6th Annual Bringing out the Leaders - Meet the Panelist


About Laura Whitsitt

Senior Vice President, Research & Development Orthopaedics  Smith & Nephew 

Laura Whitsitt serves as Senior Vice President, Research & Development for Smith & Nephew’s Orthopaedics business.  Her responsibilities include Product Development, Research & Technology and Product Support. She has been with Smith & Nephew since 1987, serving in various roles in Research and Development.   

Laura has a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Memphis and has completed Executive Education courses in business at Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management and at Stanford University.  She is a member of several Boards including the Greater Memphis Chamber, Memphis Research Consortium, New Memphis Board of Governors and the University of Memphis Herff College of Engineering Advisory Board.    

Laura is married to Bob Whitsitt and has three grown children, Rob, Camille and Hannah, as well as three grandbabies.  She is active in her church and the community, with focus on mentoring and educating inner-city youth and refugees.  

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About Phillip Ashley

CEO and Founder, Phillip Ashley chocolates

Phillip Ashley is one of the world's preeminent chefs and designers of luxury chocolate. He is an award-winning chocolatier, and founder of Phillip Ashley Chocolates, based in Memphis, Tennessee. The brand has an international following and is sought out by high-profile clients, top corporations and major events to offer premium gifts. A true Ambassador of Taste, he’s acted as Executive Chef, curating dining experiences at the James Beard House in New York City, as well as served as the Official Chocolatier for the EMMYS®, the GRAMMYS® and provided chocolates for the OSCARS® green room. In 2014, FORBES Magazine named Phillip Ashley the “Real Life Willy Wonka”. Beyond chocolate, Phillip Ashley helps develop the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Memphis and abroad through coaching and investing in minority and women owned businesses. Phillip Ashley is an expert in branding, consumer marketing and behavioral economics, traveling the country speaking to entrepreneurs and company executives. He gives back through supporting numerous charitable organizations and spending time with youth in schools. He’s a native of Memphis and a proud father. 

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About Mariangeles Grear

Development Specialist, ALSAC/St.jude

Mariangeles Grear is a Development Specialist at ALSAC/St. Jude, where she is coordinates and oversees fundraising efforts in the state of Arkansas for St. Jude. Prior to working at ALSAC, Mariangeles worked at Raymond James/Morgan Keegan in the business development department. She also served as a Strategic Business Advisor for the Mid-South Minority Business Council Continuum, where she worked with small and medium-size companies advising with business strategies. 

Mariangeles holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology with a minor in Spanish from the University of Memphis. She was also a member of Sigma Kappa sorority. 

During her spare time, Mariangeles loves to play tennis and travel, especially to Disney World, which is her favorite place in the world.  

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About Michael Whaley

County Commissioner, Shelby county government

Michael Whaley is a Shelby County Commissioner for District 5 and the founding Director of Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) in Memphis where he works with current and former teachers to build their civic engagement and leadership. Prior to joining LEE, Michael served as the Founder and Executive Director of Memphis College Prep, a kindergarten through fifth grade public elementary school. Michael is active in several local community and civic boards, including the Downtown Memphis Commission, and Let’s Innovate Through Education (LITE). Whaley is also a graduate of the New Memphis Institute Fellows program and the Leadership Memphis Executive Class. A member of the 2006 Teach For America corps in Memphis, Michael holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Public Policy from Southern Methodist University. 

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About Curtis Givens

CEO and President, CGI Entertainment

Curtis Givens has been an entrepreneur and marketing genius for the entertainment industry of Memphis. Born and raised in Memphis, TN, Givens has set the standard in being a jack of all trades. Establishing the entertainment brand for over 20 years, known as CGI Entertainment, and providing some of the most exclusive events for the city of Memphis, he is also a family man with a wife of 24 Years (TaJuan Givens) and 3 amazing sons, (Curtis III, Chase, Cruz). Givens is a graduate of Fairley High School, The University of Memphis, and a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc. He is also Founder and Coach of a nationally ranked AAU basketball team Tennessee Dream Chasers, and carries a role of a community leader.