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Trial By Fire: A Story of Resilience

Reflections on loss and resilience in the events industry

Life can change on a random Tuesday morning. It was 2:20 a.m. when I got the call from Mark Sheldon, AOO’s CFO. I was in Tucson and in a dead sleep. We had just completed the opening night of White Cap’s President’s Summit at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain. We had three more to go.

When he said, “There’s been a fire. The warehouse is burning,” I had to ask him to repeat it several times. It just wasn’t registering. When it did, there was no more sleep that night. It was horrible to contemplate. Luckily, there was no one in the building.

I still had work to do on the White Cap program and had to stay in a creative space. It was up to Mark to carry a heavy load for a few days until I could get back. Our client asked if I wanted to leave the event in order to get back to Los Angeles, but at that point there was nothing to do.

We completed all the events, which turned out great, despite everything. And it was a very good way to keep my mind off the future which would come soon enough.

Back in Los Angeles we began to retrieve data, deal with the insurance adjustors, and try to survey the damage. We still haven’t been let back in (as of writing this)*, but we’ve been told that everything is gone. There wasn’t much beyond some desks and a few furniture pieces there, but the saddest part was realizing that all our award trophies were gone. I know that actual trophies are merely symbols, but they were symbols of years of memories, events, and hard work, and we were proud of them.

I am so appreciative of my team for not missing a beat. We finished the White Cap events in Arizona flawlessly and returned home. Back in Los Angeles we were up and running with only a week to go before The Heart Foundation annual event. Beyond that were six months of events on the books. We focused, regrouped fast, settled into a temporary space, and kept going.

There is a saying by a 17th century poet that speaks to me now: “My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon.”

Often tragic events have positive outcomes. We have an opportunity to rebuild anew. In the forest, a fire is a cleansing agent and a catalyst, bringing dormant seeds to life and producing a forest that now offers many new species of plants. We could look past the immediate issues—dealing with squatters, insurance grief, and going back to Zoom calls and home offices—and to the day when the business
will grow again and come to life with new possibilities.

I thank everyone who reached out with messages of comfort and camaraderie. You’ve reminded my team and me once again what an amazing and resilient industry we are in.  

*This article was originally published in our digital Fall Issue in September 2023.

Editor’s Note: I received a call from David when he was—as he noted—in the middle of the desert on site, phone breaking up. Through the garble, I heard, “Did you company...gone.” His voice came through again and said, “I’ll call you later when the signal is better.” So of course, it was pins and needles until I heard from him a week later. What did he do when he called again? Apologize that he had missed my CS+TSE 2024 Call for Session Proposals. My goodness. His business up in smoke and he is apologizing for missing a deadline. Let’s just say that you will definitely be seeing him in February 2024 at CS+TSE. —Kathleen Stoehr

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