Beverly Robertson

By Tribune Staff

NASHVILLE, TN — Beverly Robertson has played an active role for many years in ensuring that Black history be meticulously and accurately compiled, and publicly presented. Now she making it. Robertson has been named interim chief executive officer of the Greater Memphis Chamber following the sudden death of Phil Trenary. She becomes the first Black woman to hold this position.

While she has initially agreed to hold the job for one year, Robertson could remain in the position for an additional two or three years. She will be part-time through the end of 2018, then take over full time in January. She was recommended by Nike executive and chamber Vice Chairman Willie Gregory.

“It just felt right for our situation at the chamber that Beverly would be the one to bring us together,” Gregory told the Memphis Commercial Appeal.  They served 13 years together on the Civil Rights Museum board. His sentiments were echoed by Rose Jackson Flenori, who also spent years working with her on the board. She added the chamber “got it right” with this appointment. 

Darrell Cobbins, who sits on both the boards of the chamber and museum, said Robertson’s leadership had been critical to the museum’s evolution into one of the nation’s finest. “That’s (its position and stature) clearly a testament to her leadership,” Cobbins said. “We didn’t get here without her.”

“If past performance is any indication of future performance, she is a proven leader,” said Mark Yates, chief visionary officer of the Black Business Association of Memphis. “It’s that mix of experience as a corporate employee, a community leader and a business owner that makes Robertson able to understand the needs of all the kinds of business leaders she will represent in her new role,” Yates continued.

Robertson spent nearly 20 years as head of the museum. During that time she welcomed such major national and international figures as the Dalai Lama, Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell and former President Bill Clinton. She also led a fundraising effort for more than $43 million to renovate the museum. That resulted in more than 40 new films, oral histories and interactive exhibits being added to the museum’s already impressive array of items.

She was even able to personally persuade former South African President Nelson Mandela to fly to Memphis and accept the Freedom Award in 2000. Her tireless work helped keep the Museum distinct and relevant despite the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. Robertson’s efforts ensured that it would still be a viable cultural site and a prime tourist attraction.

“When it was time for her to transition out of her role (at the National Civil Rights Museum), she was big on succession planning when her time was up,” added Lori Spicer-Robertson, chief communications and engagement officer for the United Way of the Mid-South. “I can appreciate that in any leader. That takes vulnerability and that take emotional intelligence. She can definitely be the person to sit at the helm to advance the work of the chamber.”

In addition, Robertson has also had an active role in helping find and develop future leaders through Trust Marketing, the public relations firm she runs with her husband Howard. In her Trust Marketing position, Robertson has planned and managed the chamber’s Ascend Business Development Program. Ascend pairs minority and women small business owners with leaders at large corporations for a 12-month mentoring program that was crafted to aid the growth and development of small businesses. 

Before working for the museum, Robertson started her corporate career at Holiday Inn. She began there as a part-time reservations agent while also working as an elementary school teacher. She left teaching when she moved into a management training program for the hotel chain. By the time she left the company 19 years later, she had worked her way up to director of communications for Holiday Inn Worldwide.

Now she continues her trailblazing career in this new position as head of the Greater Memphis Chamber.