Governor Bill Haslam appointed Burns Phillips commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development in June 2013. Phillips had been named acting commissioner in March 2013.
Commissioner Phillips introduced new management philosophy to the department, one that emphasized the use of modern digital technology and data to streamline business processes and procedures. During his time as Commissioner, Phillips championed a culture of experimentation to stimulate creativity and innovation throughout the department. He established simple rules of behavior, implemented distributive leadership, incorporated collective intelligence in conflict resolution and program development, encourages self-organization, demanded two-way always-on communication and insisted on decision making from the bottom up. This environment enabled the department to modernize its programs, measure performance and improve customer service in all divisions.
Previously, Phillips worked in state government for seven years in the budget office of the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration. In 1981, he moved into the private sector where he engaged in the sale and marketing of surgical and general medical products. In 1991. Phillips founded a surgical instrument company that manufactured products in the United States and Europe. To complement this, he established a distribution network conducting business in the United States, Canada, Mexico and 28 countries throughout Europe, South America and the Pacific Rim.
Prior to coming to Labor and Workforce Development, Phillips had returned to state government in 2009 to serve as Administrative Director of the Tennessee Department of Transportation's Central Services Division, and in 2012 served as managing director in the Department of Finance and Administration, overseeing customer-focused government initiatives administration-wide.
Phillips received his bachelor's degree from Middle Tennessee State University. After returning from military service the Commissioner earned his master's degree in public administration from Middle Tennessee State University and later he was awarded a law degree from the Nashville School of Law.