Since 2009, Kim White has been president and CEO of River City Company, a non-profit development organization with a 33-year history focusing on the economic growth and development of downtown Chattanooga. White remains connected to her alma mater, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where she has served as the chair of the UC Foundation, the second woman in 50 years to hold the position. She is a former president of the UTC Alumni Board and the Chancellor’s Roundtable. She was appointed by Governor Bill Haslam to the UT Board of Trustees in 2018 and serves on the Executive and Finance Committees. White was recognized as one of the 100 most significant alumni in the history of the University of Tennessee system and awarded the Erlanger Foundations’ Gordon Street Distinguished Community Leadership award in 2020. Prior to taking the top role at River City, White worked throughout the Southeast for 16 years in her career at Alltel Communications. She returned to Chattanooga in 2003 and served as president and CEO of the Corker Group, managing and leasing over 2 million square feet of real estate.
What books or writers influence the way you lead and how you develop your career?
“Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” John Maxwell wrote this, and I’ve found more truth in it than hundreds of leadership books combined. People I look up to, and those that have been mentors to me, all reflect this authentic, caring leadership style. You could call it legacy leadership — a focus on others, on the team, and that’s what I believe separates the good from the great.
I also believe that great leadership comes about by learning how you can be the best person you can be. Making sure decisions and actions are based on honesty, integrity, compassion, love and grace. Because that is how I view leadership, the list of books that have influenced the way I lead might be atypical from many CEOs.
It starts with the Bible, which gave me foundational truth to love your neighbor as yourself and treat others the way you want to be treated. Similarly, Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Traveled” was a book helpful to me early in my career. Maybe a book that starts out with the line, “Life is difficult,” would not be a choice one would pick when looking for guidance with career development, but the book talks about working through difficulties with courage, grace and love.
Peck’s quote, “Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and wisdom,” says what I have learned over the years; you can learn more through challenges and difficulties than any other way. In fact, I believe how we work through trials and tribulations moves us toward the person we are meant to be.
If I were to pick one book that all leaders should read, it’s “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. It is full of such truth. The one quote that sums up how I’ve made career choices is this: “For, in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Perhaps, then, you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions: knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent, and that it mattered.”
What books have you recently read for fun that you’re recommending to others?
One of the best books I have read in a long time for fun was “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens. My husband and I have spent a lot of time in the low country marshland. The beautiful descriptions and turns of phrase in the book made me want to read it over and over again; not to mention, it is a thriller with lots of twists and turns.
I love anything written by Jon Meacham, and I think I have read all of his books except his latest “The Hope of Glory,” which is next on my reading list. I’ve heard him speak several times, and he has such an amazing knowledge of history while putting current issues and problems in perspective. It makes me hopeful as someone that loves our city and country that we can rise above political differences and come together to solve problems.