Martha Rivers Ingram | Legacy of Leadership Profile

Martha Rivers Ingram (Born August 20, 1935)

In 1995, Martha Ingram succeeded her late husband, E. Bronson Ingram, as chairman and chief executive officer of Ingram Industries, an $11 billion distribution conglomerate based in Nashville, Tennessee. At the time, she was better known in the performing arts world than in the business world. But today, she is recognized as one of the nation's top female executives.    

Martha Robinson Rivers Ingram was born August 20, 1935, in Charleston, the daughter of John Minott and Martha Elizabeth Robinson Rivers. She has a sister, Elizabeth Craig (now Mrs. Richard Lewine), and a brother, John Rivers, Jr.

She graduated from Ashley Hall School in Charleston and enrolled at Vassar College, where she received a degree in history in 1957. At Vassar, she developed a love for the performing arts that she has been sharing with others ever since.

After college, she returned to Charleston to work at WCSC-AM/FM and WCSC-TV, which her father owned. While her career goals were unclear, her father suggested that, as the oldest of his children, she be prepared to carry on the family business should anything happen to him.    

She spent a year and a half absorbing some of her father's business skills, but her broadcasting career ended after she renewed a friendship with E. Bronson Ingram, a Princeton graduate she had dated during her senior year at Vassar. They were married October 4, 1958, at St. Philip's Church in Charleston.

They settled first in New Orleans and later in Nashville, where Bronson Ingram was involved with his family's extensive business interests. They became the parents of four children: Orrin Henry III, John Rivers, David Bronson, and Robin Bigelow Ingram.

Martha Ingram's early years of marriage were devoted to being wife and mother. However, her interest in the performing arts persisted, and, as a result, she began to bring more professionalism to the arts in Nashville and Tennessee.

The idea for a local performing arts facility developed in 1972 with her appointment to the advisory board of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. Back in Nashville, her idea met with considerable resistance, but Martha Ingram persevered—for eight years and during the terms of three governors.

The result was the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, or TPAC, a three-theater facility located beneath a state office building across the street from the Capitol. Martha Ingram and her supporters even raised an endowment for certain operating expenses. The endowment goal was $3.5 million. They raised $5 million. Today, the endowment has grown to $20 million.    

Endowment income defrays operating losses and funds a program that grooms future audiences for TPAC performances. Each year, more than 100,000 students, from kindergarten through 12th grade, are brought to Nashville for performances by the Nashville Symphony, the Tennessee Repertory Theatre, the Nashville Opera Association, and the Nashville Ballet.

With the TPAC project nearing completion, Martha Ingram's husband invited her to go to work at Ingram Industries. She became vice president for public affairs in 1979 and a member of the board in 1981. She and her husband worked in adjoining offices, and he sought her advice and kept her informed about all Ingram Industries developments. Reminiscent of her father's expectations, Bronson Ingram looked to her as his successor.

Five days after her husband's death in 1995, she became Ingram Industries chairman. Later, she and family members decided to spin off California-based Ingram Micro as a public company and operate the rest of Ingram Industries as private companies. Ingram Micro remains the world's largest wholesale distributor of technology products and services. Martha Ingram is a member of the Ingram Micro board, as is son John. The Ingrams are the majority stockholders of Ingram Micro.    

With the reorganization of Ingram Industries, Ingram Entertainment, which distributes home videos and video games, was sold to David Ingram, Martha Ingram's youngest son. Ingram Industries is now comprised of Ingram Book Group, a leading book distributor; Ingram Marine Group; and Ingram Insurance Group. Martha Ingram is chairman, her son Orrin is president, and son John is vice chairman. Her daughter, Robin Ingram Patton, is a member of the Ingram board of directors. Robin's husband, Richard Patton, runs a venture capital fund within the company. 

Martha Ingram is chairman of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center and is on the boards of the Tennessee Repertory Theatre, the Nashville City Ballet, the Nashville Opera Association, the Nashville Institute for the Arts, and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. She also serves on the board of directors of Spoleto Festival USA.    

She is a member of the boards of Baxter International, Inc., First American Corporation, and Weyerhaeuser Company.

She is also chairman of the Vanderbilt University Board of Trust and a trustee of Ashley Hall School and Vassar College.

In 1995, Martha and Bronson Ingram established the Ingram Charitable Fund to help support Vanderbilt and other nonprofit organizations. She was a contributor to the Ashley Hall performing arts center, which is named for her. A gift to Vassar is being used to build the Martha Rivers and E. Bronson Ingram library addition to the Vassar College Library.

Martha Ingram is the first living woman and the first daughter of a laureate to be inducted into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame. In April 1999, she was inducted into the Junior Achievement National Business Hall of Fame and was also the recipient of the Mary Harriman Community Leadership Award of Junior League International, Inc.

The grandmother of 11, she is a member of St. George's Episcopal Church in Nashville.

She entered the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1999.    

© 1999 South Carolina Business Hall of Fame