Community Oasis

Cover story for The Memphis News

Oct. 19, 2013

Memphis Botanic Garden turns 60 with big projects on horizon

A visitor walking the winding, sun-dappled paths of Memphis Botanic Garden past stands of maple trees and beds of hydrangeas might never guess that there was a time when a black cloud hung low over the East Memphis attraction.

Students from Faith Christian School take part in the Memphis Botanic Garden’s pond ecology class, one of many activities at the 60-year-old garden.

(Photo: Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

The area was established as the Ketchum Memorial Iris Garden in 1953. The Memphis City Council officially designated its 96 acres on the eastern edge of Audubon Park as Memphis Botanic Garden in 1966. It was a time that saw a land rush of sorts when federal money in the 1960s and 1970s made possible the acquisition and development of more than 2,500 acres for 50 parks in the city.

By 2004, reliance on low revenue-generating attractions and events, and dwindling city resources, had put the garden in an arrested state of development. The garden, having just celebrated its half-century anniversary, was a rudderless ship.

“We were in crisis mode, no doubt,” said Gary Wunderlich, founder of Wunderlich Securities and Memphis Botanic Garden board president at the time. “There was a vacuum of leadership, (we) had very talented people who probably weren’t as well organized and they really needed a leader.”

The search committee enlisted the help of Allie and Barbara Prescott to “figure out a plan and really define what type of person we needed to lead the organization,” Wunderlich said.

It was an extensive search process with hundreds of resumes submitted, and a dozen candidates interviewed individually until it came down to just two people. One had a green thumb with horticulture background credentials as a gardener. The other was Jim Duncan.

Duncan grew up in Itta Bena, Miss., graduated from nearby University of Mississippi and came to Memphis to coach high school basketball and football. After eight years on sidelines and in locker rooms, he accepted a position in pharmaceutical sales and gained a reputation for turning things around under adverse circumstances. He was just what the demoralized team at the Garden needed: a combination business manager and coach.

Wunderlich said that, in Duncan, the search committee found “the guy who we thought could inspire the talented people that were already there, more of a sales and management background to organize the organization, if you will, motivate the people that were there.”

Duncan himself remembers it as a time of frustration, a “vicious circle” with cost-cutting measures having been put into place in the form of staff layoffs and eradicated programs. The garden was $600,000 in debt with a staff of only 19, and a total membership count of 809 families. There was no money for expansion and not enough gardeners then to keep up with general maintenance of the grounds, damaging the very reason for the garden’s existence.

He looked immediately to the assets the gardens had, what was controllable, and began capitalizing on the earned income component with an eye toward making the operation self-sustainable and not having to go to the community with hat in hand. “It was difficult, with the garden’s status being what it was then, to ask people for money simply because, as we said, we really hadn’t earned the right at that time to ask for donations,” Duncan said.

With a quick glance at the shelves in Duncan’s office, a visitor will find no books on botany yet plenty on finance and economics. He and his staff began running the garden as a business, developing a revenue sheet – still in use today – where every department is listed with each year’s revenue compared to the previous year. The expectation is to increase income by department year in and year out.

“There is such a thing as profit in a nonprofit,” he said. “The difference is that, instead of in corporate America, where the profit is distributed among the stockholders, here, any profit that was made was sunk back into the garden in order to make our place better.”

A profit and loss statement is run for every event, no matter the size – from Live at the Garden, the seasonal outdoor concert series and the operation’s largest event seeing 6,000 guests per show, to weekly wine tastings to each individual wedding . . . (read more)


Diverse corporate experience leads Crosby to form PeopleCap

Memphis Standout profile for The Memphis Daily News

Oct. 18, 2013

Meg Crosby’s career might be summed up as an exercise in adaptation.

A principal with the boutique human resources firm PeopleCap, Crosby left her hometown of Memphis for college at the University of Richmond for a double major in English and interpersonal communications. Her pragmatic father insisted on throwing some business courses into the mix.

“My dad felt it was quite important for me to take some accounting and finance and econ, so by the time I took his required classes I had a minor,” she said.

After graduation, she returned home to work as the membership and development coordinator for the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.

A longing to live in New York, though, found her working for an investment bank there three years later. Working her way from planning special events into the human resources department, she eventually ran the undergraduate analyst program, a two-year program for those on the way to graduate school. She managed the program for three years, taking it from a national to a global scope, and from hiring 40 undergraduates a year to about 200.

In 1999, Crosby was approached by a friend in Los Angeles about heading up the human resources department for a 40-employee startup.

“It was a time in my life where I just thought, ‘Why not?’” she said. “I had this overwhelming sense that technology was going to be the hallmark of our generation, and I really was excited to be a part of it and to figure out what was going on out there.”

