis allowed Strickland to see first-hand what businesses need to compete, not only in the city, but on an international scale as well.
His dealings frame his vision for the BBA going forward.
“There’s a heightened awareness and intentionality around the value of creating wealth in the African-American community,” Strickland said.
“When Memphis is able to speak to wealth creation, in addition to addressing poverty, we will shift the conversation and ultimately shift the outcomes. If we get this right, Memphis is a different city – a competitive city.”
Yates, who left the BBA in January to serve as regional vice president (West Region) for Tennessee Valley Authority, said Strickland’s skills in economic development – in a majority Black city – strengthen his understanding of what minority-owned businesses need to thrive.
His focus underscores talent, business acquisition and talent acquisition.
“At the heart of business is its people … its talent,” Strickland said.
The BBA, a 47-year-old organization, will provide enhanced coursework, networking support and one-on-one counseling for African-American professionals.
“In addition to developing the proper sales channel to position products and services in the market, a company’s success or failure, in large part, hinges on talent – specifically leadership talent,” said Strickland.
“We’re working to design next level leadership training for minority owners, managers and entrepreneurs. This training will include business acumen skills, executive presence and sales and conversation skills – to name a few.”
The BBA will also provide guidance to succession-challenged businesses.
Many minority and women-owned enterprises (MWBEs) are owned by baby boomers, according to Strickland.
“Working with our strategic partners, we’ll develop an ‘early warning network’ enabling us to begin conversations, in a timely manner, to properly plan and match these companies with Black entrepreneurs for acquisition.”
“Start-ups are great. However, we feel strongly that acquisitions represent an opportunity to accelerate MWBE business growth and success.”
In his Chamber role, Strickland recently managed a crisis for a Black-owned vaccination company in Memphis.
Ted Lyons, pharmacist and owner of ShotRX, contacted Strickland seeking advice on adding capacity, not only for vaccinating individuals against COVID-19, but providing much needed education, given vaccine hesitancy and traditional mistrust in the black community.
Strickland supported the company by activating his network and landing the owner an audience of key local officials responsible for delivering COVID-19 vaccines.
His effort resulted in a POD (point of dispensing) site at a Black church, reaching hundreds of citizens with both education and vaccinations.
Prior to joining the Chamber, Strickland, a native Memphian, owned and operated Investors First Realty, a residential real estate investment firm.
He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Memphis and an MBA from Bethel University.
Strickland serves on the Greater Memphis Workforce Board, the New Memphis Board of Trustees and Whole Child Strategies Board of Directors.
As the father of five children, including twin girls, Strickland also serves as manager or “Dad-ager” to rising Hip Hop/R&B singer Mille Manny of the single “Braid My Hair.”
“I see the world through a solutions-oriented point of view. Business enterprise represents one structure for solving problems. The owner (risk-taker) has an opportunity to be rewarded with profit, as well as the ultimate reward – community building,” Strickland said.
“This process – or better yet – this ‘journey’ is motivation for me,” Strickland said.