Business Profile: RonHarr: Jobs can change a city, incoming Chamber CEO says

Business Profile: RonHarr: Jobs can change a city, incoming Chamber CEO says

August 9th, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Diary

Ron Harr talks about his vision for job growth in the region. Harr is to be the new CEO of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.


* Education: McCallie School, University of Tennessee-Knoxville

* Personal: Married, two children

* Work: 1995-2011, vice president and senior vice president with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee; BellSouth, Buntin Advertising, AT&T, Lavidge and Associates Advertising before that.

* Organizations: Board chairman of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Chattanooga; UT College of Communications and Information board of visitors

* Recreation: Sailing and photography

Ron Harr says there are a lot of noble causes in which people can become involved, but bringing a city jobs can change it the most.

"The one thing that can make a difference in a person's life is a good job," he said. "I can get excited about that."

The 58-year-old Harr began July 1 as incoming chief executive of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. He'll take over as CEO on Oct. 1 from Tom Edd Wilson, who plans to retire around the first of next year after heading the business group for about a decade.

Harr, a Memphis native, said chamber of commerce work has interested him since his earliest corporate days. Starting in the late 1970s when he was employed by BellSouth in Nashville, he has "gotten hooked up with chambers."

A couple of years ago, that work culminated when he was the Chattanooga Chamber's board chairman, a voluntary position.

"I really enjoyed that year," Harr said. So when Wilson started talking about retiring, Harr said he thought he'd like to do that job, and he believes he was fortunate to land it.

Harr first came to Chattanooga in 1968 when he moved from Bristol, Tenn., where he was reared, to became a boarder at McCallie School.

"That's when I first fell in love with Chattanooga," he said.

Over the next couple of decades, business kept bringing him back to the Scenic City. First, he worked for AT&T in the city, he said. In the mid 1990s, former BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee chief Tom Kinser contacted him about coming to the Chattanooga-based insurer as a communications officer, Harr said.

"I said 'This is the kind of guy I'd like to be associated with,'" he said, adding he worked a lot of different assignments for the company before leaving in May 2011.

During some time off, Harr said, he took a four-month, 2,000-mile sailing trip circumnavigating Florida.

"I learned a lot about the country, myself," he said, adding that he "made a few promises to God along the way" when faced with storms at sea.

Sailing his 36-foot vessel over that time was "pretty rigorous," Harr said.

"I was glad to do it at 57," he said, recalling that some of his friends who helped him along the way weren't in as good physical condition.

Harr said that while he officially joined the Chamber on July 1, he actually had spent a lot of time there after being named to the post in late March. That got him involved in terms of helping interview for key positions and starting the transition process.

"I began working on the transition of important projects such as the regional growth plan," Harr said, citing the 40-year regional planning initiative.

Wilson, when Harr was picked to replace him, said in a statement that Harr's relationships with elected leadership and the business sector in the county are key.

Wilson said Harr also has "an excellent track record for getting things done in a range of areas. He has a deep commitment to this community and especially to the Chamber."