CA: Chamber grooming next generation of business leaders
The next generation of business leaders is gaining wider access to executive suites through a Greater Memphis Chamber outreach to young professionals.
The program, called SoundCheck, was created two years ago to be a self-guided effort to groom millennials for business and community leadership in the years ahead.
It has grown to more than 200 people, mostly in their late 20s to early 30s, providing opportunities to interact with movers and shakers and get involved in shaping and carrying out the chamber’s civic agenda.
Officials say SoundCheck satisfies the millennial’s yearning to make a difference while helping companies and young professionals bridge a generational divide. It provides a sounding board for businesses and the chamber to better connect with young professionals while giving participants insight into corporate decision-making.
“The biggest thing is, we’re getting involved,” said Caleb Park, 27, an account executive with Nextech Solutions, a staffing provider in Germantown.
Chamber president Phil Trenary sees SoundCheck as both a resource for the chamber and business executives and a springboard for participants.
SoundCheck’s chairwoman, Anna Cardona, sits on the chamber’s Chairman’s Circle, a group of about 120 executives working to carry out community-oriented Moon Missions including workforce development and beautification.
SoundCheck’s “Corner Office” series regularly invites smaller groups into offices of executives like Richard Smith, FedEx Express vice president of global trade services; Carolyn Hardy, chief executive officer of Chism Hardy Investments and chamber chairwoman; and Calvin Anderson, senior vice president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee.
Southwest Airlines flew six SoundCheck members to Dallas for a behind-the-scenes headquarters tour in October. Next up is an audience Wednesday with Jason Wexler, Memphis Grizzlies president of business operations.
When chamber officials traveled to New York last fall to recruit young professionals, they made sure SoundCheck was represented, by Frankie Dakin of the New Memphis Institute and Patrick “Trey” Carter, president of Olympic Career Training Institute.
Members rolled up their sleeves for a litter cleanup in Orange Mound and Downtown as part of the chamber’s quest to restore Memphis to its one-time status as one of America’s cleanest cities. They participated in sessions with City Council members and the chamber’s JOBS PAC.
SoundCheck is working with the chamber to publish a young professional’s guide to Memphis next year, chamber communications director Christina Meek said.
Meek and public affairs consultant Kerry Hayes came up with the idea for SoundCheck.
“We both were thinking there needed to be a young professionals’ business group, around the same time that the Chairman’s Circle came into existence,” Meek said. The Chairman’s Circle is an effort to harness the business community to tackle some of Memphis’ most pressing issues through initiatives called Moon Missions.
SoundCheck has no age restrictions but is aimed at ages 21-45, Meek said. A basic membership costs $25, and a Chairman’s Outer Circle membership is $250.
There are all-member events like a holiday mixer coming up Dec. 1. About once a month, the chamber recruits Chairman’s Circle members to host Corner Office events and signs up a limited number of members on a first-come, first-served basis, Meek said.
Park said he went with an Outer Circle membership because he wanted more direct interaction with older executives.
“I have personally always been a big fan of meeting with people a generation or so older than me. I like people my own age, but we are kind of like the blind leading the blind sometimes. (The Chairman’s Circle) is a bunch of big leaders in Memphis, the guys and gals that are killing it out there. I wanted to be involved with them.”
Cardona, who is in her 30s, said executives provide members “pearls of wisdom that can be used throughout their lives.”
Cardona is interior design project manager at First Tennessee Bank. She found Southwest Airlines’ corporate culture to be progressive, like her employer’s, but she picked up some new ideas, including a Southwest department solely devoted to taking care of employees such as remembering birthdays and other milestones and sending care packages to veterans.
Anderson, co-chairman of the Chairman’s Circle and title sponsor of SoundCheck, said the group’s idea to pay for a membership in the Chairman’s Circle was a great example of SoundCheck setting its own agenda.