In 2003, that startup was bought by Google, which then had a staff of about a thousand employees. Crosby was the first human resources generalist hired in a department of 14.

“Six years later when I left, the employee population was 25,000, and the HR department had a thousand people in it.”

“It was awesome,” she says of her time with Google. “It was like being a part of history, and it was incredible working with such talented, smart people. I think, if anything, that experience taught me to think big. … It was a culture of ‘yes.’”

During that period, she married Scott Crosby, an attorney with Burch, Porter & Johnson PLLC, and moved back to Memphis while continuing to telecommute, including a lot of travel, for Google. In 2008, son Tom was born, and she left Google with the intent of taking a hiatus from her career for a couple of years.

It may have been two of the busiest years of her life. She and Scott were recruited as co-chair for the final stages of the campaign push to build The Salvation Army’s Kroc Center. The couple also opened The Brass Door, the Irish pub Downtown at 152 Madison Ave . . . (read more)


Meyers returns to roots at Glankler Brown

Law Talk profile for The Memphis Daily News

Oct. 17, 2013

Robert Meyers has joined Glankler Brown PLLC as a member, and it isn’t his first time around this block. He worked for the firm as a newly licensed attorney right out of law school.

He’s returned, he said, because clients were asking for more work that was “outside of the traditional four corners of labor and employment law,” which he practices, and he was looking for a full-service practice to offer the additional tools and expertise required to meet those needs.

“So many of the people are still the same and the culture is essentially the same now as when I left,” he said of his return to Glankler Brown.

“So many of the people are still the same and the culture is essentially the same now as when I left.”

– Robert Meyers
Member, Glankler Brown PLLC

With his father in the Army at the time, Meyers was born in France and spent years moving around France and Germany, with a stint at the Memphis Defense Depot along the way. When it came time to settle down, the family moved back to Memphis, where they’d bought a house years before, and 14-year-old Meyers went to Bishop Byrne High School.

He attended the University of Tennessee-Martin for a bachelor’s degree in chemistry with a minor in philosophy. The plan was to enter anesthesia school, which required he enroll in nursing school. He did so at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in nursing.

For two years, Meyers worked in critical care settings, yet “abandoned that dream for a new dream of going to law school,” he said. He left Memphis for Knoxville and the University of Tennessee College of Law.

“It had to do with being more independent, charting my own course,” he said of his career switch. “I felt that, as a lawyer, I would ultimately have more autonomy, and at the same time, it would give me the thing that I liked most about nursing, and that was that I could help people.”

When he graduated in 1986, it was back to Memphis and round one with Glankler Brown. After three years, the nomadic Meyers joined the Hardison Law Firm PC for four years, then spent another four at Spicer Flynn & Rudstrom. A decade was spent at the Memphis office of Littler Mendelson PC, where he developed his specialties of labor and employment law, civil rights defense and workers’ compensation defense . . . (read more)


Smith finds design passion in helping communities

Feature profile for Emphasis: Architects & Engineers in The Memphis Daily News

Oct. 12, 2013

When reflecting on why he chose to become an architect, Stewart Smith tells a story of his father who could draw and had an industrial design background.

Smith became intrigued with the drawing and enjoyed the activity himself. But he also talks of a childlike draw to Mike Brady, patriarch of “The Brady Bunch.”

“He was an architect and he had the cool clothes and he had a great family,” Smith said. “He was smart and all these sorts of things, so that was a little bit of influence.”

His main influence, however, was a family friend who was an architect and who designed the Smiths’ home in Lebanon, Mo. At the impressionable age of 13, Smith watched those architectural drawings go from concept to reality, and it is something that has stuck with him.

“It’s probably a little bit of everything, but that’s how I got excited about it,” he said.

Now an architect with A2H, Smith is working on a high school in Ripley, Tenn., Federal Emergency Management Agency shelters in six elementary schools in DeSoto County, and medical facilities throughout Memphis, including a clinic for the Baptist Medical Group at the site of the old post office on Union Avenue in Midtown.

A2H works on a broad range of projects, from fire stations to Downtown renovations, but for Smith, his passion lies in those that help communities. It’s a philosophy of his, and one he shares with A2H.

“What they really care about and strive for is creating an enhanced quality of life for the client and communities,” he said.

That drive took him out of Lebanon, with its population just more than 5,000, and on to Kansas State University for a Bachelor of Architecture. Upon graduation, he took a job with HOK Sport and worked on ballparks for the Chicago White Sox (U.S. Cellular Field) and Baltimore Orioles (Camden Yards). He then went back to school for his Master of Architecture from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, graduating in 1994.

