As Interim Talent Engagement Director, Mary Beth Ikard’s work will include attracting, retaining and developing talent throughout Hamilton County and Chattanooga. She leads the Chamber’s talent programs including Leadership Chattanooga and Protégé Chattanooga, the Leadership Chattanooga Alumni Association (LCAA), Young Professionals of Chattanooga (YPC), and ChattaNewbies.
Ikard will continue working to support our Chattanooga Climbs goals of developing skills for the new economy and fostering an inclusive economy through collaborative leadership.
Mary Beth is an alumna of four longstanding leadership development and civic engagement programs based in the Nashville area: Leadership Middle Tennessee (2012), Nashville Emerging Leaders (2008), Nashville Young Leaders Council (class 47), and the Transit Citizens Leadership Academy (class 24). She served as the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s chair for YP Nashville from 2013-2014, and in 2012 was honored with the Chamber’s Nashville Emerging Leader Award.
Ikard began her career in the press office for Frank O’Bannon, the late Indiana governor, and then moved into public affairs working for the Indiana Family & Social Services Administration. She’s held multiple leadership roles throughout her career including Communications Director for Gov. Phil Bredesen’s Books from Birth Foundation, where she generated support for county affiliates of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. She led communications for the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and served for nearly six years as a sustainability and transportation policy aide in the Mayor’s Office for the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.
Before joining the Chattanooga Chamber, Ikard served as Director of Communications, City of Chattanooga, working directly with Mayor Tim Kelly. She holds a degree in Journalism and English from Indiana University, and Accreditation in Public Relations.
Trend spoke with Ikard to learn more about her new role:
Trend: Tell us about yourself. What gets you excited to come to work?
Ikard: I am a creative-minded words person, so if I can spend time getting to know an organization or a person and learning how to tell their story better or in a way that facilitates positive relationships, a sterling reputation, and a perennial stream of good ideas, I feel like I’m putting my talents to use. I enjoy collaborating with other people and figuring out how my intellect, empathy and unique skill set can add value to the work of mission-driven organizations and teams.
Trend: What drives your passion for leadership and talent development?
Ikard: I didn’t think of myself as a leader until I landed various positions in my career where there literally did not seem to be anyone else around but me, stepping up to bring people together or assemble the right information in order to tee up decision-makers to make important decisions and, as a result, make something good happen. Lesson: If you don’t step up and lead, sometimes maybe no one else will. For a cause or issue I feel strongly about, it doesn’t take much to motivate me to take ownership. I know what leadership feels like—both the joys and the burdens—and am energized when I see an opportunity to lead materialize for others who have leadership qualities within them. When more of us can lead, there’s nowhere for an organization or a community to go but up. Society has a lot of problems that need to be solved, and to do so requires the presence of strong, visionary leadership. Most everyone has potentially experienced an organization or community without it, and the result is usually stagnation or regression. Leadership matters.
Trend: Talk about the value of fresh perspectives and what this has meant in your career.
Ikard: Have you ever been in a meeting with someone new to an organization and they’re asking questions to help orient themselves to do a new job right? A lot of times the nature of those questions can help to unearth opportunities, or areas for improvement. Cultivating a space where everyone can ask even a question that feels, in that moment, like it could be a daft one: it’s probably, in fact, not daft. It probably needs asking and only an organizational “outsider” will have the absence of bias and freshman curiosity to think to ask it. That’s when the lightbulbs can go off, among everyone else around the table.
Trend: What’s your favorite part about working at the Chattanooga Chamber so far?
Ikard: The Chamber has a lot of talented women executives in key decision-making positions, including its CEO. This is inspiring for me as a mid-career professional, as I hope to learn from all these strong women and reflect on where I could take my career from here. There’s also a very obvious emphasis on diversity — not just diversity of demographics, but diversity of thought. There’s a “big tent” when it comes to contributing one’s ideas; fostering creativity is important for organizations that seek to build audience and engagement by differentiating themselves from the crowd.
Trend: It’s early days, but do you have any immediate thoughts about what you’d like to accomplish in your new role?
Ikard: Austin Corcoran has done such a fantastic job as current director, I know I have big shoes to fill. I’ve observed how he makes everyone involved in the Chamber’s various talent programs feel comfortable, valued, welcome and included. I hope to build upon that by establishing my own rapport with these leaders but then potentially draw from my professional experience as a public-relations practitioner to help facilitate meaningful connections across all the Chamber’s talent retention groups and programs. Through my experiences with the Nashville Chamber’s talent programs and networking events, and other leadership development organizations, I know they can lead to lasting and profitable friendships and business collaborations.