Michael Strickland (’77)

Category: Awards | Distinguished Alumnus/Alumna

2021 Distinguished Alumnus Award Winner

Michael Strickland, a native of Kingsport, Tennessee, graduated from UT in 1977 with a degree in business administration. After graduation, he continued to develop his already-thriving business, Bandit Lites.

Today, Bandit Lites is the world’s oldest company in the event lighting industry and one of the largest lighting companies in the world, with offices in Knoxville, Nashville, Charlotte, San Francisco, London, and Hong Kong. The organization has provided lighting for stars like Garth Brooks, Jimmy Buffett, Alice Cooper, Carrie Underwood, REM, Queen, Van Halen, Aerosmith, Barry Manilow, and Jason Aldean as well as at major events such as presidential inauguration balls, the NFL Draft, and Super Bowl half time shows.

Along the way, Strickland also started and owned Thomas Engineering, Tomcat Engineering, Avolites, Gear Park, Best Techs, Vol Air, and Authentic Stars. All of Strickland’s companies are controlled by one simple philosophy: Humanomics—business decisions based on what is best for people.

Strickland was named the CNN/USA Today Entrepreneur of the Year in 1999. In 2020, country music legend Garth Brooks presented Strickland with the Visionary Lifetime Achievement Award at the Parnelli Awards, the most prestigious awards gathering in the live event industry. He has been inducted into the East Tennessee Business Hall of Fame, the Nashville Business Hall of Fame, and the Dobyns Bennett High School Hall of Fame. His company was named East Tennessee’s Entrepreneurial Company of the Year in 1996 and has been named Lighting Company of the Year 26 times by numerous organizations. In 2020 and 2021, Strickland was named to the Impact 50 list, the 50 most impactful people in the live entertainment industry.

Despite his busy professional career, Strickland has demonstrated a commitment to service and has been generous with his time and resources. He serves on the UT Development Council, the UT President’s Council, the Haslam College of Business Dean’s Advisory Council, the UT Chancellor’s Associates, the Integrated Business and Engineering Board, the UT Medical Center Board, and many others. He also supports numerous community initiatives including Leadership Knoxville, Leadership Tennessee, Knoxville Junior Achievement, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, the American Cancer Society, Boy Scouts of America, and countless others.

Strickland has given his financial support to university initiatives through contributions to university athletics and the Haslam College of Business. He regularly donates in-kind services from Bandit Lites for university and college events. In recognition of his professional success and his generosity in sharing both his time and his financial resources, Strickland was awarded the Haslam College of Business’s Distinguished Alum award in 2009. The college recognized his support for technology by naming a classroom in the new business building in his honor. He has also been awarded the Alumni Service Award, the Development Council Service Award, the President’s Council Service Award, and the Accomplished Alumni Award.