Below is the results of an interview between Danielle Waggoner, an Entertainment Management student at Missouri State University and Randy Blackwood, Facility Manager at Southwest Missouri State University. The interview was conducted in the spring of 2001.
Q: What is your educational background?
A: I was actually a media-speech graduate and took a lot of my electives in technical theater, which believe it or not was very helpful. It helped me grasp some of the concepts that went with the entertainment industry. The technical theater background has probably been the most beneficial to me, whereas all the management courses were not necessarily of the greatest or most tangible applications. In graduate school, I focused on media criticism.
Q: When did you first become interested in directing facilities?
A: I worked in a building for five years during graduate school. At some point, fairly early in the five years, I decided that I definitely wanted to work in a venue. My first job out of college: I was the venue manager/auditorium director at a much smaller venue for the University of Georgia. They did not do nearly the skillful programming that we do at Juanita K Hammons, here in town. It was more like Coger Theater and Ellis Recital Hall put together. I ran their ticket office, both ticket sales and season ticket sales. It was that first managing role that made me think this is what I really want to do.? It was the first full time job opportunity I got upon graduation. I decided to try it, but even then I was not absolutely convinced that I wanted to be a venue director. It was that continued exposure, and something beyond a student involvement, where I decided this was something I wanted to do.
Q: What kind of training and experience did you have prior to your career with SMS?
A: I worked at the University of Georgia for four years, managing the Fine Arts Auditorium. It had four different theatrical spaces in it. So that, coupled with my student opportunity here, would be the equivalent of about eight years of experience
Q: Please give a brief description of your job and responsibilities.
A: As a multi-purpose venue, with a large number of missions (where we support academics, we support recreation, we support athletics, we do some civic events), we address several different constituencies and support several different things. Not all of it would necessarily be public assembly events; we support swimming, volleyball, rifle and pistol classes, all being taught in this building. I say this because we do all these things and we do them very successfully, with a very small but dedicated staff. So in describing the duties, it is pretty non-specialized. It’s broad instead of narrow. I am the approver of all purchases, and work with the staff to ensure that when we need supplies, that we order the proper supplies. I also coordinate the employment: administering the search, going through the search procedure, doing interviews, background checks, and ultimately making the selection. Then I am involved in ensuring the appropriate training of the individuals. Same holds true for our student employees (we have over 200 students that work in Hammons Student Center and Plaster Sports Complex), and while I do not have the opportunity to visit with all of them, those that interface with the public the most, I do want to meet them, learn about them, and impart some of our philosophies of being a full service facility (service being the key word here). So those may be some of the things the public does not see.
Scheduling is a large, large responsibility and large, large task, and we are involved in that scheduling. It is the scheduling of the events, as well as the daily schedule. You run out of room and you run out of hours in the day rather quickly, with all the people that want to be in here. There is a lot of interfacing with other universities and the public; so there is a lot of time spent out of the office in meetings. We are involved in the logistics of events and coordinating things such as parking, and shuttles, those sorts of things. Because we are a public venue, we have a great responsibility to the public and interface a great deal with them.
We are a rental facility; we will rent the facility to a promoter. The promoter assumes the risk. We currently do not have a promoter and cannot afford to assume the risk ourselves.
Q: Are there any key professional affiliations you utilize?
A: There is a professional support organization, IAAM, which is an acronym for International Association of Assembly Managers, and there is no doubt you have heard about them. It is the one professional organization that is truly international in scope, and is very diverse because it represents, not only arenas, but also stadiums, performing arts centers, convention centers, just about as the name implies, any assembly point. Basically if there is a venue, and you have an event where you invite someone to come in, then you have some commonality. IAAM produces bimonthly newsletters, has a web page, produces several different position papers over time, as well as videotapes. Basically they are a good foundation not only for someone that is new to the business, but also to someone that has been in it for 20 years because it can help you keep on top of what trends are important. Certainly the networking opportunity is probably the greatest. Allows managers to contact one another and get references as to how performances went, what the results were, was it successful, what were the problems, etc. We do a lot of background checks for each other in IAAM. It is a great networking resource! To not use networking experiences would be a fatal mistake by anybody in this business. It is a very supportive organization. There are 2,000 members in what is truly an international organization. So that is pretty small. I know everybody that is in the Midwest by site or by name, and truly welcome calls by other venues. <P>Q: What are some important skills a facilities director must possess?
