A few months ago, a client introduced us to an organization called the Association of Luxury Suite Directors (ALSD). This group of around 1,400 members, primarily sports and entertainment business professionals, is collectively focused on continually growing and improving customer experiences. Needless to say, for us here at MacKenzie Corp, it was love at first sight. After doing some further reading and website browsing, we quickly knew this was a group we wanted to be a part of. Not only because of the shared passion for sports, entertainment and customer experience development, but also because of the camaraderie and mutual respect found within the group; making it a special place for sharing and cultivating ideas.
Already having been brainstorming (or scheming) how to work our way into the ALSD scene, we were introduced to the ALSD President, Amanda Verhoff. There was an immediate connection and sense of admiration for this person who so very clearly had the benefit and well-being of others ahead of herself. From the ALSD Members and her immediate staff to us here at MacKenzie, Amanda was focused on mutually beneficial opportunities and how to best serve the interests of those around her.
Since that initial introduction we’ve had multiple opportunities to interact with Amanda and her authentic approach to leadership is a fantastic example of how it should be done. It’s our pleasure and privilege to introduce our Thought Leader Spotlight for July 2018 – Amanda Verhoff.
Who had the biggest impact on you throughout your professional development?
My lifelong motivation, my family. From parents, to spouse, to siblings, to kids, I have learned grit, patience, honesty, humility, and humor. Your background molds your character, which inevitably shapes your professional persona, right?
My college professor, mentor, and supporter, Peter Titlebaum. Though a Sport Management professor, he focused on real-world skills such as public speaking, concise presenting, and interview skills. No joke, he counted filler words (um, like, uh) in every presentation his students gave, taking off 1 point per filler word; you learned quick if you wanted your GPA to survive. More importantly, his unwavering support and example inspires me personally and professionally.
ALSD’s founder and chairman, Bill Dorsey. By example, he encourages those around him every day to wake up with a positive attitude, which is contagious and absolutely necessary to be a self-starter. He has also taught his staff to “find the way how” versus “the reason why not”. He shares the competitive edge you need to survive in this industry and, as it relates to leadership, displays unwavering loyalty and the capacity to care.
What life experience(s) do you feel best prepared you for a leadership role?
Leadership is not a natural role for me. I grew up the weird middle kid, who watched her older sister order the pizza and stand up to the nasty neighbor kid. It wasn’t in me. The same weird middle kid kept to herself, got pretty good at sports (partying to me meant putting on my leather jacket… to go shoot baskets out back), went on to make the varsity squads early on, and let the older players take me under their wings. It’s not an unfair assessment to say I road coattails, frankly. I never really had to lead… until the day I did. When the older kids had graduated, and I was left with others looking up at me, I realized how hard leadership is. It puts you on an island, forces you to make decisions, and achieves success only when combined with compassion for others. Leadership requires studying what others around you need in order to be successful. Leaders can be born, but I think more often than not, learning leads to leading. I’m still learning.
Your work history suggests you have an interest in continued education, both as a student and a teacher. How has your ongoing experience in academia impacted or influenced your career as a business professional?
Teaching sport management students, I see myself as a student again, albeit through a much different lens. I am able to help students avoid the same mistakes I made and encourage them to not miss opportunities. I also help them understand tips to be successful in the real world. Taking cues from Dr. Titlebaum, I encourage my students to do work “like a boss”, hone presentation and conversation skills, be present in opportunities offered, and understand that there are great jobs outside of sports looking in. I only encourage students to go confidently to the sports-teams workplace if they are ready to work the events the rest of us spend our evening hours, nights, weekends, and holidays watching.
While I’m biased, the University of Dayton breeds poised, smart, fun students who were raised and educated to be able to handle themselves in a corporate hospitality industry. As such, our seasonal and conference interns know how to speak to and with professionals, embrace long hours, and celebrate a job well done. I’d like to say that I’ve had a hand in offering several students exposure to a really cool industry and have maintained a high operational standard by hiring the right interns.
When addressing the challenges involved with managing a large-scale and diverse membership group such as ALSD, what do you consider to be your team’s strongest asset(s)?
It’s actually very simple: There are roughly 1,400 members and attendees of ALSD. Each and every one of them has an objective to attending our conference or joining our membership. Our staff focuses on delivering upon each individual objective. While cliché, we divide and conquer to reach, understand, and remain close to each and every client.
Throughout the 2018 ALSD Conference in Atlanta you were regularly seen making yourself available to exhibitors, attendees and event staff. How do you manage to stay so calm, cool and collected during such a presumably hectic period of time?
A two-part answer:
Part I: I only get to see our clients, many of whom after 11 years are now friends, once a year. My excitement to see them is sincere! This once weird middle kid, afraid of conversation and conflict who sure as hell couldn’t small talk, is anxious and honored to speak with our attendees. I have learned to be continually curious and it’s served me well to engage with people. I’ve learned to love asking questions about our attendees’ venues, their products, their families, their clients.
Part II: I have a genuine fear of fucking up. So as a people pleaser, there are moments at the conference where I am slowly dying inside. People are waiting too long for buses, a key session attendance is low, food sucked. I’m disappointed in my preparation and organization, concerned about your experience, and, while vain, concerned about your perception of me moving forward. But ALSD has a collective understanding that we are only allowed to sweat behind the curtain. We are in the corporate hospitality business and while constructive discontent is allowed, grace under pressure is expected. And thus, what helps is perspective. I know that each attendee is also in the event business and even if an operational hiccup caused a minor frustration, we’ve all been there, done that and we seldom let it affect an entire experience.
Are there any trends or emerging technologies within the world of Sports & Entertainment Premium Seating that have you particularly excited looking toward 2019 and beyond?
Emerging technologies are exciting, no doubt. But I venture to say no one technology will ever trump the ability to build a relationship. Premium seating and corporate hospitality, they’re not transactional sales, they are relational and built on trust. No technology will ever take the place of that in our industry.
Do you have any advice for a recent college graduate or young professional looking to gain leadership experience?
Be present. See below.
What is your favorite quote?
About eight years ago, Jennifer Ark of the Green Bay Packers and at that time ALSD’s Board President, and I were in New York City planning our 2010 Conference. After meetings, she and I set out for dinner before seeing a great Broadway show (Promises, Promises for those curious). Over filet and seated at a little table by the window (I’ll never forget), we talked about kids, she already having her own, me wanting them eventually. She gave me a piece of advice that has influenced not only my parenting, but my entire outlook on life. She said, “when you’re with your kids, be present.” Since that day, I’ve not heard, lived by, or reflected on such a powerful statement: Be present. Opportunities, moments, they’ll pass us by; I’ve reflected on many from my past with regret. If we aren’t present, we miss out on the opportunity, on the excitement, on the success, on enjoying the ride.