SOE Master Entrepreneur – Charles McVean
McVean Trading & Investments only scratches the surface of what the 2020 SOE Inductee has given to Memphis.
by Jon W. Sparks, Memphis Magazine, April 2020
By any measure Charles McVean is an asset to the city. His entrepreneurial instincts have made McVean Trading & Investments, LLC, a great success.
But that’s only a portion of what he’s done to make a difference. Two very different civic initiatives of his have had a remarkable impact in the region.
What’s similar with his business and his civic endeavors is that McVean observed opportunities to change things and then went after them with a passion.
Early in his commodities work, he noticed something about the cattle futures market: “I said, we just got a bunch of gunslingers and cowboys trading these cattle. I think I can apply some of the more advanced statistical techniques learned [from] the grain trade and beat these guys.” And he did.
That foresight, plus McVean’s personal leadership, provides a powerful engine for the firm. John Haase, director of client development at McVean, says, “You’re first attracted to Charlie by his intellect, and then his passion, and that ignites passion in you. That attracts like-minded and like-driven individuals, so you build a unique organization if you have that type of leader.”
McVean’s zeal to improve society is as fierce as his competitiveness in business. He loves Memphis but he’s concerned where it’s falling short and one area in particular is education opportunities for the less fortunate.
His contribution is Peer Power, a student-to-student tutoring program that, while innovative, is really based on the old one-room schoolhouse. “The better, older kids teach, help the teacher tutor, and teach the younger and less advanced students,” McVean says. Peer Power gets students from the University of Memphis to work with students in Shelby County Schools — what’s called a win-win.
McVean’s zeal to improve society is as fierce as his competitiveness in business.
Dr. Thomas Nenon, provost at the U of M, is an enthusiastic backer of Peer Power. He notes that “the main thing is the outcomes with the students in the schools and that improves all the other things.” Those additional benefits for university students include teacher retention, tutors becoming more interested in teaching as a career, and student teachers improving their own skills.
Another significant civic contribution of McVean is what has become the Big River Crossing, the country’s longest active rail/bicycle/pedestrian bridge. It’s a popular destination for locals and tourists that connects to parks and trails on either side of the river.
The path to building it, however, required unyielding persistence on McVean’s part. His son, Dow McVean, illustrates: “Dad’s a pretty persistent guy as he mentioned through the cattle industry. He had connections in Nebraska where the Union Pacific is headquartered. He took two airplanes of people from Memphis to meet with the chairman of the railroad and was quite persuasive. And [local attorney] Charlie Newman found deeds to old roadbeds where the title work was never cleaned up, so that helped make the case with the railroad. Then by tying the Big River Crossing to the Main to Main project, which linked downtown Memphis to downtown West Memphis, that helped secure the federal TIGER grant without which the project never would have happened.”
In all, exactly the sort of thing a Master Entrepreneur would do.
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