He moved to Atlanta at the time when that city was building up its Summer Olympics venues . . . (read more)


W.H. Porter Consultants treats engineering like art

Small Business Spotlight for The Memphis Daily News

Oct. 12, 2013

You might not recognize it as such, yet every day in Shelby County thousands of people pass by, or over, the work of W.H. Porter Consultants PLLC.

William Porter (left) with partner Matt Bingham in W.H. Porter’s conference room.

(Photo: Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

The engineering consulting firm has been in business since 1946 when William Porter, then with the Corps of Engineers and having just returned from Italy after World War II, partnered with W.S. Pigott to found Pigott & Porter Engineers. Pigott retired 20 years later and Porter’s son, William “Butch” Porter, took over the business in 1980.

The long history certainly speaks to the quality work handled by Porter and his team of engineers, but it’s the work itself that underscores the success. Porter calls it a “boutique company” that concentrates in civil engineering and surveying specializing, in part, in transportation engineering for the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The HOV lanes on Interstate 40 was a 9.5-mile project with five interchanges.

The I-240/I-40 flyover is impressive as well, rolling up from the asphalt like a tidal wave to move travelers seamlessly in all directions. But it may be the more subdued, picturesque Wolf River Boulevard extension that Porter takes the most pride in. His company furnishes design services to local municipalities and this included the engineering and environmental work on that bucolic road through Germantown. It was recently designated a Certified Signature Sanctuary by Audubon International.

From Audubon International’s website: “The roadway is the first roadway in the world to earn certification in the prestigious Audubon International Signature Program. The goal for the Wolf River Boulevard project team was to design and construct the roadway to limit the impacts to adjacent aquatic systems and wildlife habitat, as well as to promote wildlife habitat connectivity.”

To hear Porter talk about the work done with its challenges and rewards is to hear someone at the top of his game describe the creation of nothing less than a work of art. “We worked on that a long time, but we finally got a beautiful road out there,” he said.

It’s a business of details and the engineers must complete their due diligence when they move into any area for construction. On a recent job of a new 1,000-foot bridge over the Loosahatchie River at Raleigh-Millington Road for Memphis and Shelby County, they had to conduct studies on the endangered Indiana bat.

“We did find out a secret: if you don’t have any scaly-bark hickory trees, you don’t have any Indiana bats,” he said. “So that saved us about a year.” . . . (read more)


Ritchey’s business helps runners reach finish line

Memphis Standout profile for The Memphis Daily News

Oct. 11, 2013

Odds are great that if you know somebody in Memphis who runs, they got their start with Star Ritchey, who has found runaway success with her personal running and training program, Star Runners.

By her calculations, Ritchey has guided some 400 clients to reaching their goal of reaching a finish line.

Though she’d always been fit, Ritchey didn’t enter the subculture of running fanatics early on. She wasn’t a cross-country star in high school but instead got into it almost as an afterthought in her 20s.

“I just decided with a group of girlfriends that we were going to start running, and we did,” she said. “We ran the Cooper-Young 4-miler that year.”

Four miles became a half-marathon, and a hobby became a career.

“I tend to like to research, so I really got involved in researching our plan, and that got me hooked on running and the science behind running,” Ritchey said.

The group, it seemed, was her rock, and it not only got her into the sport but helped her keep up with it. It’s a model she has used with Star Runners, whose participants are easy to spot at area 5K races, thanks to dressing in matching T-shirts and posing in group photos.

“We’re really big on team support, team morale,” Ritchey said. “No. 1, it’s important to me that everyone feels like they’re part of the family. We try really hard to, whether you’re a beginner running your first three miles or a marathoner on your second marathon, we want everyone to feel equal. So we work really hard on that.”

The Star Runners training method is race-focused, with clients working toward the goal of a particular race or series of races. This time of year is marathon training. Four years ago, her first year in business, Ritchey trained five runners for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon and 20 for the half-marathon. This year she has 30 and 80, respectively.

But it isn’t only longer distances, and when the group meets three times per week, assignments are given – with some runners taking shorter routes and others longer, depending on what their training calls for and where their comfort levels lie.

Be sure, however, that Ritchey will take runners out of their comfort levels. That’s where her husband, Keith, a medical sales representative and business partner, helps out by playing the “good cop” to her “bad cop” role . . . (read more)


Memphis in Motion

Feature story for Cloud 9 (the in-flight magazine for SeaPort Airlines)

Fall 2013

Building on its multi-layered history, business-friendly background and rich cultural heritage, Memphis pushes forward into the 21st century

Thanks to its convenient geographic placement, Memphis is known as “America’s Distribution Center.” With the busiest cargo airport in the country, five intermodal railroad facilities, the fourth largest inland port in the country,and its place on Interstate 40 as it bisects the country, Memphis has made a business out of moving all manner of raw goods,manufactured products, food, supplies and people from place to place.

