7.4: Journey to Success
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General Manager, Jekyll Island Convention Center Operations
Allyson Jackson has worked in the events field since 1998 starting as the director of Sales and Marketing for the Salt Palace, which led to her becoming the General Manager of the Salt Palace Convention Center in 2004 and to her current position at the Jekyll Island Convention Center.
How Allyson came into event management was through a unique path, starting with working her way up with Delta Air Lines as a Senior Sales and Marketing executive. She notes that the airline and event industry is similar in that if the space and date are not sold then it is a lost product. Just as when a plane takes off, it is too late to sell that empty seat, when the clock strikes midnight it is too late to hold an event for that day.
As the General Manager, Allyson oversees all departments, such as sales, events, finance, security, housekeeping, operations and maintenance, and the food and beverage departments. As a general manager, she noted that finding and trusting employees who you can count on is paramount. Allyson stressed that it is important to know your limits and to let people teach you. One example she used was in dealing with the HVAC, and she admitted to not knowing what it stood for (Heating-Ventilation-Air Conditioning), but by asking those who know more you can learn and understand when the chief engineer comes to you with an issue.
On the day of the event, the event crew knows that they are expected to be there at least 30 minutes before the client shows up. This is to ensure that everything that was meant to be set up was done and done correctly. A walk through prior to the client showing up can help eliminate embarrassing situations where the client points out things that were missed. The event manager will then work with each department to coordinate what the client needs to be done. As the General Manager, Allyson is there to help make things run smoothly, at least in the perception of the client’s eyes. Some events are more challenging than others and this is where the GM shines. To meet with the client and let them know how important they are, as well as to run interference for their staff to help reduce their stress and strain. A stressed-out staff is not an efficient staff.
Allyson reiterated that it is easier to hold onto a client than it is to find a new one, so showing them that they are important and make them feel valued, is an important part of the General Manager's job. It is just as important to let your staff feel valued and show that you can jump in and help do the same that they do. During an event Allyson may be found in the kitchen helping to plate meals or refreshing the restrooms, walking around with a laser thermometer to check the temperature throughout the facility to ensure that it is comfortable everywhere.
Another part of a General Managers' daily tasks is the exciting world of administration. After ensuring that you are visible and ready to help out clients and staff, the GM will need to work on monthly financial statements, staffing issues, to name a few. In essence, the only thing that you can count on in the event industry is that no two days are alike.
Helpful Hints from Allyson
- Be ready to work holidays, nights and weekends
- Be flexible – the ability to embrace the chaos and strive
- Do not take it personally – you will deal with people who are outraged, getting upset will only exacerbate the issue. Figure out early on how to handle those situations.
- Think on the go! You rarely have time to sit and think about a situation, being able to think on the go is a must.
- Be open to moving – if you want to succeed you will most likely need to move, rarely does someone move from an entry level position to upper management in the same venue. It can happen but it is rare. Take a stint working in an arena, then maybe a theatre or stadium or convention center. This will help you become well rounded.
- This is an “invisible industry” in that rarely will the attendees think about the people who set anything up, it is only when the air is too hot or cold or the A/V is not of a high quality or the bathrooms are unsatisfactory, that the facility gets noticed, and not in a positive way.