the true spirit of Detroit.
2008 was a hard time for Detroit. The great recession hit with a force that shook the city to its core. Our businesses and infrastructure crumbled. Our institutions suffered. And America’s Thanksgiving Parade® presented by Art Van, a Detroit touchstone since 1924, wasn’t immune. Despite hardship brought on by the economic downturn, the parade rallied itself and pressed onward; a stalwart symbol of hope in a city that had lost so much of it.
At the time, the future looked questionable. But for Tony Michaels—a native Grosse Pointer known for turning around another Detroit institution as the CEO of Elias Brothers Restaurants—guiding the Detroit Parade Company through the maelstrom was a higher calling.
“In 2008, after parting ways with Elias Brothers, I had options to go other places. But I didn’t want to leave the state. The Parade Company position became available, and I figured that if I could get with the team and make it great, then things would get better financially for everybody. So in 2009, I took it on and became President and CEO. The goal was to improve everything about the Parade Company. And here we are nine years later. We are really rolling with the greatest team, the greatest sponsors, partners, and volunteers. We’ve improved everything.”
From the lean times of 2008, the Parade Company has made an incredible rebound; earning its place as a booming, brimming bright spot amongst Detroit’s many stories of resurgence.
“The team has just been phenomenal. We’ve grown sponsorship by 120 percent, and we do everything bigger, better and bolder. We're now broadcast in 185 cities across America. The top five out of ten markets in America see this parade. That means the world to us because we want to do great things that put Detroit on a stage. That’s what it’s really about.”
Rising to embrace that higher purpose, Tony and his team are driven to make America’s Thanksgiving Parade® presented by Art Van a success because they know just how much it means to the next generation of Detroiters.
“We’ve come a long way, but it’s really, truly all about the kids and families in Detroit. Because, when you think about it, for the kids who just don’t have what others have, the experience that this parade gives them is amazing. We have celebrities in the parade. We have amazing floats and awesome bands. It’s two hours of magic. And it means the world to people. So the bigger and better we can be, the more we can bring to the community.”
For those who grew up with the parade, that sense of wonder they experienced as children never really goes away. The floats parading down M1 are an institution unto themselves. One that crosses borders and boundaries to captivate each and every one of us.
“It’s how we come together as a city. That morning is probably the greatest example of how we come together because there are hundreds of thousands of people down Woodward from the DIA to Larned Street. It’s special to see people of all races, religions and all walks of life lining Woodward, together.”
Tony sees the crowds, marching bands, and fantastical floats as a barometer of sorts.
“It shows the health of Detroit. How healthy the city really is. And I think it does a lot to improve the reputation of our city. And the more cities we can get the broadcast in, the more people are going to think of Detroit.”
An optimist to his core, Tony believes that that togetherness combined with that good reputation will help drive Detroit forward toward even more healthy success.
“I’ve been a Detroiter my whole life, and what we have now is everybody headed in the same direction. And it wasn’t always like that. When we wanted to make comebacks, it was still splintered. Now, it’s in the same direction. And not that there aren’t differences about the right thing to do, but truly, everybody is working together to make this a better city. They really are.”
A Detroit lover to the maximum, Tony believes wholeheartedly that the progress now being seen and felt throughout the city—the very progress that the parade works so hard to highlight—is but the tip of the iceberg.
“Five years from now, there’s going to be more people living in the city. There’s going to be more jobs in the city. There’s going to be more action in the city. And I think the neighborhoods are going to improve because we can’t forget the neighborhoods. I think that great things are being done by Mayor Duggan right now. Creating pride in each of the areas of our city. When this thing kicks in, it’s going to be so good. Because, let’s face it, the city is border to border and every bit of it needs to come along for the ride.”
But the hard-won benefits of that progress must go beyond the city and its boroughs. Tony envisions the greater Detroit area as part and parcel of the city’s continued progress. Both sharing in the efforts and reaping the benefits.
“Outside the city, it’s a great collaboration for the suburbs. Everybody is working together. Because let’s face it, a healthy Detroit is a healthy region. There’s no doubt about it. And a healthy region is a healthy Detroit—if everybody is working together.”
Ever the compassionate leader, Tony wraps with a sage thought that we could all take to heart:
“I have a theory, and maybe I’m crazy, but I believe that if you run a company that relies on your people and the great teams giving their days and lives to make that company successful, I think that we ought to do more for them. To make their lives better. And to make our city better all at the same time. And, right now, you have so many companies that think that way, whether it’s Quicken Loans, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Ford, Huntington Bank or DTE. All of these companies, and so many more, they’re marching together to make Detroit better. And that’s what makes me love Detroit because we always knew the spirit was there. There was always that sense of hope, but now it’s so much better because it’s becoming a reality—and that’s a very big deal.”