As we celebrate Women’s History Month 2023, this is the first time in the City of Memphis’ history that all members of the Senior Leadership Team are women.
“When you step back and look at it, it is kind of amazing that every chief in city government is a woman, but that wasn’t the plan when we started,” said Mayor Jim Strickland, “When there were openings, we looked for the very best person for the job, and it turned out that every single time it was a woman who was best qualified.”
The first female appointed by Mayor Jim Strickland to the executive team was Fire Chief Gina Sweat in 2016. Chief Operations Officer Chandell Ryan is the most recent female to join the team in December 2022. Ryan, a 13-year veteran of City government, is Memphis’ first female Chief Operating Officer. She is responsible for leading the day-to-day service delivery, resource allocation, budgeting, and policy development for all divisions.
“I started in the City Attorneys Office, I believe, back in June 2003 as an Assistant City Attorney,” said Ryan, “I’m excited to see a female represents this role because I do think it inspires a level of hope for other young girls this is attainable if you just work hard.”
Hard work is one thing all of the “C-Suite” executives have in common. When Fire Chief Gina Sweat joined the department in 1992, she was just one of four females in the Memphis Fire Department. Nevertheless, Sweat worked her way up the ranks over the next three decades. “You got used to being the only woman at the table, and now there’s a bunch of us at the table, and it’s awesome,” said Sweat.
Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis became the first woman to lead the Memphis Police Department in 2021. Davis began her career with the City of Atlanta Police Department before coming to Memphis and was the police chief in Durham, N.C. “My earlier years as a police officer were pretty tough. We started with 35 in my academy class. There were 11 women, and only two graduated,” said Davis.
“There are very few cities that have both a woman Fire Chief and Police Chief. We have both,” said Strickland.
Shirley Ford is the Memphis’ Chief Financial Officer. Ford was appointed by Mayor Strickland and confirmed by the City Council in January 2018. Before being named CFO, Ford served as City comptroller for three years.
“This seemed like everything I had ever done in my previous life led me to this position because you touch everything as the Chief Financial Officer. You are exposed to every single aspect of city government, and I feel like all my past experiences gave me a unique perspective to serve in this position,” said Ford.
Chief Human Resources Officer is Alex Smith. Smith is the architect behind the initiatives involving talent management, training, employee relations, compensation, benefits, and diversity initiatives. Before she served the City, Smith was the Director of Human Resources for Brightstar Device Protection, a subsidiary of Brightstar Corporation.
Jennifer A. Sink was appointed Chief Legal Officer / City Attorney for the City of Memphis in January 2020 after serving as the Deputy Director of the Legal Division. As Chief Legal Officer, she provides legal advice on various legal matters.
Mayor Strickland’s Chief of Staff is no stranger to the City of Memphis.
Maria Fuhrmann began her career with the City of Memphis in 2006. Fuhrmann has served in several roles, including Legislative Research Analyst for the Memphis City Council, Grant Coordinator for the Executive Division, and Deputy Chief o Staff for Mayor Strickland in 2019
Allison Fouche is the Chief Communications Officer and oversees Memphis’ branding, messaging, and crisis communication. Fouche’ has worked in the office of four City of Memphis mayors. Fouche applauds Strickland’s decision to put many women in charge at city hall. ” After more than 15 years in government, this is the first time an administration has been so female-centered,” said Fouche’.
While not planned, Mayor Strickland said he was thrilled this Memphis first happened during his administration. “It does strike me when you look at all the old pictures of city hall and the administration. They look different. There are some pictures with no women. And if you go back to the 1950s and 1960s, they are all white males, but I would stack my team up against them anytime,” said Strickland.
As for Women’s History Month 2023, the all-female Senior Leadership Team members say they are glad to be making history together. They hope this inspires other women, young and old.
For Senior Leadership Team Bios: