Bennish Brown was one of 165 candidates who applied to replace the departing Tammy Blount as president and CEO of the Tacoma Regional Convention & Visitor Bureau.
After the initial cut, and then an intensive two-day visit of three candidates, the bureau selection committee chose Brown in great part, said committee head Mike Gommi, because “he had that great combination of charisma and experience that we felt we needed. We felt we needed a true leader – someone who had specific experience as a head of a CVB.”
Gommi also said Brown has a “great business sense” as well as “an ability to build an instant rapport.”
Shelly Schlumpf, then chairwoman of the bureau board, said, “He’s going to be great at personal relationships. He’s very genuine. He thoroughly loves the tourism industry.”
Brown came to Tacoma after serving 12 years as head of South Carolina’s Rock Hill/York County Convention and Visitor Bureau. He’s a native of South Carolina.
Brown arrived at his new desk – in an office overlooking the Port of Tacoma, the Tideflats and Mount Rainier – on June 1. He spoke with The News Tribune last week.
Had you heard of Tacoma or Pierce County before applying for the job?
I would have had a general idea of where it was.
The lushness, the beauty. I’ve been through Seattle. I didn’t know there was such a presence of water.
What did you find when you arrived here?
I was very pleased. I was excited. I spent most of my time in Tacoma, and I saw Puyallup, Sumner, Lakewood, Gig Harbor. I loved the feel of Tacoma. I was impressed with the light rail.
It just felt like a city. I also liked what I saw on the main streets of Puyallup and Sumner. I put myself in the position of a tourist. It was authentic, the cities, the cafes. It’s a great feeling. I wanted to know more.
I have to ask about the name. Where does “Bennish” come from?
I was named after my father, who was named by an aunt. I did ask her. She said she just pulled that name out of the sky.
Why do you think you were selected?
I was humbled by this. A guy from little old South Carolina. What I am is a people person. I love people. I love listening. The people I met – they weren’t strangers when I left. Had I not gotten the job, this would still be a place I’d remember.
How have the first few weeks been?
People want to meet me, work with me. There’s a spirit of casualness, of fun. People do tend to business, but they seem to enjoy being with each other, laughing. It just feels good.
What skills do you bring to the job?
I’m passionate about this industry. I think I bring communication – a lot of what makes any enterprise successful is communication, the ability to clearly articulate needs and desires.
I bring passion. I bring an ability to communicate clearly. I consider myself a visionary. I try to imagine tomorrow. That’s a critical part of what we do. We have to be able to see that.
What is the vision?
I think we have a really good story to tell. I think we are not selling it boldly enough. We have what I would call bold attributes – nature, the mountain – that are ours. The water. The museums.
For us to see movement, we need to speak more boldly. The glass museum, the car museum, these things are world renown. I don’t think we’re bragging to the level we need to.
You’re walking into a few controversies. One concerns the bureau taking over bookings for the convention center. Any thoughts so far?
I’ve begun discussions with city staff. We have actually just begun to talk about the possibilities, and to define what each of us is looking for. The convention center is a great asset for the city and the county. We are also sensitive not to detract from the other entities we serve, such as the Puyallup Fairgrounds.
There are other challenges to your new office. What do you see as the most significant?
The struggle is stabilizing our funding, getting it to a point what we can manage long-term marketing plans. We know the economy is an issue for a lot of businesses.
One of my goals is to gain the confidence from decision-makers and have a reliable funding source to do the job that’s expected of us.
We are here to create the decisions by groups and visitors to bring their activities and events here, and to provide prosperity for our residents.
(We have) a role in coalescing the entire tourism industry in Pierce County. Tourism is an $800 million to $900 million industry, so it is quite significant to our economy. I’d like to see us begin to move that needle to consistently settle at $1 billion annually in visitor spending, and then see how we can continue to chart upward and onward.
Any final thoughts?
I’m happy to be here. I’ll be happier on June 27. That’s when my wife flies in. I’ll be whole.
Title: President and CEO, Tacoma Regional Convention & Visitor Bureau.
Family: Married to Sandra Lindsay-Brown, who will join Tacoma Public Schools as principal at Bryant Montessori on July 1. The couple have one adult son, a New York-based flight attendant with Delta Air Lines.
Education: Undergraduate (broadcasting) and graduate (public relations and marketing) degrees from the University of South Carolina.
Hobbies: Golf, college football, building scale-model Ford Mustangs.
Personal goal: To earn a black belt in karate.
Reading: “The Prayer of Jabez.”
Drives: A GMC Terrain (“an American car that gets me where I need to go”).
What you likely don’t know about Brown: On nice days he’ll be driving his 1963 4-door 390 Ford hardtop.