Business Monday

Q&A with Michael Chavies, head of the Orange Bowl Committee

Michael Chavies became the Orange Bowl Committee’s 78th president in January.
Michael Chavies became the Orange Bowl Committee’s 78th president in January.

When it came to choosing the new president and chair of the Orange Bowl Committee, Michael Chavies was a natural. A sports fan from childhood, Chavies played football and baseball for two seasons at Rutgers before the press of his pre-law studies took top priority. More than 15 years ago, he joined the Orange Bowl Committee, taking on the women’s basketball tournament — a familiar court, as his sister was an All-American basketball player in college. He also presided in a different court, as a Circuit Court judge.

A decade ago he left the bench to join the Akerman law firm, where he handles complex commercial litigation, white collar criminal defense cases and appellate law. He is also involved in mediations and arbitrations.

Chavies shares some thoughts about his career, his own interest in sports, and what he’d like to see the committee accomplish in the year ahead.

Q. How long have you been in Miami, and what brought you here?

A. I have been in Miami since 1978. I was living in Jacksonville at the time and traveled here for a conference. I saw Miami as a growing city with a real opportunity as a young lawyer to advance in my profession. I also recognized Miami as one of the best cities to be a sports fan. We have exceptional home-grown talent at the college and professional levels, and star athletes who continue to thrive.

Q. How long were you on the bench, and in what capacity?

A. I was appointed to the bench by Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1992 and served as a Circuit Court judge for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in Miami until 2005.

Q. What were the most difficult types of cases you tried?

A. First-degree murder cases were always difficult. However, I must say that vehicular homicide cases were particularly challenging, not only because of a death to an innocent victim, but also because you oftentimes had a defendant with no previous record who made a terrible mistake. The singular most difficult case I tried involved a man who was tried and convicted of sexual battery on three young boys.

Q. You were involved in sports in college. Tell us about that. Why did you give up sports?

A. I played football and baseball at Rutgers for two years each. I was a starting pitcher on the baseball team and was slated to start at defensive back my junior year. However, I stopped playing both sports to concentrate on academics. I wanted to go to law school, and knew that I needed to improve my grades in order to be accepted. I have nothing but great memories of my days as an athlete at Rutgers.

Q. How did you get involved in the Orange Bowl Committee?

A. Two great Miamians, Al Dotson Sr. and Al Dotson Jr., asked me if I would be interested in joining the Orange Bowl Committee 16 years ago. They are both past presidents and remain members of the Committee. Since I was a big fan of college sports, and because I knew of Orange Bowl by reputation, I said yes. Orange Bowl, and its mission to inspire youth, engage the community through sports and grow the South Florida economy, has been a big part of my life ever since.

Q. How long have you been at your law firm, Akerman, and what kind of work do you do there?

A. I have been at Akerman for nearly 11 years now. I have a varied practice, with experience in complex commercial litigation, white collar criminal defense and appellate law. The majority of my work is in the area of general civil litigation. I also am involved in dispute resolution — mediations and arbitrations, and I am a member of Akerman Bench, which is one of the largest moot court panels of former appellate and trial court judges among the Am Law 100 firms.

Q. Under the new Bowl Championship Series, the Orange Bowl is only King every four years, when it hosts the championships. How do you keep the game, and the events surrounding it, relevant when the teams aren’t always a big draw?

A. The Orange Bowl has been an integral part of college football for 82 years, and we are proud to have hosted some of the most dynamic games in the nation. But this legacy doesn’t happen overnight. We have established outstanding relationships across the country who help the Capital One Orange Bowl stay relevant, and we are all looking forward to the next college playoff semifinal returning to South Florida in three years. We are also excited about our regular Capital One Orange Bowl game, which will match the ACC Champion against the highest ranked opponent available from the SEC, Big Ten or Notre Dame. I am confident that we will have an exciting matchup every year. The Capital One Orange Bowl game is the capstone of our efforts year after year.

Through a diverse range of community programs for young athletes, we have made South Florida relevant in the world of sports. Numerous athletes from South Florida have been recruited by nationally recognized teams, and we maintain this cycle by nurturing our young talent in various athletic activities and creating a pathway to college though our educational, mentoring and scholarship programs.

Q. Many longtimers here remember the OB Parade as a highlight of their younger years. Why was the parade discontinued?

A. It just got to the point where the parade did not make fiscal sense anymore. Costs were increasing every year, and it was just getting more and more expensive, while at the same time revenue and exposure from national television were decreasing. The Committee made a decision to invest those dollars back into our communities. The result has been that we are now better able to support the many youth programs that we sponsor.

