Kevin, how did you get started in this business, what is your background?
I had retired as a deputy police chief with full intentions of putting my master’s degree to work in public schools. I started out by volunteering with a school district that was contracting and needed to build a process for closing elementary schools. After about 18 months of meetings and public hearings we got it done, but my aspirations for a career as a public school administrator required a little more thought. School administration is much harder than policing! When there was an opportunity for a security manager at what would soon expand to become the Phoenix Convention Center, I took a chance. Thankfully, Jay Green hired me, and within about two years I found myself running the operations side of the building.
As this is your second career, why was becoming a Certified Facilities Executive (CFE) important to you as you worked within your current role in venue management What was your focus? Why would you have this focus at this point in your career?
Becoming a CFE wasn’t my initial goal. Understanding the industry was the most important thing at the time. In my new role, I was suddenly responsible for things I hadn’t even considered before and if I was going to be credible, I knew I needed to get a second master’s degree (of sorts), so I dove in. After a while, obtaining the CFE became the obvious path. I needed to be well rounded. By that, I mean that I had to understand everything I could, not as a practitioner but as a manager. I operate under the precept that each day is like a day in an assessment center, like applying for the position all over again.
Kevin, please speak to IAVM members about your philosophical approach to this CAREER vs “having a job.” What, in your opinion, are the differentiating factors? How does that tie to the CFE designation?
In my life, I have had four employers. The first was a job. I needed money; they needed someone to flip burgers. That was the extent of my emotional investment in that job. It lasted less than three months. My next job lasted five years. I loved the company, and I loved the people I worked with. Everything I ever needed to know about guest services, I learned working at this local grocery store. As much as I loved it, I knew it wasn’t my life’s ambition. When I turned in my notice, my manager offered me an assistant managers position if I stayed. It would have paid a lot of money (for that time in my life). Instead, I took a cut in pay to become a police officer. Even back then, US$806 a month (before taxes) wasn’t much money, but I never looked back. For me, the difference between career and job is about what you want to put into it and what you expect to get out of it. My first job was about having spending money. My second job was about getting through high school and college. My careers since then have been less about compensation and more about personal fulfillment. Fourteen years after leaving policing, I still miss it. For me, the big difference is the emotional investment I made in the success of the police department, the satisfaction I received from helping citizens, catching the bad guys, and helping younger police officers grow into leadership positions. And now, I find fulfillment in the success of the convention center, knowing that we are a key part of the local economy and that we are a big reason that downtown Phoenix is a great place to be once again.
When you have an opportunity to be a part of something that lasts and impacts other people’s lives, you have to seize it and hold on. Even if no one else remembers the things I did as a police officer or the things I’ve done so far at the convention center, I’ll always know. That sounds simplistic, but self-satisfaction is really all you have when you leave a career you loved. There are no buildings named after me or awards given in my honor, but if you catch me in the right moment I can tell you the details of a hundred cases I worked and the names of the people involved. Having a second career has been a blessing, and when I think about how it came to be, I am astonished. A close friend of mine is an author of children’s books. Several years ago as I explained my new career to her, I said that I had been lucky to be in the right place at the right time. She replied with this quote from Louis Pasteur: “Chance favors only the prepared mind.” The process of earning your CFE is about preparing your mind, just as emergency management is about being mentally and organizationally prepared to deal with the unexpected. Unprepared people are not as employable or promotable. If a person wants to succeed in this industry, then they need to learn the things that will qualify them for a CFE.
IAVM just introduced a new program, Certified Venue Professional (CVP). Is it possible that that designation would have changed your career path? What do you see this certification adding to the industry as a whole?
I view the CVP/CFE relationship in the same light as an undergraduate and graduate degree. Many people get their undergraduate degree and do great things. Some go on to get their graduate degree and also do great things. Earning a CVP demonstrates that you are committed to your career. It’s not just your job. When you invest in yourself, you send a signal to employers that perhaps they should invest in you, too. Had the CVP existed in my first years, I might have pursued it. But becoming certified wasn’t what was driving me. It turned out that by learning about the industry I qualified for the certification. This industry is complex and intriguing, and I couldn’t resist the urge to understand it. If people take the time to attend courses and training and to learn everything they can, the CFE will come naturally to them.
Tell us about the relationship between your CFE designation and your role as an Academy for Venue Safety & Security (AVSS) faculty member.
I have been involved with AVSS as a student or faculty member since 2005, which is ironically the same year I joined IAVM.
If you could examine a list of the volunteers who have made up the AVSS faculty over the years, you would find two types of people. In the first group are the CFEs with years in the industry who are at or near the pinnacle of their careers. At one point, I think three of our faculty members were current or former IAVM presidents (now called the chair). These people don’t get flustered, and they always work through the details with the outcome in mind. In the second group are younger industry professionals who have recent real-world experience and a fire in their bellies. They volunteer with a sense of duty and responsibility.
Both groups are passionate about life safety. Some because they have seen things that haunt them, and some because they have been able to avoid the things that haunt them through proper planning and event execution. I was in the middle of these groups. I wasn’t young, but I still had the fire. I wasn’t at the top, but I was still climbing. I had some relevant experience, and I was able to translate that experience to the event business. AVSS rekindled an old case of survivor’s guilt that motivated me, but at the same time it helped me work through it by giving me a way to help people again. It was a perfect match for me.
Working with those CFEs at AVSS, I realized that they really were the smartest people in the room. They had the experience and the formal education, and they were able to draw on a body of knowledge that only people at the top of organizations can. In policing, there’s on old saying that some people have 20 years of experience and some people have one year of experience 20 times. The CFEs at AVSS are the former. If I didn’t feel that way about the CFEs I’ve met over the years, then the certification wouldn’t hold the value for me that it does.
By the time I decided to pursue my CFE, I already had the points. Unlike my master’s degree, the CFE says something very specific about one’s knowledge and experience. A CFE is far more relevant in the industry than any other certificate or degree that comes to mind. I was convinced of that over the 10 years I’ve worked with all the CFEs at AVSS.
Could you wrap this up with a comment about “tying it all together”?
Imagine for a moment that you have two candidates for an event coordinator position. Everything being as equal as they can be, one candidate is a Certified Meeting Planner. Does that change the equation? Of course it does. Now, imagine that the position is a manager’s position. Would a CVP make a difference? It would for me! We all know industry people who are great at their job, but have neglected their career. They are the go-to person, but only on one topic. Qualifying for your CVP indicates that in addition to experience, you have an education that makes you valuable beyond the contents of your resume. Having the letters “CVP” or even “CFE” after your name isn’t important to your job, just to your career. FM
(Top image: Facebook)