WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
for a woman with a lifetime of achievement:
Beverly Robertson has dedicated her life to using positive, strategic power of communicating to grow historic local enterprises including, most recently, as the first woman and first African-American CEO and president of the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce.
Beverly grew up in Memphis, around Orange Mound, watching the Zippin Pippin roller coaster at Libertyland flash by on the horizon but not allowed to ride it except on Tuesdays.
She graduated from Melrose High and Memphis State. She used her special education major to teach for three years while also working at night for Holiday Inn Worldwide, one of the leading companies in Memphis and the nation at that time.
At Holiday Inn she completed an MBA-caliber executive leadership program offered by the Wharton School of Business and began to move through various areas of the corporation in 19 years, including a stint in New York City.
Beverly says, “I was always adventurous and never thought there was anything I couldn’t do – maybe brain surgery! But I never for a moment thought I couldn’t learn how to do something and do it extremely well.”
She was director of communications when the need to relocate came up after Holiday Inn was sold. She instead joined her husband Howard to transform his solo advertising business into TrusT Marketing in 1992. They were in their late 30s.
At this same time, the National Civil Rights Museum board was looking for its first director ahead of opening. Beverly was asked to lead the museum but said no and concentrated on getting Trust up and running.
Beverly was responsible for landing national accounts, such as the Promus Companies, Holiday Inn Worldwide, Midas International, Merrill Lynch, plus local clients including Memphis and Shelby County governments and Memphis Area Transit Authority.
That’s where she was when the founders of the six-year-old National Civil Rights Museum needed an interim executive director and asked her to step in “just for a while.” She agreed and soon the board asked her to lead the museum permanently.
Her tenure there is storied: she raised $43 million, which included the completion of an expansion of the Museum ($11 million) and a capital and endowment campaign ($32 million). In 2010, NCRM received recognition as one of the top ten national treasures by USA Today.
Beverly elevated the NCRM profile across the world. The local museum moved strategically to become an internationally important facility. Beverly grew the Freedom Awards into a global event with international stars and Hollywood celebrities on her list of invitees. A near-legendary story is told about her effort to bring South African president Nelson Mandela to Memphis — by flying there to personally invite him!
“Getting to know and walk beside some of the greatest human rights leaders in the world is no small act,” she says, “and that an institution in Memphis attracted the attention and respect of so many global leaders.”
She continued that leadership – as well as a long list of other community leadership roles – for 16 years before announcing her retirement in 2014.
She returned to TrusT Marketing and various community projects – but leaders of the Greater Memphis Chamber turned to her after the tragic murder of chamber CEO and president Phil Trenary. Again she agreed to step in “for a while” as interim leader of the traumatized staff.
She was the first African American and first woman in the position. She met individually with each Chamber employee and set out to bring neighborhood concerns closer to the government and business cornerstones of the Chamber.
In 2019 she was hired to serve as CEO and president of the Chamber. She was at the helm as COVID struck Memphis’ economy, workplaces and households and she was there when the Eliza Fletcher murder and a violent shooting spree across the city traumatized Memphis in September 2022. She made sure the mayor and police chief knew business leaders would engage toward positive change for all, having already fostered efforts after the George Floyd protests to align activists’ concerns and business goals toward a more diverse and trained workforce, a living wage, equitable contracting for minority- and women-owned businesses and community reinvestment and transportation,
Beverly left the Chamber at the end of last year, returning to TrusT Marketing, still engaged, ready to drive transformational change for her city’s future.
In 2020 Beverly joined Women of Achievement honorees Marilou Awiakta, Lois DeBerry and Maxine Smith on USA Today’s list of Tennessee’s Women of the Century. Today we honor her decades of leadership and devotion to the people of Memphis with the 2023 Women of Achievement award for Steadfastness.