Article Archive/April 2011
Updated March 31, 2011
Meet Mike Gunn
Vice-President of Sales
By Jay Whipple/Trend Magazine Online™
It was in the spring of 1993 when I last interviewed Mike Gunn, then 39, for Trend Magazine Online™. We met in the lobby of the Omni Charlotte Hotel in Uptown where at the time he was a Sales Manager and had been there for 10 years – since 1983. He wore a dapper suit as usual. The population in Charlotte, NC, back then was approximately 422,000, today it is approaching 800,000; Bobby McFerrin was coming to town the next month to conduct the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra (I went), and the Mayor was Republican Richard Vinroot. The city was without a professional football team, and the Charlotte Hornets (Now New Orleans Hornets) were in their 5th season of play. The Nations Bank (Now Bank of America) tower was not even a year old, and the city was planning for the NCAA Final Four college basketball championships that next year in 1994.
Fast forward 18 years and I am still writing for Trend Magazine Online™ and Mr. Gunn is now Vice-President of Sales for the city of Birmingham, Alabama, where he has been for the last 16 years. In 1993 he had aspirations of self-employment in the meeting planner field; however, today he is content with his job and way of life. “I have put my kids through college doing what I do,” says Mike who thoroughly enjoys the flexibility of his job as well as the camaraderie of his fellow associates. “We have people that have been here for 30 years and most have been here for at least over a decade,” he explained; “We are like a family.” Mike’s day-to-day duties and responsibilities include supervising a staff of 14 in securing convention, show, and meeting groups from in-state, regional, national and some international locations. “I have a great staff,” he confidently boasts. He enjoys the fact that every day is different and could not find one thing that he does not like about his job as opposed to 1993 when he was not too thrilled about the long hours.
In 1993, when asked about the representation of African-Americans in management positions in the travel industry, Mike relented that Charlotte at the time had only 15% which in his opinion was not enough. While I do not have any specific data to update those stats, based on observation, the percentage of African-Americans in management appears to still be low in Charlotte nearly 20-years later. On the other hand, Birmingham has lifted the industry’s low flying glass ceiling with another African-American holding down the position of Vice-President of Tourism. To boot, the city’s Chief of Police, Fire Chief, and Mayor are all African-American who Mike is well acquainted. Who would have dreamed nearly 50 years ago that a Black man would now be in charge of the same fire departments whose hoses tormented many of people of color, and that a Black man would now be in charge of the same police departments whose dogs mangled many of people of color in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement. And let us not forget about the now famous letter written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his Birmingham jail cell in April of 1963.
Mr. Gunn, now 57, is quick to point out these accomplishments as he recounts the city’s civil progress from Jim Crow to now. Jim Crow, for those of you that does not know, was a demeaning traveling minstrel show that poked fun at Blacks. It is that history and subsequent progress as well as the people that keep him in Birmingham. He is also excited about the new entertainment district that is in the works for downtown and the fact that they have an international airport for easy access to/from overseas. On Valentines Day – February 14 – of this year he became a Grandfather to a new bouncing baby boy who will certainly be good company to his Granddaughter – now 14 years old.
They say that if you find something that you genuinely like doing; you will never have to work another day of your life. Mr. Gunn is still a die-hard golfer -- with a 15 handicap -- who has as much fun on the course as he does on the job. He has worked in the travel and tourism industry for nearly 30 years and has weathered all of its ups and downs. “People will always travel,” he says confidently, but he still would like to see more African-Americans represented in the industry nationwide. And by the way, he still dresses to impress.
Mike Gunn is on the Board of Directors of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners, and is a member of the Religious Conference Management Association, and American Society of Associate Executives. He is a certified meeting planner and has won the following awards and accreditations: 2001, Supplier of the Year, National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners; 2003, Certified Meeting Planner certification; 2004, Venice De Milo Award; 2007 APEX Award by Black Meeting and Tourism Magazine; and 2009, Tourism Director of the Year.
For additional information on visiting Birmingham, AL click here.
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