An active volunteer and marketing specialist who worked her way to the top
Washington was a special town to grow up in, and my family still resides there. It was a very close-knit community where everyone knew everyone. To this day, I still have a close group of friends that I’ve known since grade school. Throughout my childhood, I was heavily involved in sports, so an early influence was a coach—particularly my junior high softball and track coach. I was able to win numerous medals in the Illinois state track meet, due to his development of my running ability. He had a further positive influence on me as manager of the Washington Park Pool, where I was a lifeguard throughout high school. It’s been fun to watch Washington grow into the small city it is now, and I will always treasure the experiences I had there as a child.
You hold a fashion merchandising degree from Midstate College and an accounting degree from Bradley University. Tell us more about your educational background and career path.
As a young wife and mother in the early 1990s, I was searching for something more. Fortunately, I discovered the fashion merchandising program at Midstate College. This was back in the “olden” days, when the college was located in downtown Peoria on Jefferson Street, directly across from the Peoria Civic Center. If someone would have told me then that I would one day become general manager of that giant building across the street, I would have thought they were crazy!
Following graduation from Midstate in 1993, I worked long, hard hours to build a career in retail store management. The highlight of my years in retail was when I was chosen to be a buyer for Szold’s department stores in the Peoria area. Talk about fun! Here I was, in my early 20s, getting to travel to New York City to shop in showroom closets for the good people of central Illinois.
In the early 2000s, I was searching for a new direction. I have always loved numbers, budgeting and spreadsheets, so my choice was to return to Midstate College and pursue an accounting degree. By this time, the building had changed to its current location on Northmoor, but the quality of the education remained high. Buoyed by my experiences and now second degree from Midstate College, I decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Bradley University. This was an incredible experience. Bradley not only provided me with an outstanding education in my major, but also in a wide variety of other subjects that I’m able to utilize to this day. In 2005, I earned my degree and participated in the ceremony that took place at (of course) the Peoria Civic Center.
Following graduation, I secured an accounting position with Lakeview Museum, which is now the Peoria Riverfront Museum. After a couple of years, in my search for career progression, I discovered a job opening for a staff accountant/merchandise manager at… the Peoria Civic Center. In what other circumstance would holding degrees in both accounting and fashion merchandising be a shoe-in for a job? Needless to say, I was a perfect match for the position, and I started my career with the Peoria Civic Center in 2008. For the last eight years, I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to move from the staff accountant/merchandise manager position to accounting manager, assistant finance director, director of finance, and finally, to general manager.
What is a typical day like for you as general manager?
Any past or current employee of the Peoria Civic Center will tell you that one of the benefits of working here is that no two days are ever alike. My day can include assisting city leaders, board members, community partners and clients with questions or concerns; communicating with our management company, SMG, and buildings within the SMG network; and advising team leaders on accounting, operations, catering/concessions, marketing and sales/booking questions. While I enjoy all the interaction these responsibilities provide, I also look forward to “show” days. It’s fun to step out of the office and be involved with public ticketed events by speaking face-to-face with promoters, supporting our team members, and most importantly, watching patrons enjoy their experience as the event unfolds.
Describe the current and future fiscal outlook of the Peoria Civic Center.
The City of Peoria, Civic Center Board and SMG continue to work closely to tightly manage the finances, which is especially important in the current economic climate. The change in the food-and-beverage operator from outside contractor, Centerplate, to SMG’s in-house provider, Savor, has been financially beneficial. We have close relationships with our tenants and consistently discuss ways to increase attendance at their events. Bradley University, for example, has acquired great talent in Athletic Director Chris Reynolds and Boys Basketball Coach Brian Wardle, and we are excited about the future of their program.
Through the development of relationships with promoters and SMG’s assistance, the Peoria Civic Center Arena is playing host to major concerts. The Broadway Theater Series has been revamped to ensure affordability for a larger segment of the population, and this has been well received. The convention center will continue to host large conventions that have a large financial impact on local businesses as attendees eat, drink, sleep and entertain themselves here. Our local community continues to support us by hosting their meetings, banquets and weddings in our newly remodeled meeting space or ballroom. The Peoria Civic Center will continue to provide for the entertainment needs of the Greater Peoria area and beyond as attendance continues to be strong.
What are some of the greatest challenges you have faced in this position?
As with many other organizational leaders managing in this challenging economy, I have had to make tough financial decisions. Ultimately, this means our team is challenged to do more with less while still producing quality events. I am fortunate to have a team that has risen to the challenge and makes this happen every day.
Please reflect upon your major accomplishments of the past year.
I’m most proud of the improvement in the corporate culture at the Peoria Civic Center in the past year and the positive effect it has had on the level of customer service we provide. We have made it a fun place to work and a fun place to host and attend events. We have brought in a wide variety of events that appeal to all different groups and have had a positive impact on the local economy. In addition, the Peoria Civic Center arena was ranked 104th nationally out of the top 200 in 2016. We were also named a WEEK Viewers’ Choice Award winner for events.
Describe your involvement in the community and some of the causes that are near and dear to you.
Since the community is so involved with the Peoria Civic Center, I’ve focused on ways our team can give back to the community. In the past year, we have volunteered at South Side Mission preparing Thanksgiving meals for the needy, completed a work project at the Youth Farm through the Children’s Home, participated in the “Fill the Crib” initiative during National Child Abuse Prevention Month for Crittenton Centers, competed in the 2016 Dodgebrawl Tournament and donated our winnings to the Children’s Home, and held a PCC team donation drive for Peoria Rescue Ministries. We also make it a priority to support community events through team member attendance and ticket donations.
What is your leadership style?
My leadership style is very much about the team, and creating a great corporate culture. I strongly believe that empowering, educating and encouraging our team is the key to success. In the customer service industry, how leadership treats the team is directly translated into how they treat our clients and patrons. It requires a massive amount of work to host over 600,000 yearly event attendees in a building that houses three venues (arena, theater and convention center). We have hundreds of team members who make this possible by striving every day to do their best for the Peoria Civic Center, and they make me very proud.
What’s the hardest life lesson you’ve had to learn?
Women must make financial independence a priority. One of my biggest challenges in life occurred during my time at Bradley University. Halfway through the challenging curriculum, I went through a divorce and became a single mother of two trying to financially support her family. In order to complete my educational goal in a timely manner, I chose to deliver the morning Peoria Journal Star newspaper seven days a week, 365 days a year, for the next couple of years. Let me tell you: sleeping in 3-4 hour increments in order to fit everything in a day was not fun. I eventually gained my financial independence, but wish I had been better prepared for whatever life was going to throw my way.
What advice would you give to a young, up-and-coming female professional?
In June 2016, I was honored to be the keynote speaker at the Midstate College commencement ceremony. In that speech, I detailed my career journey with two phrases: hard work and education. I echo that sentiment again to young female professionals. Work hard in everything that you do, as this will pay great dividends toward future career accomplishments. Continue to educate yourself through whatever means possible, and never stop being hungry for knowledge. My final piece of advice is a quote from Michelle Obama: “When they go low, you go high.” It’s important to keep yourself above the fray and focus on accomplishing your goals. iBi