VOL. 132 | NO. 149 | Friday, July 28, 2017
Kim Cherry Invests in Culture and Community
Memphis stands at the threshold of incredible possibility. In this series, we introduce innovative Memphians who are driving our city forward and forging its future success.
What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question commonly asked of children, with a slate of common answers: doctor, teacher, astronaut.
Ask Kim Cherry, executive vice president of corporate communications at First Tennessee Bank, what she wanted to be when she grew up, and the answer is a bit less standard.
“I was in the ninth grade,” she says, “when I decided that I wanted to run corporate communications for First Tennessee.”
A daughter of two schoolteachers, Cherry had written a school term paper that came back with high praise. Hearing about the paper, her aunt told Cherry about her own career – managing corporate communications for First Tennessee. Looking up to her aunt – an independent, beautiful, intelligent woman – Cherry set her sights, “and lo and behold, all these years later, here I am.”
Cherry has been with First Tennessee for 31 years now. After starting as an intern, she has ascended the corporate ladder. She’s responsible for a team of people – “smart, interesting people who every day try to do the right things for the right reasons” – managing the company’s reputation, as it’s perceived by both existing and potential employees and customers.
“Our money is no greener than anyone else’s,” Cherry recognizes. What set the company apart, in her view, are the people – the human connections possible at a regional bank, and the strong internal culture that the company works to maintain.
Cherry is co-executive leader of First Tennessee’s culture council – a group that “takes inventory of the culture.” The council is composed of employees from diverse geographic areas, departments, backgrounds and degrees of seniority who gather to “talk about what’s working, what’s not, what we can do better.”
She mentions a facet of the company’s culture that sets it apart: be here now. A phrase borrowed from yogi Ram Dass’ 1971 book of the same name, be here now is a reminder at First Tennessee for team members to “be at home when we need to be at home, and at work when we need to be at work.” When her son, now 24, was born, Cherry was one of the bank’s first employees to telecommute a few days each week.
Cherry uses the expertise gleaned from her years at the bank to give back to the Memphis community in ways that align with her priorities. Passionate about financial literacy and empowerment, spirituality and sports, Cherry serves on the boards of Memphis Athletic Ministries, BRIDGES and Junior Achievement.
Financial literacy in particular is an area where she sees profound opportunity.
“Why aren’t we teaching reading, writing, arithmetic, and financial literacy?” she wonders, noting that Tennessee schools have made strides in the area in recent years.
But education isn’t confined to the typical school years, in Cherry’s “Presbyterian through-and-through” mindset. She’s finishing a master’s thesis at the University of Missouri School of Journalism – not for career advancement, but because continued learning “makes me a more informed representative of First Tennessee, and makes me a better mentor for young people.” And because, she says, “It’s just amazing what you can learn in the process of learning.”
At heart still the curious student who wrote a remarkable ninth-grade term paper, Cherry believes in learning as a perpetual process. And the company where she’s worked these 31 years evolves along with her.
“The culture will still exist 10 years from now, but it will evolve as the world changes and the industry changes.”
Cherry takes pride in the sterling reputation of First Tennessee – especially in a marketplace populated by ever more informed consumers and employees, where “more people have a voice, have a say, are able to influence behaviors and outcomes.”
Ninth-grade Kim Cherry could not have anticipated how the world of corporate communications would evolve, from snail mail to Snapchat, from fax machines to Facebook. But from her vantage today, Cherry sees endless possibilities – all while being here, now.
Kim Cherry is a graduate of the New Memphis Leadership Develop Intensive. Learn more at newmemphis.org.