But the most influential product distributed may be homegrown: Memphis culture.

The city’s founders set Memphis up as a grid atop the Chickasaw Bluff. Organized around four public parks, it looked out over the Mississippi River and the floodplains of Arkansas across the way. That grid was meant to evoke orderliness—these were businessmen, and they had businesslike dreams for their new venture.

But Memphis would not know order. It would fall under siege by the North early in the Civil War, be overtaken by the yellow fever more than once, and it would go bankrupt and lose its charter with the state. It would act as fuse for the Civil Rights movement, and home to the tragedy that would reverberate throughout the nation and pull the city apart, a tragedy that would forever be associated with Memphis . . . (read more; pg. 49)




New normal sometimes doesn’t seem so normal

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Oct. 10, 2013

New normal sometimes doesn’t seem so normal

I was driving around town on a pristine fall day with the windows down and the wind blowing through what hair I have left. My arm rested on the door, and the sun warmed my face. I was just a guy enjoying the day, listening to the radio and pretending like there wasn’t a minivan full of children behind me.

When a Van Halen song came on, I did what anyone who came of age during the 1980s would do: I clicked that little volume button on the steering wheel until Eddie Van Halen’s guitar screamed from the three speakers that still work.

But wait: In the ’80s we would have twisted a knob on the radio to get such distortion. I miss that, and it’s something my kids may never know. There’s something immensely satisfying about turning that knob up to 11. My kids don’t even know that there is an 11; they have yet to see “This Is Spinal Tap.”

What else won’t they know? The anxiety over leaving the house and missing an urgent phone call, the thrill of seeing a movie in the theater knowing that it may be the one and only time, or that happy moment of dialing in a radio station and hearing a favorite song. Their movies and music are on demand these days, all right on their telephones.

But what in their day-to-day lives did I never experience growing up? The other morning there was some confusion at the school’s doors, students and parents pooling up outside as though negotiating a traffic jam. It was metal detector day. That’s something I never knew as a child. It was a seemingly random morning and, as they filed in, every fifth child or so was singled out to have a wand waved from head to toe.

This isn’t the school’s fault. and it isn’t the district’s fault; they’re charged with keeping our kids safe, and this is how it’s done in the 21st century. Still, it’s unnerving to see your second-grader stand there while someone checks to see if she packed a weapon along with her lizard diorama and lunchbox.

This is the age we live in. Already this school year, there has been a gun brought to school by a kindergartner, and at my own kids’ middle school, one student was turned in by another for having a knife.

Those were things I didn’t even consider growing up, but it was a scene last week handled with such nonchalance by the students involved — “Oh, it’s metal detector day” — that it’s evident it’s become the norm.

In my day, the only metal detected was heavy, and it was from Van Halen, Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard. The duo of Smith & Wesson was as removed from my imagination as a minivan. And while I do envy some of the things our kids have access to these days — movies, television and music at will via computers and smartphones — I do not envy them, at their age, the access to 24-hour news, early morning searches or the very real possibility of an assault on more than just their eardrums.

Permanent link to The Commercial Appeal 


Lewis flies unique path to legal career

Law Talk profile for The Memphis Daily News

Oct. 10, 2013

When Russell Lewis IV entered the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, he had no plans to become a practicing attorney.

Though fascinated with law, he instead wanted the critical-thinking education that such study provides.

“I had an idea that I would be able to use that in a corporate setting to be a better manager or executive,” he said.

The Crossville, Tenn., native had graduated from Tennessee Technical University with a Bachelor of Science in finance and stayed on for an Master of Business Administration. While in law school, though, he participated in mock trial and moot court, experiences that changed his career path.

“I really found that it was very satisfying,” he said.

After graduating from law school in 2005, Lewis went out on his own, “doing basically anything I could do,” he said. In contrast to his friends and colleagues who were working for large firms, concentrating on one area day in and day out, Lewis found himself having to figure out the different areas of law and how to handle a case from beginning to end.

“It was definitely challenging at the time, but I feel like it served me well because I had no choice but to make it all the way through the process,” he said. “I was in the trenches, learning as I went.”

Two years later, Lewis became connected with the Johnson Law Group, a Houston-based firm that practices in general civil litigation, focusing especially on wrongful death, personal injury, mass tort and nursing home negligence.

He currently has his own practice yet remains of counsel with the Johnson Law Group, an arrangement he says “provides me with access to resources that a traditional solo practitioner would not have. This provides me with the ability to work on a greater number of cases and cases of greater complexity.”

Lewis grew up with a veterinarian father who owned his own business and a social-worker mother who instilled in him a sense of justice he carries into cases defending his elderly clients and their families . . . (read more)