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22 Leadership Lessons from some of the Top Event Professionals in the World
by Chris Carver
on September 4, 2017
BWG at Air + Style LA

Banner Photo: BWG at Air + Style


What’s the #1 Leadership Lesson You’ve Picked Up in your Career?

When you interview some of the top event professionals in the world, you tend to learn some stuff. So we sat down with a few lately and asked them that one simple question. I thought you'd enjoy their responses: 

KYLE CHANK
MINNESOTA SUPER BOWL HOST COMMITTEE
Vice President, Operations & Logistics

"No task is too little or too big to handle. We throw title out the window" twitter-128.png

My boss taught me no task is too little or too big to handle. She taught me that in college which led me to the Super Bowl. She didn’t care who got the job done, and I echo that statement here all the time. We don’t take credit for anything. We honor people when they do a good job, but it doesn’t matter who did it as long as it gets done. It may be someone on a manager level stepping up and doing it or maybe the executive level stepping down. I swallow my pride and will stand on the corner with an old way finding sign to get people to the arena. We throw title out the window.

Read Kyle's Full Interview

TED METELLUS
ROCK N' ROLL MARATHON
Course Director

"Lead from the front... be an example of what you want your team to embody" twitter-128.png

Lead from the front... be an example of what you want your team to embody. And execute by your actions as the Leader. I learned this from my former boss Matt Glass of Eventage Event Production in NYC. He was the first one on site and wore many hats. As the company grew he guided, supported and let you own and execute. If there is a question of how to address a situation or solve a problem I look back to Matt's confident and smooth approach. 

Read Ted's Full Interview


CHRISTIANE PHEIL
RED FROG EVENTS
Head of Creative Programming

"We will never come to the best conclusions unless we are comfortable disagreeing and debating" twitter-128.png

The #1 leadership lesson that I've learned is from Joe Reynolds, the CEO/Founder of Red Frog Events. I had been working at Red Frog full time for less than two months and we were beginning to build the 2013 Firefly lineup. I timidly pitched Ellie Goulding as a good option and Joe immediately presented thoughts to counter my pitch. I froze - my boss's boss's boss was disagreeing with me - and that's never good. Then, he gently explained to me that we will never come to the best conclusions unless we are comfortable disagreeing and debating different artists. We had to find that level of openness with each other if we wanted to produce the best Firefly lineup. I have taken that lesson with me throughout my career at Red Frog and across other parts of my life. It's so true - by cultivating a healthy debate culture, it motivates people to speak up, express varying perspectives, and ultimately navigates you towards the best conclusions.

(And for the record - I was totally right about Ellie).

Read Christiane's Full Interview


MIKE REILLY

IRONMAN
Voice of Ironman

"Your event is only as good as your team." twitter-128.png


The biggest lesson I've learned in event productions, is that it has to be a serious team effort.  If you are the event director, the leader of the event, you and your event are only as good as your team.  You have to rely on your Lieutenants and give them the autonomy to make decisions for their aspect of the event.  If the leader has set the plan with the team then let the team have the authority to implement it.

The number one mistake is watching event directors try to do everything themselves, some believe since its in their head and its their "baby" they have to make sure they touch it all.  You can oversee all aspects of the event and make sure your team is on the right path, but you can't do it your self.  

Read Mike's Full Interview

KATIE KEENAN
NFL
Director, Event Operations

"It's as important to take a step back and see the big picture as it is to make sure everything is checked off your list." twitter-128.png

The #1 leadership lesson I've learned recently, is that it's as important to take a step back and see the big picture as it is to make sure everything is checked off of your to-do list.  It is natural for those of us who have built a career on grinding through projects, and executing at a high level, to not have the foresight, time or energy, to look with a birds-eye view at our projects. It's so easy to get buried under a list of things to do.

I believe that to be of value to an organization as a leader (and to those who work for or around you) remaining above the fray is key.  I have to remember that it's my responsibility to make sure our events are always growing and innovating, are operating efficiently and to look to give staff new opportunities as each project evolves.  I think this is a good one for up and coming event professionals looking to transition into leadership positions.

Read Katie's Full Interview


KEVIN LYMAN

WARPED TOUR
Founder & President

"You can't understand your fans by sitting in the production office." twitter-128.png


Bill Graham was a great mentor from afar I watched him constantly on the move around his venues to make sure the fans were having the best experience possible.  I have tried to follow his example and thats why you rarely see me sitting in a production office.

Read Kevin's Full Interview


GARRETT CARTER
CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY
Event Operations Manager

"Take care of your people more than worrying about results and ultimately you'll get even better results." twitter-128.png


"I have learned that if you take care of the people that you supervise more than worrying about results, ultimately you will get even better results. Understanding who your people are is very important to a successful working atmosphere. To see them as a position or number is a step in the wrong direction."

