During his time playing for the Birmingham Barons, Kenneth “Kenny” Coleman got to play with Michael Jordan. Yes, that Michael Jordan. Now Coleman is back in town and ready to lead the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) in exciting new directions. I had the pleasure of sitting down with him on his third day on the job to talk about the Magic City, his vision for the BBA and a few of his local favorites. Keep reading for all the details.
Bham Now: Tell us a bit about yourself—personally, professionally + what you like to do for fun
Coleman: I’m a Jersey City, New Jersey native, born and raised there. I went to the University of New Haven for undergrad.
For 7 years, I played baseball with the White Sox and Cubs and got as high as Triple A.
Baseball introduced me to Birmingham. I played with the Barons for two years. One was a championship year. The other was the year Michael Jordan—the world’s most famous basketball player—was here. He only played one season, but we had a lot of fun.
I had a fun fame moment this summer. ESPN did a 10-part series called “The Last Dance,” following the ’98 Chicago Bulls team and the last of the six championships Michael Jordan won. Episode 7 told the story of Michael coming to play baseball. My boys like to call that my episode—I got 3.5 seconds of airtime during that session. From that, I’ve done four interviews and been in a couple of newspaper articles. I’ve made the most of 3.5 seconds of fame of anyone, ever.
As for me, I came to Birmingham, played baseball for a couple of years, retired from that and came back here to work for the Metropolitan Development Board (MDB). This was the predecessor to the BBA. After five years recruiting people to this area, I went to Alabama Power, which led to a 20-year career with Southern Company. Then I retired from Southern Company and here I am. If the first three days are any indication, this is anything but a retirement job.
For 20 years, I’ve been married to Prentiss, a UAB grad who I met on a blind date at the old Cobb Lane back in 1997. She’s worked in education for the majority of her career, and we have two boys—one is 16 and one is 13.
I love to play golf—I’m an avid golfer and play whenever I can. And I have loved teaching the kinds of life lessons you can learn best through sports as a coach in baseball, basketball and football over the years. It’s great watching young kids grow and develop discipline, teamwork and learn through sports in a really tangible way pretty quickly.
Bham Now: What are you most looking forward to about your new job?
Coleman: I always thought economic development was a great way to do public service. Hopefully because of our efforts at BBA, people get get a better job, have a better quality of life and live out their dreams.
At end of the day, that is the most rewarding part of what we do. We want to bring compelling, 21st century jobs to our community and help kids and families have a better life.
Bham Now: What’s your vision for the BBA?
Coleman: BBA has a tremendous foundation: a really engaged business community and it’s well respected throughout our community and other similar economic development and chamber organizations throughout the Southeast.
I want to build on that foundation and grow jobs and make sure the environment is one where businesses can grow and flourish.
We have an opportunity in places to get more involved in helping small businesses throughout the region.
We also can be a facilitator for equitable development and do our part as the business community to make sure all the folks in our community have what they need to participate in the 21st century economy.
I want us to lead the region in job creation, cultivate the business climate and provide 1st class services to help support our business community.
Bham Now: You’ve walked into a time of great challenges, and presumably great opportunities, with the BBA. We’ve got COVID-19 and the national outcry for social justice. What will the BBA be able to add to these ongoing situations?
With COVID, first and foremost, our priority is the safety of our employees and key stakeholders. I plan to personally manage our situation to make sure our employees stay healthy and have the remote capabilities they need to do so.
On a broader basis, what we can do at BBA with regard to the pandemic is make sure we are sharing best practices, information and resources, with and between our members and with the business community at large. We can share how to manage through the crisis so everyone doesn’t have to make decisions on their own.
With regard to social justice, we can play a key role in several places, particularly with economic systems that can pose challenges to justice. We can encourage businesses to think about their hiring and promotion practices: are they leveraging the full capacity of their employee basis by ensuring they’ve got diverse voices around the table? Do they have practices that support growth and evolution for diverse employees within the organization? Are they hearing from their teams?
We as BBA will talk more and more about that as an organization and with our leadership. Businesses also have a chance to really influence growth and development for small minority and women owned businesses by paying attention to vendor and supply chain networks. Several of our members have signed on to Mayor Woodfin’s pledge and want to be more visible in their minority spending.
We can promote that and get more members to sign on to helping to ensure that they’ve got diverse selection processes in their vendor network. We can also help minority and women-owned businesses understand how those selections are made so they can be better candidates and competitors for business around Birmingham.
Bham Now: You’ve spent about half your career here, and about half in the Atlanta area. What’s attractive to you about Birmingham?
Coleman: Oh man, Birmingham. It’s got so much to offer that people aren’t aware of. I remember being back here 20 years ago, and almost every time we got someone to come here, they were surprised by something—whether it was the natural beauty of the mountains and lakes, the quality of the restaurants, the capabilities of our businesses and the global markets in which they’re playing. It’s got a great quality of life. We had a lot of fun, enjoyed our time here and were really anxious about getting back.
Bham Now: Have you spent enough time here yet to have any local favorites?
My Birmingham favorites go back a ways.
Favorite restaurant: Highlands Bar + Grill
Favorite outdoor location: Shoal Creek Golf Club
Favorite sporting event: Birmingham Barons (of course)
“It’s great family fun and value, and I have such an appreciation for how hard those kids work. We need more people to come out to see a Barons game.”Kenny Coleman, former Barons player + new President and CEO of the BBA
Bham Now is excited to see what Kenny brings to the table at the BBA and what he’s able to accomplish!