A: There certainly is a fine art of negotiation. You negotiate in everything that you do. You negotiate in traditional methods such as contracting with a promoter or an agency. That is pretty straightforward. You also negotiate with in your own venue. We negotiate with our athletic department. Try to negotiate to find something that works towards everyone’s benefit. You also negotiate with your employees. This is not an eight-to-five job where everyone does the same thing. Therefore you have to motivate your associates at times when we worked eighteen hours yesterday and we are staring at another eighteen hours today. You negotiate with your audience, vendors, and safety agencies. The art of negotiation, I think is the most critical thing you can have.
Q: What are the pros and cons of your career?
A: The pros are certainly the challenges and the rewards. This is a career where your rewards can be in many ways more tangible than they might be in other vocations. You can touch them, taste them, and feel them. When you sell out a concert, and have a capacity crowd in your building, and they leave happy, that’s something you can see. It gives you gratification. Another pro that I think, at least, is typically that no two days are alike. It is anything but boring and modeling. You wake up to new challenges. Another thing that is great for me personally, is being a University venue, and especially a University venue that is so student oriented. You do get that opportunity to interact with students every single day. That’s an opportunity to really meet with them, interface with them. You get to be a positive component of their college experience.
The cons: well, basically you have to look at the hours. You have to turn that around and talk about how no day is exactly the same. So there’s really not much of an opportunity to catch your breath. Most of the things that you do in a venue like this don’t happen between eight and five, Monday through Friday. That is the nature of the beast. There certainly is an amount of pressure because with a lot of jobs, a mistake made is something known not only by yourself, but also by the supervisor, and any damage can be rather minimal. It can impact people in a great way. You operate very much in a fish bowl. There is always an inherent pressure to perform.
Q: Do you experience a great deal of uncertainty (unpredictable changes) in your career?
A: Yea. Ours is certainly not a static type of industry, where nothing ever changes. Change is the name of the game and if you don’t change with it, then you are far behind. So the unpredictability is a challenge, but it also is a great way to learn and adapt. But this is a good thing, not a bad thing.
Q: Describe your average daily routine at work.
A: Some things in this facility are rather systematic. We do put together the schedules on Thursday for the following week; produce it, print it, distribute it. By the time somebody has it in his or her hand on Friday morning, it’s already changed. You may have checklists relating to an event that needs to be addressed. Certainly there are planning schedules and then there are daily schedules that are beneficial. With maintaining a building like this, you are best served if you have planned maintenance, and scheduled up-keeping practices.
Q: Are there any advancement opportunities available?
A: There are advancement opportunities and I will say that from when I started here, I have had the opportunity to advance twice within this role. So, yes there are advancement opportunities. I think that would be true in almost any venue. Plus, there are more and more venues being built every day. It’s a fast growing area right now. I think its one that is certainly a barometer of the economy.
Q: Are there any recommendations or tips you would give to a student who is studying to become a facility director?
A: Yes absolutely. This is still an industry where you’ve got more arena managers that got their start sweeping up after the elephants at the circus or popping popcorn at the event, coming through a four-year university program. The more different things you experience, be it concessions, or ticket sales, or concert set up, all those things will make one fill a more attractive candidate for a role in public assembly venue management. That is not to take away from the educational component. The college education is a new and exciting part of it, and it is something that I’m very happy to see the partnership with IAAM, as far as that development. But that is not to say that the best darn arena manager is one that came directly from the entertainment management program with a 4.0. You’ve got to get your feet wet. You have to experience it and be open and willing to try all of it. You also need to have the ability to keep learning because it doesn’t matter if you have the four-year degree, it doesn’t matter if I’ve been working in an arena since I was twelve, you don’t know it all. There’s something new everyday and if you’re not ready to check it out and learn from it and to continue to try to improve your own skills, then I just think you’re limiting yourself and you’re limiting the potential of your building and those associated with it.