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2024 BizBash 40 Under 40: Michelle Dunnick

Michelle Dunnick, 38, is director of events and social impact for the New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute, and also serves as national president of the National Association for Catering and Events.

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Michelle Dunnick, 38, is director of events and social impact for the New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute, and also serves as national president of the National Association for Catering and Events (NACE). She's based in New Orleans. A quote from her nomination: "Michelle exemplifies leadership and innovation. She continues to bring her passion for social responsibility to the forefront, aligning her expertise with an institute at the intersection of culinary arts and hospitality."

My career journey: "The seeds were sown during high school when I orchestrated Mother's Day brunches, and later as the director of recruitment for Panhellenic sorority recruitment at Loyola University New Orleans. Post-graduation, my path led me to volunteer at Cocktail Film Fest, a serendipitous turn that marked the beginning of my professional voyage at Tales of the Cocktail, an international festival based in New Orleans, where I spent nearly nine enriching years.

Seeking a new chapter, I joined the inspiring team at United Way of Southeast Louisiana as the director of events and community engagement, overseeing fundraising events and spearheading Women United, a women's group. This tenure provided a rejuvenating experience, offering a departure from the fast-paced events world and affording me the opportunity to glean insights into the impact of public policy from remarkable women leaders in my community.

After six fulfilling years, a transformative nonprofit leader recruited me to reshape the events department at the New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute (NOCHI) as their director of events and social impact. In my nearly four months here, with the unwavering support of Gerald, our executive director, I've found a sense of belonging. Throughout my career, the National Association for Catering and Events (NACE) has played a pivotal role. From my initial involvement, nurtured by my first employer's endorsement of NACE, to the guidance of mentors, I've evolved into the position I proudly hold today: NACE national president."Dunnick spent nine years executing the Spirited Awards for Tales of the Cocktail. She remembers the annual affair as not just a job but 'a passion project that unfolded into a profound learning experience.'Dunnick spent nine years executing the Spirited Awards for Tales of the Cocktail. She remembers the annual affair as not just a job but "a passion project that unfolded into a profound learning experience."Photo: Courtesy of Michelle Dunnick

What inspires me: "Embracing change and making an impact. Observing the positive shifts in personal and professional growth serves as a continual wellspring of inspiration for me."

The advice I would give my younger self: "Establish boundaries. Delving into personal comfort zones and discomfort thresholds is crucial. Identifying what feels comfortable and uncomfortable sets the stage for growth. Striking a balance and understanding the acceptable level of discomfort becomes a catalyst for personal and professional development."

Impressive stats I'm responsible for: "At United Way of Southeast Louisiana, I led the distribution of funds during the pandemic, Hurricane Ida, and St. Bernard tornado relief events, including a $550,000 Hurricane Ida gift card distribution at over 22 pop-up events in seven parishes and a $325,000 Shell Deepwater/Hurricane Ida fund distribution to over seven parishes.

I also reviewed and collected necessary paperwork from 4,800 hospitality workers to receive $500 grants when their jobs were affected by COVID-19."

My leadership style: "I lead by example, striving to embody the behaviors I expect from my team members. Recognizing the value of diverse perspectives, expertise, and advice, I actively seek input from others. Acknowledging that I am not an expert in every domain, I leverage the insights of industry friends, always ready to reciprocate support when needed."

My ideal day OOO: "First, sleeping in as long as I could, then waking up for lunch with a friend somewhere outside that I could bring my dog, Ruhk. Then maybe hitting the golf range and then heading home to turn in early."


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