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From Public Service to Private Sector: Fueling Positive Change in Memphis

The following is a feature in the previous issue of Memphis Crossroads Magazine. Click here to view the entire issue.

When Shea Flinn stepped into the local political spotlight as a Memphis City Council member in early 2007, he did so with a number of priorities, visions and hopes for the city in his hip pocket.
Those specific goals aside, the driving force behind Flinn’s desire to fuel positive change in Memphis basically boiled down to some very simple advice from his grandfather.
“My grandfather was a minister and he had a micro-sermon that he liked to give: ‘If it’s to be, it’s up to me,’” Flinn said. “So if you see your home or the place or person that you love struggling, you’ve got to take it on your shoulders to help them out. That’s what the public service part was for me.”
Now, after seven years in the political arena, Flinn is further embracing that mission in a new role, senior vice president of the Greater Memphis Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle, a position he accepted in early May.
Through the Chairman’s Circle, more than 100 business leaders collaborate with community partners and public officials to spark transformational change in the Mid-South.
“I was serving on the City Council and obviously involved in a lot of issues and their accompanying successes, failures and frustrations when I started to hear about this group that was coming together, The Chairman’s Circle,” he said. “The more I learned and the more I saw what they were doing, the more excited I got. I became convinced that if Memphis is going to successfully tackle our struggles, this group is an integral part of that solution.”
Flinn cites the Chairman’s Circle’s initiative to quality ensure prekindergarten education for the area’s children as one significant attractor to jumping on board in his new leadership capacity.
“The pre-K initiative was something I was really involved with from the political side, and it was ultimately an unsuccessful effort,” said Flinn, an attorney who also continues to serve as general counsel for Flinn Broadcasting Corp., a family business that owns 39 radio and TV stations across the country. “I was pretty devastated by the sales tax defeat because I thought having that universal high-quality prekindergarten childcare for all our citizens was a really good way to move the needle forward in our community.
“Then I watched the Chairman’s Circle keep plugging away at it until they made forward progress on it. I was so heartened, that’s when I thought, ‘If Memphis is really going to solve these problems, this group has to succeed. They have to.’”
On that particular front, under the leadership of Chairman’s Circle member Kathy Buckman Gibson, president and CEO of Buckman, the Chairman’s Circle so far has succeeded in garnering a $70 million award from the State of Tennessee for early childhood education, to be split between Shelby County area school districts and Metro Nashville Public Schools.
The prekindergarten initiative is one of the Chairman’s Circle’s six “Moon Missions,” big-picture strategies that aim to make a significant economic impact on Greater Memphis. Other current Moon Missions include developing 1,000 entrepreneurs in seven years, advancing the Mid-South’s green spaces, creating a Center of Excellence in Advanced Manufacturing, establishing a long-range growth plan for the City of Memphis and the newest mission, Memphis Clean by 2019, which would result in a cleaner, blight-free city.
All of them are of equal importance to Flinn.
“Whether it’s advanced manufacturing, pre-K, the Mid-South Regional Greenprint Plan to advance green spaces or Memphis Clean by 2019, it’s an overall strategy of advancing the bottom line by advancing the community that I think has been so absent in the past,” he said. “When you had politics on one side and businesses on the other, they weren’t always paddling the oars in the same direction, so to speak, so the boat was just kind of going in a circle. This is the first time in a long time that we really have the opportunity to get both oars in the water, both of them paddling the same way and to really move the boat forward at a quick speed.”
Meanwhile, Chamber members are enthusiastic about the insight and perspectives Flinn brings to the table.
“With his strong ability to bring people together to communicate on important issues, Shea is a perfect match for what the Chairman’s Circle is doing,” said Duncan Williams, president of Duncan-Williams Inc. and co-chair of the Chairman’s Circle. “At the same time, he has high-level experience with a very successful business. That combination of talent and accomplishments is exactly what we need to grow the Chairman’s Circle membership and continue making progress in the community.”
For Flinn, a lifelong Memphian with a degree in Theater from Rhodes College and a law degree from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, this new chapter in his life ultimately comes down to his love of Memphis and doing whatever he can to elevate the city.
“Memphis is my home and you always have to root for the home team. I just love it – I love the people, I love the culture and I love my home,” he said. “And those of us who love this city know that we do have some challenges ahead of us, but that doesn’t mean they’re insurmountable challenges. They have solutions. It just requires the efforts and execution for achieving them.”
Story by: Erinn Figg
Photo by: Troy Glasgow
Posted: 10/20/2015 7:30:00 AM | with 0 comments
Filed under: Chairman's, Chamber, Circle, Crossroads, Flinn, Front, Greater, Lines, Memphis, Shea

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The latest news from the Greater Memphis Chamber. For more information, contact Director of Communications Christina Meek at (901) 543-3504 ( or Communications Specialist Jenny C. Fish at (901) 543-3558 (