Several decades ago, Michael Strickland was just your average 12-year-old kid, growing up in Kingsport, Tennessee, and going to school like all the other kids. However, when a touring band stopped in Kingsport for a concert, Strickland made it quite clear that he was not your average junior high student. After “borrowing” lighting equipment from his school’s audiovisual department, Michael put his years of community theater experience to good use when he asked that band’s members if he could show them how to enhance their show with lights. During a time when concerts weren’t yet dazzling displays of sound and light, Strickland was at the forefront of a soon-to-be booming industry. However, unlike others in the concert business, there was just one problem—Strickland had homework, chores, and a curfew.
For $25, Strickland started lighting shows using two spotlights run by himself and a friend. However, as others learned of Strickland’s knack for putting on a show, his success grew. He found a friend with a car and a trailer who could haul equipment to other cities. His business continued to grow through high school and college, when he attended the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and earned a bachelor of science degree in business administration, graduating in 1977.
Strickland’s company, Bandit Lites (named after its humble beginnings), has grown over the past several decades into the second largest event-lighting company in the world with offices in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Its divisions include TV, movies, live music, special events, and education, and clients include (among others) Jimmy Buffett, Garth Brooks, R.E.M., and the Super Bowl half-time show.
Strickland’s success has not hampered his loyalties to those that have helped him or his drive to give back. He has served the City of Knoxville, Knox County, and the state of Tennessee, including his service as a chair of the Knoxville Chamber Partnership. As a member of the University of Tennessee Development Council and the College of Business Administration Campaign Leadership Committee, he continues to stress the importance of helping future students. In recognition of Strickland’s years of loyal support, the college has named for him a 47-seat, tiered undergraduate classroom in the new Haslam Business Building.
“Each of us has an obligation to put the next generation in the best possible position to succeed,” says Strickland, “and gifts to the College of Business Administration ensure the success of this and future generations in this world. It is a privilege to be able to assist others as we all work together to make the world a better place.”
Strickland and his wife, Nicole, live in Knoxville and have two children, Chase and Cole.
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