JUST 20 years old when she launched her own event production company, Mary Tribble, CSEP, admits she was “young and naive.” Her father, an attorney, put it more bluntly: “He thought I was nuts. He didn't know an industry even existed,” she says. And back in 1985, one hardly did.
Currently the head of what has grown into a $2.5 million enterprise — Charlotte, N.C.-based Tribble Creative Group — the former art history major with the entrepreneurial streak has become a major player in the now-vibrant corporate event arena. The Forum for Corporate Conscience gathering she masterminded in 2003 and now calls her “biggest event, in terms of personal pride,” drew nearly 90 of the country's top CEOs, academics, thought leaders and speakers for a weekend-long confab on “issues that affect corporations beyond the bottom line.” Then there are the 40 or 50 major corporate celebrations, incentives, sales meetings, grand openings and conferences that her team produces on an annual basis.
But getting here was no easy climb. Most daunting, she says, was the moment at the start of the new millennium when she “hit the wall,” turning away business regularly as her company struggled to find its footing in the areas of operations, budgeting and people management. Instead of wavering, Tribble opted to walk it off. “Around that time, I took a two-week silent walk across the Sahara Desert with a group called Cross Cultural Journeys,” she recounts. “It was the first time I had spent time with introspection, meditation.”
The measure might seem extreme to some, but for the tenacious Tribble, it was just the ticket. Several months post-stroll, “I woke up one day and said, ‘Maybe there's somebody out there who likes to do the stuff I suck at.’” Another few months after that, she took on former Omni Hotels executive Linda Libby as her second-in-command. In the five years since, Tribble Creative Group created a formal business plan, developed strategic partnerships with corporate clients rather than simply offering event-planning services, and grew from five to 15 employees. “What I did was respond not just to the marketplace, but to my own inner well-being,” Tribble says. “That's how I changed the company.”
Her involvement in organizations such as the Catawba Lands Conservancy — her region's local land trust — as well as environmental initiatives, commerce groups and cultural institutions is “what fills me passionately.” Being so connected to the community, she adds, “has allowed us to work on Charlotte's milestone events. If you sat a local down who's lived here for 20 years and asked them what the biggest things are that have happened here, we've probably been involved in most of them.”
Tribble Creative Group 129 W. Trade St., Suite 202, Charlotte, NC 28202; 704/376-1943; www.tribblecreativegroup.com
“No matter what, through economic ups and downs, our clients have always gotten more for their money. In lean times, we were not able to charge as much. How did we do it? We starved. We squeaked through. My salary got cut. We counted paper clips, kept as lean as we could. Basically, we did whatever we needed to do.”
“People say that Tribble Creative Group is a place where it's safe to learn from your mistakes. We try to treat people with compassion and respect. Halfway through last year, at every staff meeting we started having an ‘appreciation moment.’ We put everyone's name in a hat, pull a name at each meeting, and that person sits there while everybody says one thing they appreciate about [him or her]. Even if it's somebody someone might not be crazy about, they can always find one good thing to say. It's very powerful and really touching.”
“The hardest thing is letting go — putting my total trust in others that the job will get done. That doesn't always necessarily mean that it will get done my way. But if we're going to grow, we need to identify the best people in the marketplace, those who understand our vision and values, and are willing to work hard and get out there.”