Mentor Series: Mike Guswiler, West Michigan Sports Commission

By Emily Freehling, December 22, 2016

As the West Michigan Sports Commission approaches its 10th birthday, Executive Director Mike Guswiler is thankful to one of the founding board members who handed him the top job at the organization in 2007.

Peter Secchia, former U.S. ambassador to Italy and prominent Michigan businessman, was a driving force in building community support to start the commission, which promotes sports events in the Grand Rapids region.

Guswiler admires Secchia for his success as a self-made businessman who rose from an entry-level job to CEO of Universal Forest Products, while also building a successful career in politics and philanthropy. All of those areas of experience left Secchia with beneficial advice to pass on to Guswiler.

“As a political figure, business leader and philanthropist in our community, Peter guided me on how to communicate with authority and respect, while also having respect for those who give so kindly to our efforts,” he says.

That’s an important tone to strike when you’re leading a brand-new organization tasked with lofty economic goals. Since its founding, the West Michigan Sports Commission has helped bring more than 580 events to fruition that have pumped an estimated $267 million in direct spending into the region’s economy.

Guswiler also appreciates Secchia’s advice to “not major in the minors,” meaning to not lose sight of the big picture.

Equally important in forging his sense of perspective and confidence, he says, was his father, Eugene.

“My dad would often use the saying, ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger,’ and I continue to remember that when faced with struggles,” Guswiler says. “To me, it’s about learning from my mistakes and using that knowledge to make smarter decisions in the future.”

 Have a mentor you’d like to highlight in a future Connect Sports article? Email Matt Swenson at to share your story.


Sports Oregon CEO Jim Etzel discusses why left the agency he created and ran for 20-plus years to take the help at the sports events organization.

The Professional Disc Golf Association is seeking proposals to host its 2021 Professional Disc Golf World Championships. RFPs are due Nov. 1.

All attendees at Connect Sports 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky, can attest that this year’s conference was our best. Here are the highlights.

Holly Anderson, a key player in the sports tourism industry for more than a decade, has been promoted to lead Connect Sports.