Nerissa Morris has a passion for and a powerful record of helping others grow and live into their potential. As SVP & Chief HR Officer at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, she’s breaking barriers as the first African American to hold a C-suite role at the Medical Center. Her impact and ability to implement bold action (like the acceleration of a minimum pay rate of $15 an hour) can already be felt and continues to grow.
Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber

Making Black History

Nerissa Morris

Title:

Senior Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer

Current / Past Place of Employment:

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

Years in the Region:

Most recently, I have been in Cincinnati for just over 20 months. I completed my degrees at Xavier University and started my first professional employment here before leaving the region to pursue other opportunities.

Originally From:

I was born in Richmond, Va. and primarily grew up in a small town on the Chesapeake Bay.

Age:

My paternal grandmother always said “a woman never tells her age.”

Her Story:

Nerissa’s career began at Kenner Products, here in Cincinnati, and has come full circle returning in 2018 to serve as the Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.  Leading the human resources and community relations functions for one of the largest private employers in the area, she oversees enterprise-wide people functions and is the first African American to hold a C-suite role at the Medical Center.  With experiences in multiple industries, toys (Kenner Products, Cincinnati, Ohio), automotive (Ford Motor Company, Volvo Car Corporation), financial services (Ford Motor Credit Corporation), higher education and academic medicine (University of Miami, Miami, Fla.) she has demonstrated human resources and business proficiency through success in leadership roles at all levels, including senior human resources positions with Ford in the U.S. and Brazil, as well as with Volvo Car Corporation in Sweden.

Prior to joining Cincinnati Children’s, Ms. Morris served as Vice President for Human Resources at the University of Miami for eight years, where she led organization and culture changes, while also being an active community citizen through engagement with the United Way, American Red Cross, New World Symphony, Miami Children’s Initiative, and the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA –HR), and Fidelity Client Advisory Board. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Master of Business Administration from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.

What makes you uniquely YOU?

Raised as the middle child, and only girl, to my Dad, a Baptist preacher, and my Mom, an independent force of nature, I learned early that I was here for a purpose. I believe that purpose is to help others grow and live into their potential. People most often see my position, career path, or public experiences and use those as measures of who I am. When you really get to know me, I’m someone to count on, an explorer, a thinker, an overcomer and a difference maker.

What made you decide to make Cincinnati home?

Making Cincinnati home at this stage in life was about finishing work that started here years ago. It was coming home to a city where my father provided the first example of what it means to give in order to make the surrounding community stronger. I was drawn to the unique opportunity of Cincinnati Children’s as a place where I could join with people who are committed to improving the lives of children in this community, the community I first called home.

What is your proudest moment in recent history?

In my professional capacity, I am most proud of the recent action to accelerate our minimum pay rate to $15 per hour. While I was leading the decision and gaining the support of my colleagues, the win wasn’t mine, it was for our dedicated workforce and their families. It was a win for our community. 

What legacy do you hope to leave behind?

The most important legacy I can leave behind is a trail of people who were inspired by something I said or did that elevated their belief in themselves and propelled them forward to overcome challenges, capitalize on opportunities, and to live out their purpose in service to others. I was blessed and I paid it forward.

How do you define success?

I first think about the importance of faith as an essential ingredient for success: trusting beyond what you can see, to believe that you can do something meaningful. Then factor in courage: finding and maintaining the energy to navigate the difficulties. Finally, commitment to purpose: being committed to doing something that really matters.

What is your advice for emerging African American leaders?

The wisdom of Maya Angelou has often inspired me. Like this quote: “I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”  

  • Be prepared. Be a lifelong learner, and don’t underestimate who you can learn from. Everyone and every situation has something to teach.
  • Be an explorer.  Take advantage of as many opportunities as you can that expose you to new places, cultures, challenges, and adventures. This will expand your perspective. Travel as far away from home as time and resources will allow, and when they are restricted read about the world and learn through the experiences of others. 
  • Be kind. We all need others to choose to look past our shortcomings and to extend kindness. This generosity is grace, extend it to others.
  • Be uniquely you. Embrace all that you are, the gifts of your heritage, and the passions which give you energy and life. Always strive to do your best, be your best, and to show up in ways that reflect best on yourself and those you may represent.  
  • Be the first. Someone has to be first, why not you? If you are prepared, can see the bigger picture through your expanded perspectives, have cultivated a network of support, and can serve with kindness and grace you’ll be ready. Don’t miss your opportunity to do something uniquely designed for you.

What does Cincinnati as a “future city” mean to you?

Stepping up to face the challenges of the past and present to be progressive, welcoming, and vibrant in service to a better future for the city, region, and state.  Aspire to lead, not to be boastful (which might challenge being ‘Cincinnati nice’) but to be visibly and intentionally impactful in business, technology, culture, and education, and as an inclusive community. Cincinnati as a “future city” is a city where all people can thrive.

What piece of advice have you received along the way in your career or life journey that has stuck with you?

My father was my constant encourager. He was my first, and constant, leadership role model. He encouraged excellence, required integrity, and role-modeled commitment. As a young girl he gave me a little yellow and orange plaque that read:  “Good, better, best. Never let rest ‘til your good is your better and your better is your best.” I’ve never forgotten it and I’ve tried to live by it in everything I do. It means to apply myself fully. Always strive to do my best in that moment. And above all, don’t give up. 

Tell us about something that most people do not know about you.

I have been a public speaker since my childhood, required as the preacher’s daughter to represent the church on many occasions. Despite this history, for many years public speaking petrified me. I am proof, the fear of public speaking can be cured by just doing it when the stakes are high. At a Fidelity Investments national client conference, I didn’t realize until the afternoon before that I would be a keynote presentation not a small group breakout. I was to speak on the same gigantic stage where Cokie Roberts, the renowned ABC journalist, had just finished speaking. I couldn’t back out, I just had to prepare, pray, and persist. I nailed it!! I haven’t been scared in front of an audience since.

In what ways are you involved in the Cincinnati community outside of your professional endeavors?

As a still relatively newcomer to Cincinnati, most of my engagement in the community is through my leadership role and volunteerism at Cincinnati Children’s, and as a member of the Queen City (OH) Chapter Of The Links, Incorporated. My community interests are most often connected to service in my church, coaching and mentoring outside of my organization, and service to organizations that touch a personal passion (e.g. American Red Cross, United Way, programs impacting the needs of women and children). As I continue to settle in Cincinnati, I look forward to putting my passion into action in this community.

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