Chatting with Glenda Glover, who last year was named the first woman president at Oprah Winfrey’s alma mater, Tennessee State University in Nashville, you get the feel you’re gabbing with a good girlfriend.
But this would be a really, really smart girlfriend, who leaves you rapt as she speaks, expanding minds with each pearl of wisdom on education, economics, government, racial justice — her passions.
Glover, one of only two black women in the nation to hold a Ph.D.-CPA-JD title, keynoted a Black History Month celebration Sunday at the 69-year-old Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church in Bronzeville.
“She’s a tremendously inspirational speaker,” said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Robert Jones. “It is my hope that our youth will be shown by her very presence . . . that you can be whatever you put your mind to in this country, if you are willing to make the sacrifices in getting an education.”
Glover, in her late 50s, is the daughter of a civil rights activist, Henry Baskins, who worked with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the Memphis Sanitation Strike of ’68. TSU is her alma mater.
“I never imagined where I started would bring me back as its leader,” said Glover, who received her bachelor’s in math with honors at TSU in 1974.
“It’s just such a wonderful blessing to come back to where the foundation was laid,” she said. “We’re all role models in some form or fashion, and as president I have the privilege and opportunity to influence young minds at a tremendous HBCU.”
One of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, TSU serves about 9,000 students — 75 percent black, 16 percent white, and less than 2 percent Hispanic and Asian, respectively. All of its students need financial assistance to attend college.
The school, which had faced fiscal and governance difficulties in recent years, boasts the highest number of black graduates earning bachelor’s degrees in agriculture-related sciences, and the nation’s top HBCU football program.
Glover was hired in January 2013 from Jackson State University, where she served 18 years as dean of its business college and created the nation’s only Ph.D. in business at an HBCU.
Now she’s drawing glowing praise from Jackson State President Carolyn Myers; the Tennessee Board of Regents; local newspapers and higher-ed publications for her top-notch credentials, management style and accomplishments in one year.
“Glover set five clear goals . . . better customer service for students; drastically increasing fundraising; emphasizing diversity and inclusion; shared governance with professors who had felt left out of the process; and community outreach. . . . She has made strides on all five fronts,” Gail Kerr, a columnist for the Tennessean newspaper wrote in an analysis last month.
Glover is only the eighth president of the 101-year-old school.
“It’s always an honor to be considered a trailblazer, but other universities have women presidents, and they’re doing very well. In the corporate world, studies have shown companies with female leaders have better returns,” Glover said. “However, the response to my appointment by young African-Americans and women that I meet is very moving. It represents hopes and aspirations that they can embrace.”
Glover earned her MBA from Clark Atlanta University in 1976; passed her CPA exam in 1979; obtained her doctorate in business from George Washington University in 1990; and her law degree from Georgetown Law School in 1994.
“I was working during the day and going to school at night. Education is a lifelong process, and one must continue to build upon his or her skills at every moment,” she said. “My ambition was to be the president of a Fortune 500 company. I saw myself as chairman of the board, and I worked toward that goal.”
As she climbed the corporate ladder, Glover served as senior vice president and CFO at engineering firm Metters Industries, Inc.; as tax manager at Potomac Electric Power Co. in Washington, D.C.; and as an accountant with Arthur Andersen & Co.
She has sat on the boards of myriad corporations, including Citigroup-Student Loan Corp.; American Learning Corp; and First Guaranty Bancshares. She’s chair of the board of commissioners of the Jackson Airport Authority in Mississippi.
“Dr. Glover has been a corporate board member of three other publicly traded corporations. . . . She served as either chair of the audit committee or as a financial expert on each board,” Nashville-based Pinnacle Financial Partners said in electing the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority member to its board of directors in December.
Said Glover: “You can study all you want about Wall Street, but to experience the board room is more or less the pinnacle of a business career.”
Regarded as one of the nation’s premier experts on corporate governance, Glover chaired the accounting department at Howard University before she worked at Jackson State.
She grew up ensconced in the civil rights movement. Her mother, Callie, was a stay-at-home mom, and her father was a supervisor at the Memphis Sanitation Department, where the deaths of two black workers after a truck malfunctioned led to the ’68 strike.
King supported the strike. He delivered his famous “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech to the sanitation workers on April 3, 1968 — the night before he was assassinated on a Memphis motel balcony.
“Our home was always filled with civil rights leaders. My father was always forming the league of this or the organization of that,” she said. “He’d worked with Dr. King on the strike. The day King was killed, we didn’t know where my father was.”
Her father was fine. He died in 1994; her mother, in 2007.
“My father always encouraged me to get to know the Freedom Riders” who traveled across the Deep South in the early ’60s challenging Jim Crow laws, Glover said. “He wanted to make sure I never forgot how much fighting had to go on, and the price that had to be paid, for me to get an education. He said that’s what it was all about.
“So I have a strong belief that education can prepare you against insurmountable odds. Looking back, we’re thankful for how far we’ve come as a people. We’re more financially sound, more educationally prepared. But the last hurdle to cross is an economic one,” said Glover, who is married and has two children.
“We have to secure future prosperity for the youth of the African-American community, by encouraging them to become entrepreneurs, and ensuring that the school systems are up to par, providing them with the proper skill sets with which to obtain jobs. Skill sets are the most critical determinant of the potential of our economic growth.”