Iowa State Center Stephens Auditorium

Tammy KoolbeckTammy Koolbeck, CFE, is the executive director of the VenuWorks-managed Iowa State Center in Ames, Iowa.

Your career path is one that is unique and quite interesting. How did you get started in the industry, and what brought you back to leadership at the venue level?

When I speak to students, I tell them that I didn’t even know this industry existed when I was in college. My degree is in public relations and English, and I worked five jobs in nine years before landing in venue management as director of marketing and sales for the Five Seasons Center (now U.S. Cellular Center) and Paramount Theatre. In the last three of those five jobs, I worked directly with the Five Seasons Center staff – Cedar Rapids CVB as a sales manager, Cedar Rapids Silver Bullets (CBA team who played in the arena) as the community relations manager, and the Five Seasons Hotel (hotel attached to arena) as a sales manager. So, I had worked with the arena staff (including during Brad Mayne’s stint in Iowa) in different capacities and when I was approached about taking the job and actually using my college degree skill set, I jumped at the chance. It will be 20 years this October in this business and I have been extremely fortunate to have had bosses (Steve Peters and Sharon Cummins) who gave a marketing person a chance to manage a venue, the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, and continue to develop new skill sets that allowed a substantial learning curve in a short amount of time. I spent my first 10 years on the building side, the next 10 years on the corporate side doing account management, and now I am back in the buildings working in a university setting, which is a new adventure for me. I loved my corporate job but I was on the road 200-plus days a year and at the end of the day, I am an events person. When Steve Peters approached me with the opportunity to stay in Iowa and manage the Iowa State Center, it seemed like it was a bit of karma—I was able to stay with VenuWorks, stay in Iowa, and manage a crown jewel.

Your industry expertise and contributions have been recognized and acknowledged through several prestigious awards. What does this recognition mean to you, and do you think it puts any pressures on you as a mentor to newer industry professionals?

Thank you. It has been an honor to be recognized by my peers in the industry and I have so much fun volunteering with IAVM and EAMC (Event & Arena Marketing Conference) while working in an industry that I love. I have met some great people and have a wonderful network of friends throughout the U.S., Canada, and Australia. No pressure…it’s a labor of love, though sometimes it does take a bit longer than I like to return calls or emails.

How does your accomplishment of earning your CFE compare to these other honors?

The honors were unexpected while the CFE was work and something I chose to do to better myself so I am not sure that I can make a comparison. Plus, the CFE process had a test so I realized that I never wanted to go to school again, ever!

You recently transitioned back into the daily oversight of a venue. Has this change in perspective created any new opportunities or challenges for you?

This is my first time working in a university setting, so I am learning all kinds of fun things and working with a great staff. Who knew that a college campus has more acronyms than IAVM? I didn’t think that was possible.

What about your job keeps you up at night?

Safety/security preparedness and financials.

You have always enthusiastically embraced new communication technologies (social media, etc.). Is it difficult to stay on top of these technologies and make them a relevant part of your daily processes?

Yes, it takes work especially when you are using them as marketing tools. Since I no longer carry the marketing responsibilities as part of my everyday work, I find that I am happy with keeping in touch with friends and colleagues from all over on Facebook and Instagram with a little bit of Twitter thrown in at industry conferences. Luckily for me, I have a great marketing department and I leave it to them to make sure our venues are staying relevant in the digital world.

What do you find most rewarding about being in this industry?

The friendships I have developed, and I LOVE the events!

What do you think your colleagues should know about what your CFE designation means to you?

I have joined a really cool group of people who believe in this wacky world of venue management and have the experiences to show for it.

What one thing about you do you think people might find most surprising?

Hmmm…not sure about this one. What do you think is most surprising about me? My quest to visit all 50 states is almost complete. I am hoping to pick up Maine and New Hampshire this summer (and visiting EAMC friends, Roberta Morgan and Bob Collins, while there) and then all I have left is Alaska.

If you weren’t working in this industry, what might you have found yourself doing?

A football coach in charge of the defensive backs or Pat Summit’s assistant coach.

If you had one month’s time to do anything or go anywhere you wanted, with all of the resources to make it happen, where would you go and what would you do?

Australia/New Zealand with the family and visit all of my Aussie IAVM friends OR Alaska with my family and Glen Mikkelsen’s family. Glen is the director of the CN Centre in Prince George and he knows how to fish and how to stay safe from bears and moose, which would seem to be important things to know if you are spending a month in Alaska.

You have developed an incredible professional network though it truly seems like these contacts are as much friends as they are colleagues. I proudly count myself among that group. What advice would you give to others who are looking to grow their professional network?

It’s a little goofy but just smile at people and make eye contact—say hello and then listen.

What would you say to other fellow venue management colleagues about becoming a CFE?

Just Do It – You aren’t getting any younger. Plus, it’s easier just to get it done rather than to have Matt (Hollander), Karen (Totaro), and Cheryl (Swanson) ask you about it all the time.

What are you most proud of professionally and personally?

Professionally: The network of friendships and knowing that I can pick up the phone and call several people for advice and assistance. Personally: My family (husband, Mike, and son, Tyler).

Any favorite sayings or quotes that you would like to share as your final thought?

Whatever quote Brad Mayne posts on his Facebook page. FM

(Image: Mr. Nixter/Creative Commons)