20 Under 40: Erica Newman

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Erica Newman
Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Erica Newman

Erica Newman, 36

CEO, The Speech & Hearing Center

Mantra: #wearamaskanyway

Quarantine projects: I took it one call with my banker, one Zoom meeting, one toddler meltdown at a time. I still do. ... In my personal life I am much more intense, but professionally I just don't panic, and know 'this too shall pass.'

What motivates you? Competition and positive feedback. Even as a child athlete, I never responded well to the tough-love coaches, but I loved to compete. I wouldn't call it coddling, but humans respond to positive reinforcement. When a patient shares how much their home life has changed because of their hearing aids or we see a child talk or walk for the first time, that's a giant fist pump and it makes me want to help everyone in that way.

What (else) did you want to be when you grew up? I always wanted to be a TV news reporter. A few years into that career, it was surreal that after 15 years of dreaming and working toward it that it wasn't fulfilling. I have followed a journey, being open to new opportunities. I am a big-picture person and I'd still love to be involved with large-scale systemic change, especially around the challenges we face in Chattanooga.

What would you change about Chattanooga? I have lived in all four corners of the U.S. I settled here in the Midsouth because I fell in love with the scenery, weather, convenience of a mid-sized city, quality of life for families, and my person (husband grew up here). But the level of judgment and slow speed of change when it comes to ethnic, religious and political acceptance is discouraging. I would definitely like to see more respectful coexisting and appreciation for differences.

One thing you couldn't live without? Talking. I'm a talker and I love to connect with people. I am literally in agony in a movie theater where I can't discuss! Sometimes I take notes in a meeting and am always working on shifting my Bostonian-style interrupting. But repeating and agreeing is my way of listening and being invested.

How did the pandemic upend your routine? I love to work. I also love my two children, but when I returned from my maternity leaves I thought, "Yeah, I've gotten my identity back!" So this feels like a never-ending maternity leave on steroids. Being out of the office is hard for me. It's my happy place, my norm, the place I can really laser-focus and get things done.

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