Q. The Orange Bowl Committee is involved in many local causes. Tell us about them.

A. The Orange Bowl Committee has maintained a legacy of charitable contributions and community outreach.

Our Orange Bowl Youth Football Alliance (OBYFA) sponsors youth football programs in eight Florida counties. By doing so, we touch young football players and cheerleaders in a way that makes the game and their experience everlasting.

The Orange Bowl Leadership Academy is a mentorship program designed to instill leadership qualities and promote self-efficacy among middle school students in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. It started as a pilot program in 2014 and has helped more than 60 students dream about their future and unleash their potential.

Last year, we started a girls’ sports initiative called Drive for Excellence to foster their golf and academics skills, with the hope that more athletes can take advantage of the many female college golf scholarships that go unused.

Over the past six years, we have donated over six million dollars to improve parks in Dade and Broward counties. These projects have benefited thousands of children and adults who are involved in various athletic leagues, after school programs and summer camps.

The Orange Bowl Impact and Excellence Award (The OBIES) is a celebration event that brings together scholars, community leaders and foodies with internationally recognized chefs and restaurants for an annual culinary experience. It is a valuable vehicle through which we award academic scholarships and donations to Make-a-Wish Southern Florida, Special Olympics of Miami-Dade and Broward County, as well as the Orange Bowl Leadership Academy.

Q. What are your goals for the Orange Bowl Committee during your tenure as chair?

A. We are focused on five core areas to further inspire our youth, engage our community and enhance the South Florida economy. We want to build all existing community outreach programs, make additional legacy gifts to areas requiring park improvement, expand youth football, promote the Orange Bowl Leadership Academy, and drive additional support from our Orange Bowl fans and sponsors.

We want to fill up the seats to the Capital One Orange Bowl game. A sold-out stadium sends a powerful message about South Florida when all eyes are on us.

Much of our effort throughout the year also centers on initiatives that benefit youth, their personal growth and athletic development. We want to maintain South Florida as a place for world-class athleticism and cultivate the next generation of community leaders. It starts by developing a pipeline of opportunities that promote academic achievement and build strength of character through the lessons instilled in sports.

Q. What is the coolest event you’ve been able to attend or coolest thing you’ve done as a member of the Orange Bowl Committee?

A. This year, we hosted our first semifinal game, where I witnessed an undefeated Clemson team defeat Oklahoma. One week later, I flew to Phoenix to watch the National Championship game as Alabama beat Clemson in as good a football game as you will ever see. It was especially rewarding to attend these games and represent the Orange Bowl Committee on a national stage on behalf of South Florida’s youth and sports.

Q. As an active member of the local civic community, what do you see as Miami’s biggest challenges to success?

A. There is no shortage of intractable problems facing people in our community today. The underlying challenge and the key to strengthening our communities is building the civic pride. We have to spread our arms wider and work with our business and civic leaders to really make an impact.

Q. How do you juggle civic engagement with a demanding career?

A. Sometimes it’s not easy. You have to have faith, spend quality time with your family, and if you are devoted to your civic engagement and believe in the cause, it will all work out. It’s about focusing on what means the most to you and working with others who share your passion. I am very fortunate to work at Akerman, where philanthropic and pro bono initiatives are a priority. The firm has supported my involvement in the Orange Bowl Committee in many ways, including programs that support our youth and education.

Q. Where does family fit in?

A. Family has to be first. I emphasize this to younger lawyers who have children. When you achieve happiness at home, it trickles into all other aspects of your life, including the workplace, which ultimately makes you a stronger lawyer and community leader.

Q. What is the best advice you ever got?

A. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.

Q. Tell us one thing your colleagues don’t know about you?

A. Our family has a pet rabbit named BRex.

Michael B. Chavies

Age: 66.

Job title: Partner, Akerman LLP. He works in the firm’s Miami office.

Education: Bachelor’s and J.D. (law) degree from Rutgers University.

Also: A former Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge, now a trial lawyer, Chavies has been a partner in Akerman’s litigation practice for nearly 11 years. He also is a mentor to its young attorneys, is a key member of the firm’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee, and assists in the recruitment of new attorneys. Chavies, who has been on the Orange Bowl Committee since 2000, became its 78th president and chair when he was installed on Jan. 26. He also is a board member of the Jobs for Miami Program; on the board of directors for The Bankers Club and Coconut Grove Bank; and is a past board member of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Personal: His wife, Pamela, is also an attorney; his son, Chance, is 16.

About the Orange Bowl Committee: Created in 1935 to generate tourism for South Florida, the Orange Bowl Committee is a not-for-profit, 360-member, primarily volunteer organization. The Committee is aided by approximately 1,000 additional “Ambassadors” — community volunteers.