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Busy executives taking time to connect with communities

Although they’re among the state’s busiest people, many of Mississippi’s executives take time to give back to their communities. The Mississippi Business Journal spoke to five leaders whose involvement runs the gamut of charitable, community and civic causes.

Jerry Host, president and CEO of Trustmark Bank, is a long time participant with Habitat for Humanity. He and his wife, Olivia Host, a principal in the accounting firm of Johnson, Bruce and Host, became interested in this endeavor 20 years ago with their church, Christ United Methodist. The bank adopted the program and encourages employees to become involved.

Hands on approach

“We feel it’s an extremely important ministry and program in our community,” he says. “It allows individuals to enjoy home ownership and have a sense of pride. Plus it re-configures communities.”

Host points to mid-town Jackson where 100 homes have been built over 20 years, giving new life to the area. He and Olivia are not just cheering from the sidelines; they’re hands-on volunteers. On their last house, he hung siding while she was part of the roofing crew.

“It’s good to work with our hands and see what we’ve accomplished at the end of the day,” he says, “and, we’re doing something that’s different from our daily work. It’s a wonderful ministry because we see it having an impact on deserving individuals and the community.”

Most of the Hosts’ work with Habitat for Humanity is done on weekends, but once a year Trustmark and Baptist Hospital stage a Habitat Blitz when they build a home in one week. Trustmark employees are encouraged to take time off to work on the home while still being paid by the bank.

Jerry Host also takes pride in his service to the Mississippi Museum of Art, having just rotated off the board of directors. The museum recently completed a $12-million renovation project in downtown Jackson and has a mission of engaging all residents in art.

Tommy Butler, partner in charge of the Mississippi Economic Unit for HORNE LLP, lists three organizations for the main thrust of his community involvement — Juvenile Diabetes Association, Junior Achievement and the Madison County Foundation.

“These organizations are important to me from both a personal and business perspective,” he says. “I have a passion for the well-being of children and providing them with brighter futures. From a business stand point, the Madison County Foundation provides long-term economic planning which benefits our business and our clients’ businesses. Junior Achievement encompasses both my interest in the future of our children and business.”

On a personal level, much of his interest in the Juvenile Diabetes Association is because his father had diabetes.

Encouragement from the firm

Finding the time to serve is made easier because HORNE encourages community involvement. “We are encouraged as team members to personally participate in community projects, many of which are directly orchestrated by the firm,” Butler says. “I also devote my personal time on nights and weekends. I feel it is very important for me to set the example for our team members.”

Entergy Mississippi’s president and CEO Carolyn Shanks uses her leadership skills by serving on the boards of several organizations, including the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC), the Nature Conservancy, the Mississippi State University Development Foundation, INROADS/Mississippi and Momentum Mississippi.

Community connection

“I agreed to an active role in MEC because it allows me to touch and make a difference in virtually every community that Entergy Mississippi serves,” she says. “With more than 7,100 members from 1,400 firms stretching from Southaven to the Gulf Coast and all points in between, the MEC works to build a sense of statewide community and to muster resources for focused research, planning and action.”

Shanks especially finds the MEC’s leadership training and networking opportunities significant in preparing business leaders for the challenges of a competitive future. “Each year, the Leadership Mississippi program prepares a new class of graduates to apply their specialized training as leaders in their own communities,” she added.

Philip Shirley, president and CEO of the GodwinGroup advertising agency, tries to volunteer on at least two boards of community organizations at all times because he firmly believes in the importance of service.

“There are multiple reasons. From a civic responsibility standpoint, the boards keep the organizations healthy and strong,” he says. “In terms of money, leadership and time, those are things that make it work. On a personal level, it’s important to be in touch with the community.”

He finds satisfaction with these personal and professional reasons coming together. “There isn’t enough time to do it, but we make time for what’s important and work long hours if necessary to get it done,” he says.

Shirley, who moved to the state from Birmingham, Ala., 20 years ago, found a warm reception for his community involvement. “If you’re willing to get involved, people, boards, organizations and committees will welcome you,” he says. “That’s not the case everywhere.”

Linda Watts, Coast division manager for Mississippi Power Company, is finding time to serve as chairman of the Coast Chamber of Commerce, board member of Leadership Gulf Coast and executive committee member of the Gulf Coast Business Council.

“Working with the Chamber is important to me because 80% of our members are small business owners, and they’re a critical part of our community,” she says. “We have seminars and programs for them and provide other needs geared to them. We also have a major recognition program showcasing them — something they don’t often get.”

Watts, who grew up on the Coast, believes giving back is something everyone should do to make home better. That point was brought personally home with the Red Cross feeding her family for a month following Hurricane Katrina.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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