Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Experience vs. Degree

While other children typically experience movies, theme parks and occasional family vacations, this kid did that and more! I traveled more, was exposed to more and got to observe the positive work ethic of my mother - which had a large effect as I grew up and started working. It was an experience that would give any young person a "leg up."
 I literally grew up in the business. When Extraordinary Events produced the opening of GM Place in Vancouver, I took a few weeks off from college, and my role was to be Shania Twain's hospitality manager and take care of communication with the Vancouver Canucks hockey team. Not bad, right? My friends were pretty jealous, and all wanted to change places with me.

As I grew older (late 20s), I was in charge of some fun tasks like driving Kenny Loggins or Ziggy Marley around Las Vegas. In fact, on one of those days, while driving Ziggy and his band, we stopped by Guitar Center for some items. Once there, about four or five of them grabbed instruments and put on a nice little acoustic show for the customers. It was certainly a highlight!

Over the years as I was growing up, I attended entertainment showcases and traveled to MPI meetings nationally. A great bonus was meeting all of Andrea’s closest friends in the industry, whom I am so lucky to work with now.

Even with this great experience under my belt, I went off to California State University Northridge to explore journalism and got an opportunity to try covering high school and junior college games for the Los Angeles Times. From there I went to work for another Southern California paper, and that turned into 10 years of on-the-job education.  

So, here I was, with a job I loved covering UCLA athletics, local sporting events and being at Kings, Dodgers and Lakers games, and winning awards for doing it! But, even though I loved it, the pay was never good, and I never saw my wife, since she worked days and I was always working nights and weekends. Something had to give. A family meeting determined that a move to Extraordinary Events would be good for both Andrea and me and the future of EE.

At that point, I took the opportunity to get my Master’s degree in Business Administration at the University of Phoenix. It was the perfect opportunity to balance my home and work life and earn the degree. The advanced education allowed me to use EE for data and explore our internal management practices, discover business ideas I’d never considered in the past and improve our processes.

This was a stark difference to my days at the newspaper, which were all about learning through experience. So, when other event producers ask me how I compare having a business degree to practical experience, I have to say they both have a number of strengths and weaknesses.

There’s something to be said about learning under fire and working on your craft. In my first two years at the newspaper, I learned more than I ever would in two years of school studying the subject. I found a few really strong mentors who were open to sharing their knowledge, and I would advise anyone starting in the business to do that.

And to be fair, I had the mentor of all mentors in the event production business as well! The most valuable experience (my big takeaway with having Andrea as my mentor) was seeing how she deals with vendors and clients. Her communication skills and the way she rectifies situations are amazing to me. She’s fair, compassionate and listens to their needs without making emotional decisions. These are the values of having a mentor to emulate.

“The benefits of experience vs. book learning - If you need to have brain surgery, do you want a medical school’s most recent graduate who has scored well on many tests or a doctor who’s successfully performed such surgery many times before?” –Andrea Michaels

For people starting out in the business, unless their goal is to own a company, my advice would be to reach out to quality event production companies and offer to support them in pre-production and on-site projects. This provides an opportunity to gather work for resumes and gain valuable experience. Working hard and showing a company how much you can help them is an invitation for them to let you stick around!

For those who want to become owners, a business education is crucial if the company is to grow from a small, tight-knit company under five people into a true event company. The knowledge and education you’ll receive will help you organize the firm correctly as it grows. Otherwise, once the business expands, you will experience too many growing pains along the way!

I have to admit that my road hasn’t been perfect, but each challenge has led me and EE to places of which I am proud. Ultimately the decision to join Andrea and EE was the best business choice I have ever made. Working with family is not the easiest thing to do, but there are far more benefits and rewards from the experience.

Best of luck to you in all your endeavors,

Jon Michaels, co-owner/EVP, Extraordinary Events

1 comment:

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