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For markets and his city, commodities trader Charles McVean looks ahead

James Dowd/Commercial Appeal

Feb 17, 2011

With keen insight and unwavering determination, Charles McVean remains focused on the future, whether he's trading commodities or envisioning a healthier landscape for the city.

As chairman and CEO of Memphis-headquartered McVean Trading & Investments, he oversees a company that manages accounts for more than 6,000 clients worldwide. And as the innovator behind the Aerobic Cruiser Hybrid Cycle, McVean promotes state-of-the-art lithium battery-powered bicycles and touts the recently opened Shelby Farms Greenline as an attraction that could help Memphis leapfrog other cities as a tourist destination.

"There's a growing desire to promote more environmentally friendly products, and the potential is here for unparalleled recreation and exercise along the Greenline," McVean said. "I believe we're in a position to define our destiny and create something special."

For his varied contributions, McVean is being honored by the Society of Entrepreneurs. He will be formally inducted into the organization April 9.

A native Memphian, McVean graduated from East High School and later studied philosophy and economics at Vanderbilt University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1965.

After graduation, he accepted a job as a trader in the grain industry and subsequently worked with Cook Industries in Memphis and later in New York with the Louis Dreyfus Corp.

McVean moved back to Memphis in 1974, taking a job with brokerage firm Refco, where he focused on cattle trading and eventually became a principal. As a futures trader, he relied on advice that still guides him today.

"My grandfather was an old cattle trader, and he used to say that at the end of the day, if you're going to be in a business like this, you have to know where legitimate business ends and where gambling begins," McVean said. "I've based my career on knowing the difference between the two and making the right decisions for my clients."

In 1986, McVean branched out and established McVean Trading & Investments, which today counts 80 employees and concentrates on livestock, grains and oilseeds, and global macroeconomics.

"Memphis has a terrific commodities history and Charles is a leader in that area," said David Waddell, president and CEO of Waddell & Associates. "He's got a tremendous business mind and has inspired countless others, encouraging them to create an even more robust community of entrepreneurship in Memphis."

One way McVean does that is through education.

In 2004 he founded the Peer Power Foundation, which helps guide disadvantaged students toward academic success. The program is active in nearly a dozen schools, employing more than 150 high school and college students to tutor and mentor more than 1,000 younger students every day.

In part because of that initiative, in 2007 McVean was named Humanitarian of the Year by the Memphis City Council for his efforts to improve public education.

"Through his work with clients, his presence in the community and his advocacy for students, Charles exemplifies a positive role model in our community," said Pearson Crutcher, executive director of the SOE. "He's a wonderful example for all of us."

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