Ted Townsend to succeed Beverly Robertson as president/CEO of Chamber

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Thursday, June 24, 2022) – Keeping ‘prosperity for all’ at the core of its mission, the Greater Memphis Chamber Board of Directors unanimously voted Thursday to name Chief Economic Development Officer Ted Townsend as President & CEO Beverly Robertson’s successor.

Robertson announced Thursday that she plans to leave the Chamber in December 2022 to return to TRUST Marketing, the business she started with her husband Howard Robertson.

“Beverly Robertson is an incredibly tough act to follow, but if there’s anyone who can carry forward her work to make Memphis more prosperous for all, it’s Ted Townsend.” Doug Browne, chairman of the Chamber’s board and president of Peabody Hotels & Resorts. “Ted has both the passion and the economic development experience to make Memphis one of the fastest-growing and prosperous cities in the nation. The board is 100% behind his vision to make our region an economic powerhouse.”

Since stepping into the role in 2018, Robertson has led the Chamber through two major crises – the tragic death of former president & CEO Phil Trenary and the Covid-19 pandemic – and reached two major milestones. In 2021, the 184-year-old Chamber celebrated its best year ever for economic development and – as a result of her extensive fundraising efforts – its best financial year ever.

“My tenure at the Chamber has occurred in the midst of protest, politics and the pandemic,” said Robertson, who is the Chamber’s first Black president and CEO. “I stepped into the organization at a critical time. This work was more of a mission than a job. But my administration has been marked by inclusion – on our staff, in our community, and in the diverse voices we’re listening to – and by an entrepreneurial spirit that has led me to launch initiatives that others may have never considered. I am so grateful for the relationships that I have built over the years, along with new ones that I have fostered. The work would not have been possible without their support.”

“We are very fortunate to have a deep bench when it comes to leadership at the Chamber,” Robertson continued. “Ted is a strong, skilled professional who deeply cares about Memphis and this team. He is an expert when it comes to economic development and he knows this community. I’m looking forward to his future leadership of the Chamber.”

Robertson’s work built on the legacy of former president and CEO Phil Trenary, who was a champion of inclusive economic and workforce development. She refocused the Chamber on public policy advocacy, economic development, and workforce development, and made ‘prosperity for all’ its watchword. She also r-ignited confidence in the work of the Chamber, engaged the community in the Chamber’s work and helped chart the strategic path for the future growth of the local and regional markets.

“After Phil’s death, the Chamber needed a leader with both a strong vision for this community and a deep compassion for an organization that had just suffered a tremendous loss,” said Richard W. Smith, president and CEO-elect of FedEx Express and past chairman of the Chamber’s Board of Directors. “We needed a champion to carry on the growth-focused ‘prosperity for all’ mission that Phil had started, and to build and improve upon it. Beverly was that champion. A trailblazer who became the right leader at the right time, she leaves our Chamber better than she found it. And I know Ted is determined to build on that solid foundation and not stop until Memphis is the city of choice for business. We are very fortunate to have our Chamber under the watchful eye of these two leaders.” 

Robertson said she plans to spend much of her remaining time raising $10 million to $15 million to fund the Chamber’s work, and especially its economic development work, which includes career preparation.

“Greater Memphis, the Chamber, and I all owe Beverly a debt of gratitude for the work she’s done to put inclusion and diversity at the heart of the Chamber’s work,” Townsend said. “In a majority-minority city, the only sustainable growth is inclusive growth, which is why we included bold minority inclusion goals in our recently announced Prosper Memphis 2030 plan to add 50,000 new, quality jobs.”

Townsend said his vision is to make the Chamber the No. 1 economic development organization in the nation and to make Greater Memphis a hub of inclusive growth.

“Memphis has momentum and it’s about to get even better,” Townsend said. “We have fully recovered the jobs we lost in the pandemic, we just had our best year ever for economic development, and we have more projects in our pipeline than ever before. A tsunami of opportunity is coming, and when it does, the Chamber will be leading the charge to make sure this prosperity is felt across Memphis.”

Townsend was instrumental in crafting the Chamber’s recently announced Prosper Memphis 2030 strategic growth plan, which includes priorities for the region and minority inclusion goals. The Chamber is leading a regional effort to add 50,000 jobs through 2030, with half of those jobs held by minorities. That work is already underway, thanks to Townsend, who played a key role in securing the single largest investment in Tennessee history in 2021: Ford and SK Innovation’s $5.6 billion investment in a 5,800-job electric vehicle manufacturing campus near Memphis known as BlueOval City.

A native Memphian, Townsend has more than a decade of economic development experience.

After receiving his B.A. in Organizational Leadership from the University of Memphis, he successfully co-founded startup arGentis Pharmaceuticals LLC and served as its chief operating officer from 2005-2011. He then served in multiple positions at the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development from 2011-2018, including as deputy commissioner and chief operating officer, and helped Tennessee win State of the Year awards for its economic development prowess multiple times. In 2018, Townsend became the UofM’s first chief economic development officer and served as its government relations officer as well, leading the university in securing $45.9 million for various projects.

In 2020, Robertson worked with former UofM president David Rudd to allow Townsend to jointly serve as chief economic development officer of the Chamber. He fully transitioned to the Chamber in 2021.

Aside from Smith, below are statements from other executives on the transition:

  • Randy Boyd, president of the University of Tennessee and former commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development: “Many of Tennessee's most significant economic development projects during the past decade have Ted Townsend's fingerprints on them. Speaking from personal experience, Ted combines a natural gift for leadership with a profound understanding of what it takes to win jobs and investments. There's no better choice to lead the growth of Greater Memphis.”
  • Kayla Rodriguez Graff, co-founder and CEO of medical device company SweetBio, Inc.: “When we were considering where to locate our company's headquarters, Ted Townsend's fierce advocacy for Memphis and his vision for our city's future played a significant role in our selection of the University of Memphis Research Park. Over the years, Ted's leadership has unlocked significant opportunities for our entrepreneurial community and having someone of his caliber leading the Chamber will be invaluable to the growth of our region.”

About the Greater Memphis Chamber: One of Memphis’ oldest institutions, dating back to 1838, the Greater Memphis Chamber is a privately funded nonprofit that serves as the region’s lead economic development organization and the “Voice of Memphis Business” on local, state, and national issues. The Chamber’s mission is to relentlessly pursue prosperity for all — through economic and workforce development, pro-growth advocacy, and by providing support and resources to its investors, which include many of the region’s largest employers. For more information about the Chamber, visit memphischamber.com and memphismoves.com. Also, follow the Chamber on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram, and sign up for its weekly newsletter, Memphis Fourword.