Read Garrett's Full Interview


HUGH FORREST
SXSW
Director

"Plan early and plan often." twitter-128.png

For me, the #1 lesson is plan early and plan often -- which is why so much of the most important work for SXSW happens seven or eight months before the event. Don't think I picked up that advice from any particular person, just learned it along the way (and after many many failures where we postponed important elements to late in the game).

Read Hugh's Full Interview


DAVE MCGILLIVRAY

BOSTON MARATHON
Race Director

"Stay out of the way and let those who know what they are doing, do their job." twitter-128.png

I’ve learned to stay out of the way and to let those who know what they are doing do their job. 

I’ve learned to abide by this quote, "there are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit". Try to be in the first group, there is much less competition there."

I’ve learned that those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.

Read Dave's Full Interview


DAN HILL
RISE FESTIVAL
Founder

"Genuinely care about the people you work with." twitter-128.png

First and most important is to genuinely care about the people you work with. I learned by watching two close friends Bill Pederson and Dave Alberga lead their companies. They truly want the people that work for them to be successful human beings. They have the best interest of their employees at heart. The employees feel it, they’re loyal in return. It makes everything easier and a lot more fun.

Read Dan's Full Interview


VICTORIA BRUMFIELD
VIRGIN SPORT
VP of Global Operations

"Be crazed about the details and always find a way to make it fun." twitter-128.png


My mentor, John Korff, taught me to be crazed about the details, and always find a way to make it fun.

Victoria's Interview Coming Soon

JOHN TRUMBLE
New York City Wine and Food Festival
Managing Director

"The best leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, treat others respectfully and are vocally self-critical." twitter-128.png


Leading is hard.  

I feel that all great leaders (and there is a difference between good leaders and great leaders) have relentlessly high standards.  They continually raise the bar and drive their teams to deliver. The best leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, treat others respectfully and are vocally self-critical.

I've learned this, mostly by trying to take the mistakes that I've made and make them actionable learnings.

Read John's Full Interview


DANNY KOBLIN
LA 2028
Chief Bid Officer

“Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail” twitter-128.png

I think it all stems from these two John Wooden quotes…

“Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail”, and “The main ingredient to stardom is the rest of the team”

So with any event that I help manage, it’s all about the preparation and ensuring that the team understands their responsibilities and are given the freedom to execute on game day.

As we know, regardless of what you are doing, in the live event world, there are always going to be curve balls thrown at you.  So as long as the work has been put in to prepare, and the right team is in place who understands their responsibilities, there’s no task that a team can’t accomplish with great success.

Read Danny's Full Interview


MURPHY REINSCHREIBER
LA MARATHON
Chief Operations Officer

"We're managers, not all-purpose experts." twitter-128.png

“Don’t be bull-headed – know what you don’t know. We’re managers not all-purpose experts.” Unfortunately, a lesson learned more than once…

Read Murphy's Full Interview


SARAH HAWKINS
RUGBY WORLD CUP SEVENS 2018
Director, Marketing and Communications

"Team work, makes the dream work" twitter-128.png

Major global sporting events truly take a village, and it cannot happen without the tireless effort of a team working hard to achieve the end result together.  

Sports have always been apart of my life, so 'TEAM FIRST' has been a common denominator in everything I've done. I've integrated it into my weekly - if not daily - lexicon.

When you are working towards a major event - such as a Super Bowl, America's Cup or Olympic & Paralympic Games - everyone is always moving a zillion miles per hour and there are never enough hours in the day, but if you all work together towards the greater goal and help out your colleagues when they need the extra set of hands, victory rises to the forefront.

Sarah's Interview Coming Soon

TOBIAS SHERMAN
E-League
Co-Creator

"Don't be afraid to deliver bad news just cause it's hard." twitter-128.png


Sid Greenfeig, MGM's VP corporate entertainment, once said "Don't be afraid to deliver bad news just cause it's hard. Own it!"  

Read Tobias's Full Interview


MATT WEST
DMSE
Senior Vice President of Operations

"You are nothing without your team." twitter-128.png

Respect them, praise them, be good to them and they will do anything with you!

Read Matt's Full Interview


DOUG THURSTON
BIG SUR MARATHON
Race Director

"Take time to listen carefully to your volunteers" twitter-128.png


“Take the time to listen carefully to what your volunteer directors have experienced. They are your ambassadors for your event and often provide crucial communications to your participants. They will know the pulse of what your entrants are seeing, hearing, and feeling.”

We often get so busy with operations that we forget to ask our key volunteers about their day. There is a lot to learn from their perspective.

Read Doug's Full Interview


GILLIAN ZETTLER
CHARLESTON WINE + FOOD
Executive Director

"Patience, gentleness, and kindness." twitter-128.png

As a leader, you want to surround yourself by people who are smarter than you and have skill-sets that you may not have.

I also preach patience, gentleness, and kindness. I want to work with, and know that the people who are working with me are good humans... and that we are trying to take care of the people that take care of us. There's lots of great event producers out there, but you don't need to be an asshole to produce a killer event. (Pardon my French!) How can you be a great team member and not get nasty when you're frustrated? That's the number one thing for me. 

