Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Archaeology of A Career

Last week, I was invited back to an incredible retrospective on the early years of my fifth and last community economic development startup.

Former staff and governing board members returned for the event, and the Durham community was treated to a short video created by Wil Weldon and Growler Productions from hours of video captured by DCVB for its archives.

It was humbling, heartening and a reunion with old friends.  The board member who first interviewed me credits start up experience for making me standout.

It made me realize that for anyone keeping count since I retired nearly five years ago, the number of startups in the first half of my career has continued to increase even though my last was for Durham in 1989.

I was involved in many other startups after that including grassroots efforts such as Durham Image Watch and Durham Wayfinders.  Many other startups involved strategic alliances such as the Durham Pubic Information & Communications Council and Durham Heritage Alliance to name only two.

Three in the first half of my career involved community destination marketing organizations, but I was also involved in two other closely related startups.

One occurred when I stayed a year longer in Anchorage to jumpstart from scratch its economic development corporation before taking a year and a half sabbatical mid-career from community marketing to catch my breath and try new things.

My first startup was as a student working as the supervisor for the BYU Office of Tours & Conferences under Gary Bascom, then a unit of University Relations which fell under an Assistant to the President.

The office had been around since the 1960s but our charge was to go beyond campus tours and other public relations duties such as the President’s box at sports events.

We jumpstarted the proactive recruitment, facilitation and hosting of conferences, associations and events from around the nation to fill capacity during summer term.

The office also coordinated with related units the handling of public relations, the campus visitor information desk, sports information and community and government relations.

My job also included coordinating production of marketing materials including concepting, writing, photography and production of print materials that not only communicated the allure and sense of place of the campus, but would serve as a guide to detailed event planning.

Coupled with my previous job of inventorying all campus buildings, it was fun and I was good at it, the perfect introduction to skills needed in my eventual career.

But my dream at the time was law school, a path that ultimately led back to my real purpose.

Thinking back, that first taste was, in fact, community destination marketing without the community.

But, of course, a university the size of BYU even back then was a small city of nearly 40,000 students, staff and faculty.  At the time it was 63% of the size of its surrounding community.

We were so successful that within a year or two after I graduated, BYU took a breath and reorganized.  Now that aspect falls over with Continuing Education and Alumni Affairs.

It has its own conference center and hosts many times the off-campus  events, camps and conferences that we did, including another 70 sports camps facilitated by Athletics.

Startups aren’t for everyone because of the sense of urgency, drive and strategy involved.  There are other ways to build a career in my former field of community destination marketing.

But one thing it may uniquely cultivate is an entrepreneurial sense of urgency, engagement, drive and timing.  It embeds an organic sense of continuous and never-ending improvement.

When as fortunate as I was, startups can also provide a unique fusion of the passion and purpose that makes me tick, one that was non-transferable to or from solely profit-making enterprises.

I am often asked to tell the story of how my career evolved.  It is an interesting archaeological exercise that never ceases to amaze me as new resurfaced connections arise.

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