A Stunning Success

Inaugural Ascend Regional Business Summit Convenes a Packed House

Collierville Chamber of Commerce hosted its first Ascend Regional Business Summit at Hilton Memphis on November 7 and found a ready and receptive audience of approximately 200 for the day’s full schedule of motivation and information.

Chamber CEO and President Mark Heuberger kicked off the event by welcoming attendees, thanking the Hilton for their hospitality and Alderman Missy Marshall for sponsoring the morning’s continental breakfast. He then offered words of appreciation to Dr. Mary McDonald of MCD Partners Consulting and Maureen Yarborough of Signs Matter, Inc. for spearheading the event. Heuberger promised a program that would run on-time and be full of useful information. His promise was fulfilled.

Dawn Graeter, President and CEO of Southern Security Federal Credit Union, the corporate presenter of the summit, took the podium to introduce keynote speaker Bill Courtney, Founder and CEO of Classic American Hardwoods, author and a central character of the 2012 Academy Award-Winning Documentary, Undefeated, the story of the Manassas High School football team’s unheralded rise from worst to best. Continuing to run Classic American Hardwoods, Courtney has taken his inspirational story and message to audiences across the country via his book, “Against the Grain,” his podcast (at one point ranked in the top ten Apple Podcasts in the nation) and countless speaking engagements and TV and radio interviews. Courtney’s keynote address was sponsored by The Farms at Bailey Station.

Courtney punctuated his inspiring message with humor and hard talk. Regaling the audience with stories of the Academy Awards and life in the limelight, he quickly pivoted to words that challenged each member of the audience to join “An Army of Normal People,” his oft-quoted term for everyday people who step up to take the mantel of dealing with issues that government and the national media exacerbated. He had tough words for what he called, “the cancellation of free speech,” but refrained from directly relating this to politics. He offered a wide range of issues, but all focused on the need for “An Army of Normal Folks” to step up and deal with lack of leadership, a decline in families, a lack of personal and national direction, and the need to find a better way for the nation’s future. He predicted a potential loss of our democracy if changes led directly by the “Army of Normal Folks” are not forthcoming. A standing ovation followed Courtney’s moving address.

Morning and afternoon panel discussions allowed attendees to hear personal accounts from local business leaders who have faced a wide range of challenges throughout their professional careers. The morning’s session, sponsored by Orgill, focused on “Leadership through Turbulent Times,” and hosted a panel that included Eric Barnes, CEO and Executive Editor of the Daily Memphian, Daphne Large, CEO of Data Facts; Herman Morris, attorney and former President of Memphis Light, Gas and Water, and Church Health Center’s CFO Jennie Robbins, who filled in for Dr. Scott Morris, MD, and CEO of Church Health. Dr. Mary McDonald, Founder and CEO of MCD Partners Consulting Firm, moderated the panel.

A three-course plated meal, curated by the Chef at Hilton Memphis, and sponsored by IMC, provided a delicious and needed break between the two panel discussions.

The afternoon session featured a discussion about “Resilience and Reinvention.” Led by Pearson Crutcher, Executive Director of The Society of Entrepreneurs, and sponsored by Baptist Memorial Hospital, the panel consisted of Carolyn Chism Hardy, President, Chism Hardy Investments; Joel Henry, CEO of IMC Companies; Ron Coleman, President of Competition Cams, and Mike Longo, CEO of Hibbett Sports.

          Both panel discussions laid open many of the difficult decisions faced by leaders today and provided the audience an inside look at the qualities of leadership through demanding challenges – from larger aspects of today’s economy to the specific points of dealing with employee issues.

The summit concluded with an afternoon networking reception, sponsored by Regions Bank.