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    Memphis chamber taps Phil Trenary as president: Former airline exec takes new post June 1

    Wayne Risher


    Brandon Dill/Special to The Commercial Appeal Phil Trenary, the incoming president of the Greater Memphis Chamber, said it will probably take three years to make substantial progress on the chamber’s “moon missions” agenda.

    The Greater Memphis Chamber on Wednesday announced former Pinnacle Airlines chief executive officer Phil Trenary as its next president.
    Trenary will step in June 1, arriving at a time when the business group has become increasingly active in trying to shape public policy. It supported a failed referendum for prekindergarten expansion and has been pushing for changes in the city’s underfunded pension system.
    Trenary succeeds John Moore, who announced last October he was stepping down Jan. 3 from the $340,000-a-year job, which he’d held since 2005.
    No stranger to the chamber, Trenary has been employed as a paid consultant by the chamber’s Chairman’s Circle, a new effort by about 100 local executives to engage the business community in pursuing a regional civic agenda.
    “I believe this is a unique time in this community when business and government leaders are committed to working together for a common goal,” Trenary said.
    Trenary, an Oklahoma native, said the chamber offered an opportunity he and his wife, Bridget, couldn’t pass up after his 17 years as a transplanted Memphian running regional airlines and pinch-hitting in civic roles including interim president of business incubator EmergeMemphis.
    “This community has been so incredibly good to us. It’s just a fantastic opportunity. I’m just happy to be in the right place at the right time,” Trenary said.
    Trenary built Pinnacle into a $1 billion regional airline holding company, but stepped down before its fortunes took a nose dive. The company ultimately went into bankruptcy reorganization and relocated to Minneapolis as a Delta subsidiary under a different name.
    Chamber chairwoman Leigh Shockey said Trenary was picked from three finalists because of his track record in business and community involvement.
    “Phil just came out on top because of his strong business background,” Shockey said. “He was just a really good fit. He already knew not only the city and the business community, but the chamber organization as well.”
    Shockey, chief executive officer of Drexel Chemical Co., said Pinnacle’s misfortunes weren’t considered a reflection on Trenary. “He wasn’t there when Pinnacle went bankrupt. He left two years earlier. You hear people say, ‘It’s not how many times you fall down. It’s how many times you get up,’ and it’s true.”
    Shockey declined to name the other two finalists, saying the chamber assured them of confidentiality.
    Chamber vice chairman and search committee member Calvin Anderson, a senior vice president at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, said Trenary is “someone who understands and knows Memphis. We wanted someone who could begin with a knowledge of the community, its diversity and its inclusiveness.”
    City Council member Harold Collins said Trenary came through for the community time and again at Pinnacle, such as when he arranged to fly teachers and students to Washington for educational programs.
    “I just believe that Phil being named president and CEO of the chamber allows him to go to work right away without having to identify himself to chamber members, because they all know him and what he stands for,” Collins said.
    Trenary said his agenda will be “simple and straightforward. The chamber has to be committed to breaking the cycle of poverty in Memphis,” by bringing in new jobs and helping create consensus for an educational system that puts residents in position to work in those jobs.
    Trenary became the second consecutive chamber president to come out of the airline industry, reflecting the outsized contribution of aviation, transportation and logistics to the region’s economy.
    Moore was the former Northwest Airlines’ point man in Memphis before taking the chamber helm. Moore said he left because the timing was right, with the chamber mounting the new initiatives shepherded by Trenary, and because he wanted to devote more attention to his wife, who sustained a permanent spinal injury in 2011.
    After leaving Pinnacle in 2011, Trenary led EmergeMemphis, an incubator for entrepreneurs and startup businesses, when it was between permanent directors, and he consulted for University of Memphis interim president Brad Martin on projects that include a College of Education strategic plan and a proposed shift in management of Audubon Park from the city.
    Philip Trenary
    Age: 59
    Family: Married with three children
    Education: Oklahoma State University, bachelor’s in engineering technology, 1978
    Airline industry career: Started airline at Oklahoma flight school in 1978. Moved to Dallas and grew business serving as regional partner for American, Frontier Airlines. Sold Lone Star Airlines in 1996. Came to Memphis in 1997 to run regional affiliate of Northwest Airlines, later known as Northwest Airlink. Took company public in 2003 and grew from $78 million annual revenues to more than $1 billion. Resigned in March 2011 with $3 million in separation benefits.
    Consulting: After leaving Pinnacle, Trenary consulted with airline industry and not-for-profit organizations including chamber, University of Memphis and EmergeMemphis
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