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Bob Rolfe – Alabama

Commissioner - Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development

Road to Greatness

Bob Rolfe, MBA, Alabama ’82, Vanderbilt MBA ’88

Excerpted from the Nashville Community Investor, written by Jan Read

Since 2017, Brother Rolfe has been responsible for running the state Department of Economic and Community Development. Former Gov. Bill Haslam appointed Rolfe to the commissioner’s role and Rolfe stayed on at current Gov. Bill Lee’s request.

Rolfe has scored big wins during his tenure, with companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and GM investing billions of dollars in Tennessee. ECD has also attracted major headquarters, including AllianceBernstein and Mitsubishi Motors North America, to the Volunteer State.

Rolfe’s resume spans ditch-digging to, most recently, turning around failing companies. In between was an 18-year career at J.C. Bradford as an investment banker. While there, the executive program at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management piqued his interest.

“It was the perfect opportunity. I didn’t have to interrupt my business career to earn an MBA,” he says. “Looking back, Owen is where I fell in love with learning. It was such a rich experience to be in the classroom.”

Those lessons from Owen came into play as Rolfe steered small, struggling businesses back into profitability. He developed a different skill set when he stepped into the commissioner’s job.

Like most leaders, Rolfe is uncertain about the business terrain post-COVID. “When the world resets, what will that look like?” he asks. “The trend toward remote workers is here to stay. So, when we recruit a company headquarters, how many employees will actually return to the office?”

Rolfe looks forward to the challenge. “When I first took this position, I thought I was committing to two years of public service,” he says. “Then I committed to help Gov. Lee with his transition. Now it’s been another two years and counting, and I’m still enjoying it.”

Young Bobby Rolfe was chapter president at Alabama Alpha in 1981. His father, Charlie, and younger brother, Billy are Phis initiated at Vanderbilt’s Tennessee Alpha Chapter.

When asked if being his chapter’s president influenced his career in anyway, Bobby said, “My college experience as a Phi Delta Theta really provided me the tools to help me navigate my business career and, ultimately, prepared me for my years in public service at the State of Tennessee. I will always be grateful for the fond memories and friendships that I enjoy as a member of Alabama Alpha.”


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