Carlos Phillips says Owensboro is the place that taught him to work hard. Raised by parents who valued a strong work ethic over innate talent, Phillips took that mantra with him as he began an illustrious career that includes a four-year football scholarship to University of Kentucky and the title of CEO of the Greenville, South Carolina Chamber of Commerce—where Phillips oversees the business community in one of the fastest growing cities in the southeast United States.
Raised in Owensboro’s historic Mechanicsville district, Phillips says his childhood consisted of bike rides through the neighborhood and hanging out with friends at the Dugan Best Recreation Center.
“It was a great community where everyone pretty much knew everyone,” he said. “We shared similar values, and we didn’t get away with much mischief.”
Graduating from Owensboro High School in 1986, Phillips was a not only a high school athlete, but an alto saxophone player. The son of an elementary school teacher and an underground coal miner, Phillips learned early on that hard work was the key to living a successful life.
“I was taught that hard work doesn’t require any talent, and I guess my life follows that premise,” he said. “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, no matter your profession or vocation.”
Phillips chose a career in business, rather than in athletics, but he can still recall his OHS football team losing at the state semifinals in 1985, and the sting of losing only one football game to another local team (Daviess County, 1984) during his tenure at OHS.
At UK, Phillips played defensive guard, inside linebacker and outside linebacker from 1986-1990.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t hear the late Coach Jerry Claiborne’s voice saying, ‘Be the best’ and ‘cussing only proves you have a limited vocabulary!’” he said. “I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”
Phillips calls his chamber of commerce career “accidental,” saying it happens that way for many others in the industry. Living in Atlanta with his wife, LaTonya, and their four children, Phillips was already hoping to move closer to home. When he got a call from Dave Adkisson, the president of the Kentucky Chamber, Phillips didn’t give the idea of joining the chamber serious consideration at first.
But Phillips said he “fell in love” with the position after he gave it a chance.
“I fell in love with the community-building aspect of the work, and have turned that into a very rewarding career,” he said.
And now, Phillips said his proudest professional moments include the ones where he’s helping businesses, communities and people achieve their dreams. After serving the Greater Louisville Inc. Chamber for years, Phillips interviewed for a position at the Greenville, South Carolina Chamber, where he was offered the role of President and CEO after an extremely competitive hiring process.
“The Greenville Chamber leads, convenes and mobilizes Greenville’s business community around our vision of a globally competitive regional economy where businesses succeed and people prosper,” he said. “Greenville is experiencing unprecedented growth, with our county population at just over 500,000 people, and we’re projecting to add another 225,000 over the next 20 years.”
That growth means that a lot goes into developing the proper business climate that drives economic growth, while working simultaneously to ensure the residents of Greenville enjoy that prosperity.
It’s not just professional success that has Phillips feeling good about his life these days. Phillips’ son, Andru, is following his dream of playing Division I football at UK, just like his father.
“[Andru’s] oldest brother CJ started 46 consecutive games as an offensive lineman at Morehead State. His brother Benjamin is studying architecture at Western Kentucky University, and his younger sister Shelby could play softball at the college level,” he said.
For Phillips, his success has been a product of setting goals and prioritizing his life to reach them.
“After experiencing junior achievement during high school, I knew that I wanted to be a CEO,” he said. “I think that placing my faith, family and career as my life priorities has helped me to achieve my dreams.”