With a background as an educator, corporate executive, entrepreneur and nonprofit director, Beverly Robertson has delved into every facet of Memphis’ workforce. She rose from a part-time reservations agent at Holiday Inn to become the company’s Director of Internal and External Communications. When the hotel chain moved its headquarters to Atlanta, Beverly and husband Howard realized the time was right to transfer their knowledge to their own company, TRUST Marketing & Communications. Not long after, she was asked to take on leadership of the National Civil Rights Museum, where she spent 18 years and made a dramatic positive impact on the institution. This rich and distinct range of experiences made Beverly uniquely qualified to take on her newest role as interim CEO of the Greater Memphis Chamber, the advocacy and leadership organization for the Memphis business community. Meet this week’s accomplished FACE of Memphis, Beverly Robertson!
Where were you born and what was your upbringing like?
I was born in Memphis, TN. It was a wonderful upbringing, very much anchored spiritually in the church. We went to the church right down the street, so it was hard for us not to go. We couldn’t make up excuses about that. I was really in the Orange Mound community, the Beltline sector, so I was very close to the Coliseum and the stadium and the fairgrounds. I had all of those things to look forward to. I was the first graduating class at Hanley Elementary, which was newly built at the time, and then I went on to Melrose High School.
What were your first expectations of your career path?
I went to the University of Memphis, where I actually majored in special education. I taught school for three years, then left there to work for Holiday Inn Worldwide. I’d gotten accepted at Columbia University in New York to pursue a vocational rehab degree, and New York went bankrupt the year I was going to go, so I ended up coming back to Memphis. I started a pretty significant rise there in corporate America at Holiday Inn.
What drew you to the marketing industry?
When I was in corporate and I moved out of reservations, I moved into a management training program where I had the opportunity to work in marketing research and development, national advertising, national promotions and eventually worked in strategic planning on the sub and separate brands you now know of as Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza and Homewood Suites. Marketing was fascinating, and it was steeped in research, which I always find very interesting.
What motivated you and your husband to create your own path in the industry?
We were on a business trip in Florida. We were walking on the beach, and we had this conversation. We’re lending all this expertise — of course, for which we get paid — but if we can do it for corporate America, certainly we can do it for ourselves. We got the bug to become entrepreneurs at that very moment, and decided that because I had a lot of experience in a whole lot of areas, having worked in corporate America for about 19 years, and he had a lot of experience in the media and broadcast industry, because he worked for radio and television, that’s a really great combination for a business.
What were your primary goals when you took on leadership at the National Civil Rights Museum?
When I stepped in to that job, the museum was really more of a local museum. It just didn’t seem appropriate to fit the moniker — the National Civil Rights Museum. For me, one of my goals was to elevate the standing of the institution to where it belonged.
I decided it was important to bring Nelson Mandela to Memphis, and that was a road that I had no idea I was going to go down or that it was going to be quite that difficult. But we achieved that goal.
It took me a while to convince the board that we needed to launch a campaign, and they started with $10 million, and I said that’s never going to do. When I left, I had raised $33 million; $28 million of that was to pay off the renovation, the other $5 or $6 million that we raised was to seed an endowment that we had never had before.
Having seen the National Civil Rights Museum’s journey to an international destination, what do you feel the museum adds specifically to the Memphis character?
It captures an important segment of Memphis history. The sanitation workers’ strike made Memphis the epicenter of the nation during the time the strike took place. It adds a deep-seated historical perspective of the movement and Memphis’ place in the movement. That’s significant because there is no other institution here or elsewhere that does that.
Business growth is critical to Memphis’ success, but it does risk leaving some citizens behind. How can the Chamber influence inclusive progress?
We traditionally have viewed the Chamber as an organization that’s a two-legged stool: government and business. But where is the role of the community? All of us have a role to play if we want Memphis to grow and to prosper, all of us need to be working together to make that happen.
There’s a lot of work that we will be engaged in over this year, and you’ll be able to see how the community will buy in. This has got to be something that everybody begins to feel. Crime goes down, poverty goes down, new businesses want to come, people thrive in this marketplace, and people smile and are happy again. What we’re doing is giving people hope, and that’s what I’d like to see us do more of in conjunction with business, government and community. I think that’s the winning combination.
What is your biggest personal goal for 2019?
In the middle of all of things that I have on my plate, I’ve got to commit to taking better care of myself. I’m a visionary and a person who says that nothing is impossible, and so not only do I say it, I act in that way, so I work very hard. That kind of work ethic requires something and takes something out of you, too. I’ve got to learn to add much more balance, personally.
What makes you most proud of Memphis?
Really, the growth and the change that I’ve seen reflected in everything that is happening now — there is a feeling that people have never had about Memphis. The excitement of having that fresh new energy, new eyes looking at Memphis through a new lens, new leadership. Gosh, what’s not to love about Memphis?!
What is your best advice?
You’ve never lived a perfect day until you’ve done something for someone they could never do for themselves.
Other than big things like faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
The ability to nurture and create broader relationships and connect with people, the ability to travel and meet lots of new people and go lots of new places and an understanding of the political nuances of this or any job
Thank you, Beverly! To learn more about Beverly and her work with the Greater Memphis Chamber, visit memphischamber.com.
And thank you to Mary Kate Steele of Mary Kate Steele Photography for these fabulous images of Beverly!
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