2017-08-10 / Top News

Justin Brand Rising

The man behind the scenes at Charlotte County’s premier venue

DONNA VALENTI / FLORIDA WEEKLYDONNA VALENTI / FLORIDA WEEKLYYOU WOULD EXPECT SOMEONE WITH the title of operations manager of the Charlotte Harbor Event & Conference Center to be found in the carpeted office near the main entrance. Not Justin Brand.

His office is nestled in a corner of the cavernous hallways that are out of sight of the general public.

“One day I looked out my door, and there was an elephant walking by,” Mr. Brand said.

That was during a circus — one of the myriad varied events held at Punta Gorda’s premier venue.

Now, if you’ve ever had to organize an event there, there’s a good chance you’ve run into Mr. Brand. If you haven’t met him or heard of him, don’t worry — you will, sooner rather than later.

Don’t let the fact that he looks as if he’s still in college fool you. Mr. Brand is one of the Charlotte County’s rising stars who’s starting to make his mark in the community. Just ask any member of Leadership Charlotte’s 2017 class.

Justin Brand: “I want to do something that’s going to interest me so it doesn’t feel like work.” DONNA VALENTI / FLORIDA WEEKLYJustin Brand: “I want to do something that’s going to interest me so it doesn’t feel like work.” DONNA VALENTI / FLORIDA WEEKLYThe apex of Leadership Charlotte — Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce’s annual program that introduces class members to the inner workings of the community — is a fundraising event or project. LC17’s dinner and concert at the Charlotte County Fairgrounds raised a record-setting $105,000-plus to benefit four different charities.

While the event was truly a group effort, no class member would deny that Mr. Brand captained the ship, throwing all of his organizational expertise into the effort. He considers it his greatest professional and personal accomplishment thus far.

He sits on the board of Charlotte County Chamber, has recently been appointed to the United Way’s board of directors and is the current sitting president of Charlotte County Young Professionals.

With Justin Brand’s guidance, the versatile Charlotte Harbot Event & Conference Center can stage a circus one day and a banquet the next. 
DONNA VALENTI / FLORIDA WEEKLY With Justin Brand’s guidance, the versatile Charlotte Harbot Event & Conference Center can stage a circus one day and a banquet the next. DONNA VALENTI / FLORIDA WEEKLY It sounds as if Mr. Brand is veteran in his industry, but he is only 27 years old — and has only been in his current position for three years.

So who is Justin Brand, and where did he come from?

From snow to sun

Mr. Brand’s mother was a general manager for John Deere, and his father was a law enforcement corrections officer for 28 years. He views them not only as parents but also as mentors. They encouraged him to work hard and stay humble, which is advice he seeks to live by. They also helped him choose a career.

“When I was younger, I always wanted to be the doctor, the actor — something cool and fun like that,” Mr. Brand said. “But it was about my senior year of high school when I sat down with my parents. It was some random night over dinner, and we were discussing, ‘What do you really want to do? Let’s pick a focus; let’s pick something.’ And they said, ‘Ever since you were younger and we traveled, you were more excited about the hotel, and getting to the hotel, going through the lobby and things like that. Why don’t you look into hotel management?’”

That led to an online search about the profession, what it is and what kind of education he’d require.

“I always felt that if I’m going to go to college, I want to do something that’s going to interest me so it doesn’t feel like work,” Mr. Brand said.

After graduating with a bachelor’s in hotel and resort management (concentrating on convention services) from SUNY-Delhi in the Catskills of upstate New York, he started in the hotel industry. He loved the work — but not the weather. One too many seasons of shoveling snow had worn him down.

“I had been living there my entire life in New York,” Mr. Brand said. “I had vacation homes down here, so I decided one day to pick up and move to Florida. On a whim, decided I had had enough.

“I moved to Cape Coral, and I found this job online. It was really about timing on that one. This was one of my first interviews. Within 24 hours, I had accepted the position.”

Mr. Brand actually works for SMG Worldwide Entertainment and Convention Venue Management, which manages everything from large conference and convention centers, arenas, theaters, all the way down to the Event & Conference Center here — which happens to be the smallest in the company’s portfolio.

But the Punta Gorda venue, which is just less than 45,000 square feet, manages to host a wide variety of events, from seven-person boardroom meetings to concerts for 1,800, and everything in between.

“We host the Mistletoe Ball every year, the Care Ball, Summer Ball, the Animal Welfare League does some sort of event with us every year,” Mr. Brand said. “We do a lot of the community events, which is nice. It brings a lot of people through the doors. We’re trying to branch out from that but still stay community focused and push out more into the corporate sectors. Sotheby’s International comes in, and they do their yearly review and roll into their kickoff for the next fiscal year. We have some medical conferences that are biannual as well.”

Mr. Brand oversees the day-to-day operations on the event side, make sure functions are running smoothly, coordinating audiovisual needs for their outside companies that come in, supporting the sales staff when they need help with room setup or offering his opinion when they’re meeting with clients for big events.

“It’s never the same,” he said. “Every day is different, which is why I think I like it so much.”

The center might have a concert for 1,800 people one day and have to break down to set up a banquet the next, requiring Mr. Brand and his crews to work through the night. They’ve had circuses whose stables had to be replaced by a concert stage in less than 24 hours.

The only way a team can pull off those feats is by having a strong leader. At first, you’d think the soft-spoken Mr. Brand might not fit the bill. He just seems so … nice. But like a fictional Native American chief once said, “There is iron in his words.”

Modern maturity

Mr. Brand said that, although his job is to make sure his firm is exceeding customers’ satisfaction and needs, he also realizes there are restrictions.

“Sometimes I have to be the bad person, whether it’s with the client or with the sales staff,” he said. “I have to be the one to sometimes say, ‘No, we can’t do that.’”

You’d think his age would be a challenge, especially since he’s younger than most of his staff. Apparently, it’s not an issue. He dispenses the best advice he knows how to give.

“I’m kind of an open book,” he said. “You can ask me pretty much anything, and I’ll give you a straight answer. You might not like it, but I don’t usually sugarcoat things too much. I feel I’m very approachable, which is probably my greatest strength. A lot of my staff will come to me and ask questions about work, sometimes personal, and ask my opinion about how I would do something or what I recommend. Most of my staff are older than me, so for them to come and ask for my guidance is kind of nice.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Mr. Brand has been told multiple times that he behaves like a man beyond his years. His maturity level — so rare at someone his age these days — combined with his background and the opportunities he’s been offered is likely the biggest key to his accomplishing so much so soon.

“I owe a lot of that to my parents with their guidance when I was young,” he said.

Mr. Brand would like to be the CEO or owner of his own company someday. But for right now, at under 30 years old, he’s content. He’s also barely out of the gate.

“If I were to classify success for myself, it’s doing something that makes you happy,” he said. “A lot of times people quantify success by how much you make each year or by what the title on your door is. But for me, as long as you’re happy doing whatever it is, you’re comfortable with your lifestyle, you feel enjoyment and you’re rewarded with what you’re doing, that equals success for me.” ¦

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