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VIProfile: Sharon Brawner

Story by Emily Robertson

For the past 35 years Sharon Brawner worked for some of the top tourism and hospitality spots all around the country, but her newest role of President and CEO of the National Corvette Museum here in Bowling Green is a job she’s been waiting a lifetime for.

“I was born and raised in a small Kentucky town called Hodgenville and most only know it as the boyhood home of Abraham Lincoln,” Brawner says. “I was an only child and my parents were big time car lovers. My dad was a mechanic.”

Brawner’s parents restored cars and loved to drag race, with Brawner spending many weekends at the raceway at Beech Bend Park. She would go on to attend Western Kentucky University and after graduation, she began her career in the tourism and entertainment industry, working in hotels in Texas and Louisville before landing a job at the famed Opryland Hotel in Nashville.

“I was there when Opryland was trying to decide on whether or not to expand one more time,” Brawner says. “The convention tourism industry was booming and they decided to make the expansion and grow. I was definitely at the right place at the right time.”

Brawner then transitioned to a role running the Nashville Kats Arena Football team in 1998 and worked to make the team extremely profitable until it was sold in 2000. From there, she worked as Vice President of Marketing for the Nashville Sounds Baseball Club and eventually landed at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where she would work for just shy of 20 years.

“I really thought I’d be at the Country Music Hall of Fame until I retired,” Brawner says. “But we were able to achieve a lot of growth since I started in 2001. We worked to get rid of debt from a new building, survived the flood of 2010 and expanded the facility in 2014 and then went on to have 32 million dollars in reserve funds. There wasn’t anything else to accomplish. I’m great friends with CEO Kyle Young and I had learned so much from him, but it was time to take a break and recharge. You don’t see that kind of growth without a lot of hard work.”

Brawner spent down time with family and began to look at what might be next for her career, and she had her sights set on a role she had yet to tackle: President and CEO of a museum. When the position at the National Corvette Museum became available, Brawner felt like it was a natural next step.

“I fully believe that this was always the destination that God had for me,” Brawner says. “I spent my lifetime loving cars, especially the Corvette. Every step that I’ve had in my career has led me to here. I fully believe it.”

The one bittersweet part about Brawner’s new role is that her father, who first instilled a love of cars in her, passed away two years ago and isn’t able to see her lead the organization, but her mother, is thrilled for her daughter.

“When I told my mom I got the position, she cried and told me that she knew my father would be so happy and proud,” Brawner says. “We just wish he was still here. That would make all of this perfect.”

Brawner loves that she gets to share her success with her family, who has been huge supporters of her for a long time. Along with her mother and husband Eddie, Brawner has two daughters: Shelby and Addison, and two stepchildren, Sarah Jayne and Daniel. And she is extremely proud of her very first granddaughter, Harper James.

The very newest addition to her family is something she has had her eye on for a very long time: her very own Corvette. Brawner originally wanted to have a Corvette restored by her father, but the perfect one never was available, so she promised herself that if she ever became a CEO, she’d buy one to celebrate.

“When I was promoted to Senior Vice President at the Hall of Fame, my husband said ‘why don’t you go get the Corvette?’ but I wanted to wait until I became a CEO,” Brawner says. “As soon as I knew I had the job here, I went and looked and drove home my first white Corvette.”
Now, with her focus set on leading and taking the National Corvette Museum to the next level, Brawner is excited for the future.

“This is a really good museum; it’s a great collection,” Brawner says. “I want to go from good to great and then from great to excellent. We have a lot of cars, but we have more items we need to add to the collection so that the story of the Corvette is more complete.

We also want to bring more people to the museum and to Bowling Green. I want to raise our attendance to a half million and then eventually one million per year. I want us to be a leader for the area in tourism, experience and Kentucky hospitality.”

And while Brawner has big goals for the museum, it is clear that her heart and soul are invested in this museum and the Corvette brand.

“Professionally, being in this job is like a pinnacle moment,” Brawner says. “It’s in Kentucky, it brings me home and it’s a tribute to my father and his love for the Corvette and now my life of loving the Corvette. I want to educate people about this amazing car.”

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