YOU CAN TAKE the boy out of accounting, but you can't take accounting out of the boy. At least that's how it goes for Don Saytar, owner of Cornerstone Entertainment Concepts, an entertainment and event production company in Toronto. Though he spent most of his high school and college years planning student events and assemblies, the practical Saytar took the gray flannel route after graduation and accepted a job as an auditor at Price Waterhouse.
Although he laughingly describes his three years there as "the darkest years of my life," Saytar did take a few things with him when he left: sharp analytical skills and the knowledge of how to run a business from a bottom-line standpoint-both of which he has parlayed into a successful company.
Once he realized he'd rather be booking musical numbers than crunching numbers, Saytar called an entertainment agency that he had worked with in college. His intent with that phone call was simply to get a band for his sister's wedding; however, the call ended with a job offer for Saytar. He worked for the agency for two years before branching out to start his own entertainment company in 1987.
Eleven years later, Cornerstone Entertainment Concepts-nominated for a 1999 Gala Award for Best Theatrical Entertainment Production-is one of the top entertainment and event production companies in North America.
Saytar attributes much of his professional success to education and networking. He joined the International Special Events Society nine years ago and has played an active role ever since. Saytar, who serves on its Executive Committee, was secretary/treasurer for 1997-98, and is president-elect for 1998-1999.
Both Cornerstone and ISES responsibilities keep Saytar on a constant run, leaving little time for much else, he says. Any downtime is spent "cocooning" with his wife, Cathy, and Wheaten terrier, Ryley. "Sometimes I want to sit back and just be," Saytar says.
FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH "If the special event industry is going to grow, people have to start thinking that we are professionals and that, as professionals, our knowledge is valuable. How many of us, when a client calls and says, 'I want to pick your brain,' give the information away for free? Why don't we say, 'Give me your credit card number, and we'll talk.' We'll [give away the information] because we think that if we don't, someone else will, and we won't get the business. But that's short-term thinking. If you are good at what you do, people will come back. And people will pay you what you are worth because you are good."
DIGGING THE GARDEN "Gardening gives me the chance to be creative. It's an area where I can be totally hands-on. In my business, I am more like the conductor. I pull in all the elements, but I don't micromanage the designers. When I garden, it's my chance to be everything-the visionary, the one who puts the shovel in the ground. It is very satisfying to put your heart and soul into something and see the results. That's why I love the special event industry. It's tangible; it touches people and makes them happy."
AN INDUSTRY EMERGING "The special event industry is still not as unified as it could be. But it is still growing. We're like the computer industry in that we are [in the process of] defining an industry."