Mike Guswiler made what sounds like a giant career change, moving from hospitality to sports management—but he says the two fields have plenty in common.

The president of the West Michigan Sports Commission attended business school at Central Michigan University, then cut his teeth on hotel management. As he worked in hotels, he discovered the job was about representing an overall destination experience rather than one individual property. That insight led him to the Kent County Convention and Visitors Bureau, where he served for seven years. 

When the idea to form the West Michigan Sports Commission arose, he jumped at the chance to lead the effort. The commission was created to promote West Michigan as a premier destination for hosting a diverse range of youth and amateur sporting events.

“Even during a down economy, like in 2007, when the sports commission was formed, there is still success in attracting that sports traveler,” he says. “With youth and amateur sports, it’s often parents taking their kids on a minivacation within their state or region.” 

Ten years after the commission’s creation, Guswiler still believes that hospitality and sports make wonderful companions— because you can’t have sports tourism without hotels. 

And with four children of his own, Guswiler is no stranger to youth sports. 

“Sports and coaching have always been part of my life,” he says. “I have two kids in college and two still at home.” Soccer, lacrosse and baseball keep his family busy. In fact, sports are part of his life yearround: Guswiler also loves to snowboard and ski during the winter months and mountain bike in the summer. “I love how the Grand Rapids area offers so many recreation opportunities,” he says. 

Guswiler’s love for the area shines through in his work with the commission. “Each day is so different with all the sports organizations and local clubs we work with,” he says. “The job is really about bringing visitors into our community, and it’s a community I love and I’ve grown with, so we’ve been really fortunate with our success. I think it’s only the beginning.

Dorothy Hecht was just 16 years old in 1937 when she waited on her first table at what was then Fischer’s Restaurant in downtown Frankenmuth, and ecstatically earned her first 25-cent tip. When she met and eventually married William “Tiny” Zehnder, whose family owned Zehnder’s Restaurant across the street, her happiness continued, and a legacy began.

 

If you'd have told a young Larry Alexander, president and CEO of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau (DMCVB), that he’d spend his career making memories, he wouldn’t have believed you. 

 

Tony Michaels is no stranger to navigating choppy waters. The CEO and executive director of The Parade Company, which puts on traditions like America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Ford Fireworks, took the helm of the Detroit nonprofit during tough times, at the height of the financial crisis. “2008, 2009, are you kidding me?” says Michaels.