An extraordinary coincidence that may signal a Birmingham revolution!

Jay Dunn
Jay Dunn

ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a more prosperous Birmingham.

Today’s guest blogger is  Jay Dunn.  If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.

The coincidence is pretty remarkable.

I started at Georgetown for my MBA during my last year working for Senator Richard Shelby on the Senate Banking Committee in Congress. As an Evening Student, putting in a long day at work and a three-hour class at night, you tend to bond pretty well with your classmates; fatigue helps melt away the awkward “new kid” phase, and you get to know people pretty quickly.

After the Senator left the Chairmanship of the Committee, I took the opportunity to put my focus squarely on the next chapter of my career.

As a full-time student, I was fortunate enough to get to know a number of folks across both the first and second year classes of 2018 and 2019.

Georgetown’s MBA program is home to approximately 1,000 MBAs, mostly between the ages of 23 and 28. Being a part of the Georgetown and Washington, DC communities, future alumni have a unique opportunity go anywhere in the world upon graduation.

It also provides for a diverse student body that only an MBA program built into the heart of DC can offer – I have classmates from across the United States: California, New York, Texas. Not to mention friends in my program from all over the world – Beijing, London, UAE, Mexico, Panama, and Ethiopia; truly a global program.

But here’s where the coincidence comes in: throughout my time at Georgetown, I’ve had the fortune to get to know so many smart, driven, talented people who are without a doubt the future of the business community for my generation.

However, over my two plus years I have only found two other people whose ambition is to head back home and change their hometowns and states for the better – and all three of us are from Alabama, planning to come back to Birmingham to be a part of this revolution that has begun to change this town we call home.

Why is that? Why is it that of all the students that flow through the international melting pot of Georgetown each year, three guys from Alabama are the ones who are making the choice to head home? Maybe the best way to figure out this coincidence is to give a flavor of why I want to be a part of this revolution.

There are a number of reasons to be fond of Birmingham – I grew up here, attended high school and college here, and I have friends and family here. But the drive is more than the lure of the familiar.

Birmingham still carries the stigma of its Civil Rights history, despite making leaps and bounds of progress. We have an Ivy League-quality medical school in UAB, the largest employer in the state and constantly breaking boundaries in research and healthcare, and yet a nascent private equity community who more often looks outside the state for opportunities rather than within.

Across the country, Birmingham still is seen as the big city in Redneck Alabama, despite boasting one of the best restaurant scenes, across the Southeast and arguably the nation, home to the reigning James Beard Award winner.

It’s a raw deal, the wrong perception, built likely on the shadows of neighboring cities like Nashville and Atlanta who grow without the challenging reputation to hold them back. It’s built on having to fight the perception that we’re just a steel town despite strengths in healthcare, financial services, and a burgeoning start-up culture.

News-catching moments like Shipt’s sale to Target catch headlines, and certainly do wonders for the city. However, Innovation Depot, Alabama Futures Fund and investors across town are helping spur investment in a city which long ago lost sight of steel as the major economic driver, and yet don’t turn heads like they should.

These reasons and tenfold more have attracted three recent and soon-to-be Georgetown MBA grads to come back energized to keep the progress moving. We want to see a city which is renowned for what it offers, not held back by scars of decades past. That is what attracted us.

Considering all that, what are the odds?

Jay Dunn is a soon-to-be Georgetown MBA graduate, returning to Birmingham after seven long years in Washington, DC. He worked for Senator Shelby as a financial services policy advisor both in his personal office and on the Senate Banking Committee before Georgetown. He will start with Regions’ M&A Group later this year. 

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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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12 thoughts on “An extraordinary coincidence that may signal a Birmingham revolution!”

  1. Just wait until the larger paycheck and better life opportunities from Nashville, Atlanta, or other cities come knocking. Nothing you mentioned is unique to Birmingham. Other cities have more prominent innovation depots, private equity, and just a better corporate structure period. It’s not unrecognized because of its reputation, it’s unrecognized because it’s not competing. I feel like you, as with man in Birmingham, have blinders that you never really took off. I think it is the familiar and college football that’s bringing you back. With the amount of money and opportunity a Gtown MBA can demand, you would be a fool to not look into bigger markets where you can do the best you can do career wise. I’d much rather make $500k+ in a city that I can enjoy it in.

    1. Jimmy, Of course, you are correct in taking the prize and running with it. One would be a fool to fall for the BHM “advantages” over other communities.

