While his professional role for more than 32 years was at First Tennessee Bank, Michael Griffin has spent much of his career volunteering as a director, fundraiser or chairman for more than a dozen community groups, clubs and nonprofits. In both his hometown of Chattanooga and in his home for the past seven years in Cleveland, Griffin has been active in the local United Way, the Rotary Club, and the Chamber of Commerce, among other other nonprofits and civic groups.. He is also chairman of the region's biggest hospital, Erlanger Health System, and formerly headed the UTC Alumni Association, the Museum Center at Five Points and Junior Achievement of the Ocoee Region. In the past year, he helped raise a record $1.6 million as co-chair for the "Momentum '22" campaign for the Cleveland/Bradley County Chamber of Commerce.
So when First Tennessee phased out his job as community bank president in Cleveland, Griffin decided to use his community building skills in a new professional role at the Cleveland Chamber.
In June, Griffin was named president of the 700-plus member Chamber of Commerce in Bradley County, succeeding Gary Farlow who retired after a decade as the Chamber's CEO.
Griffin may have worked with financial numbers and technology in banking, but the 57-year-old banker says his talent and passion are in relationship building and the local community "and that is what has made this job such a perfect transition for me.
"It's all about the connections you make and there's really not a lot of difference between going out and getting a new bank customer and getting a new Chamber member," he says. "I had a portfolio of clients at the bank. Now, every business here is my customer."
Griffin, who graduated from the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga in 1984 with a degree in business education, says he became a banker by accident. While working 70-hour-plus workweeks at a Fort Oglethorpe restaurant when he was first married, a banker friend of his father invited Griffin to go to work at the former Northwest Georgia Bank doing collections. After a year and a half, he moved to First Tennessee Bank in 1987 and rose through the management ranks to eventually become community president of First Tennessee Bank in Cleveland, where he has lived and worked since 2012.
Griffin was due to become the volunteer chair next year of the Cleveland Chamber and he said he envisioned doing more Chamber work after he retired. But when the CEO job became available and others urged him to apply, he decided to pursue the top paid job at the Chamber to help implement many of the goals that Momentum 22 had set for the next five years.
The Cleveland Chamber will continue to work to promote and recruit businesses, workers and tourists to Bradley County and work with other groups to improve the local infrastructure, workforce training and downtown development, Griffin said. The Chamber is helping develop the Partnership in Industry & Education (PIE) Innovation Center and is coordinating with the city and county to redevelop the former Whirlpool site downtown. The Chamber's economic development staff also has begun recruiting prospects for the new 330-acre Spring Branch industrial park at Exit 20 on Interstate 75.
"It's a unique and exciting time," Griffin says.