(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another in our series of articles spotlighting some of the Knoxville area’s most successful and long-standing entrepreneurs, their paths to success, and the passions they continue to exhibit. Today, we complete our three-part series focused on Michael Strickland of Bandit Lites with a focus on his entrepreneurial journey and his advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Over the past 53 years, Michael Strickland has built a very successful national business providing full-service design, management and production for live events and shows. His Knoxville-based company – Bandit Lites – serves some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry – from legends like Jimmy Buffett, Queen, Garth Brooks, and Aerosmith to newer ones like Jason Aldean, Gavin Degraw, and Carrie Underwood.
With such a track record, we asked Strickland to share with our readers some of the lessons he’s learned over the years. He started with an acronym – “OLD” – and a story involving the late Kenny Rogers during a happenstance meeting in Las Vegas.
“I was out there helping with a show that Conway (Twitty) and Loretta (Lynn) were doing, and I wandered into a bar at the hotel,” Strickland said. He saw Rogers and recognized him immediately, although he doubted that the lead singer of the recently disbanded group named Kenny Rogers and the First Edition knew him.
“In my mind, I knew he was a has been, but I talked with him anyway,” Strickland said. “He told me he was going to become a country star. I thought that was unlikely, but I gave him my card as we parted and wished him success.”
Five months later, Rogers released arguably his biggest hit – Lucille – and a new country star emerged. Bandit Lites produced his sold-out Texas concert later in 1977 and handled all of his subsequent tours.
For Strickland, the story reinforces both the “L” in the acronym and the importance of connections.
“We sometimes have to make our own luck,” he says, emphasizing that engaging with people and building a network is so critical to successfully growing a business of any type. The other two letters of the “OLD” acronym stand for opportunity and determination, and no one would deny that Strickland personifies all three.
Admitting candidly that “I wanted to live anywhere but here after graduation,” he says that Bandit Lites did a lot of work for its competitors, mostly in Los Angeles. Within a few years, however, he learned that Knoxville’s location was ideal for several reasons.
“Knoxville is in the center of a map where the shows were,” Strickland says, adding, “This is by far the best place to live from the perspective of climate, taxes and quality of life. It’s easier to survive here.”
When asked the key to his success, Strickland quickly replies “Humanomics. Every decision at Bandit is made on what is best for the people first, and everything else after. If you take care of people, everything else falls into place.” Fifty-three years of longevity prove that concept to be true.
Looking to the future, Strickland says he probably receives 50 offers a year to sell the company, but that’s not in his plans. Like every long-time entrepreneur that we have featured, he’s having too much fun to let go.