      On the other hand, I helped build a world-class company in BHM and indirectly others, that now produce billions in sales and a billion in revenues. In the 1990s, long before Me2 movements, we had several employees who made over 500K per year many of whom were female. This was done without the first IVY or Jesuit
      school graduate. We competed against Goliaths with “David’s” or people who graduated from UAB, UA, AU, BSC, Samford, Jax State or Jeff State. Clients don’t really care if you are getting the job done.

      Birmingham still has the Magic DNA coursing through the community…its still here, waiting for someone to grab hold of it.
      And, it’s happening in bucketfuls, just look around and feel the energy here in the Magic City where your 5 minutes away from the best where it counts!

  2. “Across the country, Birmingham still is seen as the big city in Redneck Alabama, despite…….home to the reigning James Beard Award winner. It’s a raw deal, the wrong perception”.

    How is it raw deal and wrong perception when a person of the track record of Roy Moore got 48.4% of the vote?

    How is it a raw deal and wrong perception when this month voters in Alabama approved amendments to state constitution that could put major limitations on access to abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court. Alabama’s amendment says there are no constitutional protections for a woman’s right to an abortion. The vote was 59 percent in favor versus 40 percent against, with 88 percent of precincts reporting.

    Do you really believe being home to the reigning James Beard Award winner speaks and reflects Alabama more than the voting public?

  3. With a Georgetown MBA, you’re screwing your family or future family. Go to a bigger city that has a lot going for it with superior education and things to do and see. You’ll make 2x the amount of money for your kids’ inheritance and probably enjoy life more yourself. There’s a reason why young professionals have been fleeing Birmingham, and Alabama in general for a long time.

  4. So, let’s see. This man wants a good quality of life in familiar surroundings that are beautiful, and some suggest that is a mistake. Why? Because Birmingham is not what I hope it will be? The fact is that opportunities abound everywhere bright and aggressive people reside. Some people do not see that in BHM. Others not only see it, but embrace it and are motivated by it. And, individuals can and do make a difference. Margaret Mead said to never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Welcome home Jay. Don’t let the naysayers dissuade you.

    1. AMEN & AMEN, MAURY!
      And, to Jay: WELCOME! I have long wondered when some of our bright youngsters would have the burning desire to come back to make a difference. The lure of “big bucks” is always nice, but guaranteed..however…
      And, Birmingham and Alabama will offer that opportunity to you!

  5. Many of these comments miss the point. We have a remarkably talented young man who is focused on coming “home” to make “home” a better place. This is called selflessness! There is no question that with his Georgetown MBA he can probably get a higher paying job in an already well-established City. The fact is, that is not what he wants to do. He wants to live a life of significance and he believes his best opportunity to do just that is found in Birmingham. We should not be trying to change his mind or ridicule his decision…we should be applauding him. During my lifetime I have visited 141 Countries and visited every state in the Union. My wife and I chose to make our home in Birmingham (a place we had NEVER been to prior to our first visit in 2010), not because of what it use to be or what it is now but, rather, for what we believe it will be. Jay Dunn gives me great hope and reassurance that we made the right decision! Well done Jay…you are already on your way to making a difference with your service.

  6. Jay, welcome back to Birmingham! Instead of telling you all the reasons you could have chosen other cities and states, basically the money and potential, let me just say I think you have chosen well. Life is not just about chasing a dollar figure, but rather choosing a place because it has beautiful sights, much lower cost of housing, great schools and very friendly people. That, is worth its weight in gold.
    I for one, after serving my country for 39+ years, and having lived in many, many states, and countries (and I don’t mean just the ones we invaded recently, but other nice ones like Germany and Italy), decided to return to Birmingham to continue a career as an airline pilot. I too could have chosen to live anywhere, and easily commute to work, but chose to return to Birmingham.
    I love the people, the geography, the arts scene, the availability of great medical care, and the many community activities that my wife and I enjoy doing.
    I hope you have a long and prosperous life in this beautiful town! There is more to life than the highest pay scale, so enjoy life.

  7. Congratulations, Jay! YOU are the VOLUNTEER I‘ve often wondered about….
    when will some young , dedicated and knowledgeable native son/daughter stand up and lead our METRO back to the MAGIC CITY days and more?
    Never allow the promise of more money spoil your LIFETIME DREAMS…

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