I also want to create really great event professionals that at some point, go off and run their own show, with a great team of people, who practice that patience, gentleness, and kindness model as their top priority too.

Gillian's Interview Coming Soon


CATHI CULBRETSON
FORBES
VP, Events and Conferences

"Never take yourself too seriously, no matter what your position" twitter-128.png

When I first came to NYC, I worked at Chemical Bank World headquarters for the Director, Andy Hauser, who encouraged me to get out of the catering side and move into the event business side. Andy always told me to not take myself too seriously as I advance in my career, that I should still get out there and help the team in whatever needed to be done: move furniture, set a table or help the Chief plate a meal, anything to make sure the event was a success.

Cathi's Interview Coming Soon

ROSIE SPAULDING
RUGBY WORLD CUP SEVENS 2018
General Manager

"I will make time for you." twitter-128.png

From a leadership perspective, one piece that my boss would say to each of us when working on Super Bowl 50, was, "If you have a burning issue that you need my time on today, just let me know in the morning and I will make time for you."

That might sound really simple, but he meant it and it meant a lot to me. That's something I've tried to replicate. Having an open door is something I think is really important. Everyone is really busy, so just making time for people, when they need it most is really important.

Rosie's Interview Coming Soon

MICHAEL FIGGE
POSSIBLE PRODUCTIONS
Co-Founder

"With the right team, we'll figure out the best solution. And then it's just a matter of tenacious trial and error." twitter-128.png

Read Figge's Full Interview

WHAT IS LENND?
LENND
 is an event management platform helping production teams streamline their logistics and operations.

For early access or if you're interested in a demo contact us HERE
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LENND's comprehensive platform helps event teams manage all aspects of the logistics and operations process. From incoming requests, approvals and management of inventory needs and credentials, to document management and tracking, to production scheduling, workforce management and more. The future of event operations is here.

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AWARDS:

Recently Short-listed for "Top Event Technology Start-Up" by the Event Technology Awards

PREVIOUS INTERVIEWS:
Firefly Music Festival: Megan Marshall, Assistant Director (READ)
Firefly Music Festival: 
Christiane Pheil, Director of Programming (READ)

LA2024 (Part 2): John Harper, COO (READ) 
LA2024 (Part 1): Danny Koblin, Chief Bid Officer (READ)

Super Bowl: 
Katie Keenan, NFL's Director, Event Operations (READ)
Super Bowl: 
Kyle Chank, VP of Operations (READ)

Possible Productions:
 Michael Figge, Director (READ)
Comic-Con: David Glanzer, Chief Strategy Officer (READ)
SXSW: Hugh Forrest, Director (READ)
Boston Marathon: Dave McGillivray, Race Director (READ)
IMG: Tobias Sherman, Global Head of eSports (READ)
Presidential Inauguration: Steve Kerrigan, Chief of Staff & CEO (READ)
HUKA Entertainment: Rachel Pucket, Digital Marketing and Social Media Manager (READ)
The Adventurists: Dan Wedgwood, Managing Director (READ)
Wasserman Media Group: Zack Sugarman, VP of Marketing & Digital Media (READ)
Electric Daisy Carnival: David Chen, Director of Technology (READ)
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RiSE Festival: Dan Hill, Co-Founder (READ)
Wanderlust: Heather Story, Senior Director of Event Operations (READ)
New York City Wine & Food Festival: John Trumble, Managing Director (READ)
KAABOO: Taylor Gustafson, Director of Ticketing & Credentials (READ)
KAABOO: Brian Wingerd, SVP of Marketing (READ)
Las Vegas Police Department (Events Division): Rick Nogues, Sergeant (READ)
Los Angeles Marathon: Murphy Reinschreiber, VP of Operations (READ)
BWG: Leo Nitzberg, Co-Founder (READ)
Rock N' Roll Marathon: Ted Metellus, Director of Course Operations (READ)
Governors Ball Music Festival: Tom Russell, Co-Founder (READ)
Superfly (Bonnaroo & Outside Lands): Kat Tooley, Senior Director, Event Production (READ)
The Enthusiast Network: Scott Desiderio, VP of Event Ops (READ)
Sea Otter Classic: Frank Yohannan, Founder (READ)
Big Sur Marathon: Doug Thurston, Event Director (READ)
Summit Series: Cara Bubes, Event Director (READ)
Color Run: John Connors, VP of Experience (READ)
TechCrunch Disrupt: Leslie Hitchcock, Event Director (READ)
Boston Marathon: Matt West, VP of Operations (READ
Academy Awards: Cheryl Cecchetto, Production Director (READ
RunningUSA: Christine Bowen, Event Director (READ
Charity Ball & Charity Water: Lauren Letta, Chief of Staff (READ)
Electric Run: Latane "Big Bird" Meade, Co-Founder  (READ)
Color Run Australia: Luke Hannan, Event Director (READ)

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