Apparently, more than 25 years in catering just wasn't enough for Syd Sexton. Even though she still holds the post of president and partner at Denver's Gourmet Fine Catering, which she launched after running Alex Brooks Fine Catering for six years and working for Hyatt, Sexton was ready for yet another challenge. Last April, she opened the doors of Syd Sexton Event Production, offering a full range of event and marketing services. Here she shares why.
SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: What prompted you to create your new company?
SYD SEXTON: I've been working under the “catering” title all these years but really doing event production at the same time. It was finally time to call something “Syd Sexton.” My event planner friends have said, “Are you crazy?” But after all these years of doing catering, I love the whole big picture, starting with the spreadsheet and budget and saying, “Here is what you can do.” The fun part is going out and working with people in the industry that I know so well after being president of the ISES Denver Chapter. Some have been my competitors, some my vendors. I am really passionate about it.
SPECIAL EVENTS: How are you feeling about the economic outlook for the event business? What has your past experience shown you?
SEXTON: After 9/11, I sat at my desk thinking, “There will never be another party!” For a long time it felt like that, that we were done.
I've been through this. You just get out of bed in the morning, say some positive things and keep on going. I have never networked and marketed more in my life as right now — you just get out there! I'm at an event, God, three nights a week, meeting people, always showing up, just talking to people and making sure you are first on their minds.
The event and meetings industry needs a spokesman — maybe Oprah! I know ISES and the U.S. Travel Association have written letters [to legislators], but we need someone with personality to fight the negative message that because the bankers and some others overspent, people shouldn't have parties. But taxes will be lost if these events don't happen! Lots of people will be unemployed — the bartenders, lighting guys, cater waiters, cooks, all these people, little guys. The message now is, stop partying because it's in poor taste. If we could turn that message around …
SPECIAL EVENTS: What makes the Denver/Rocky Mountain event world unique?
SEXTON: Everyone comes in and asks for barbecue — but we're not Kansas City! Food-wise, we really pull from Indian and Southwestern cultures — just no fish. Our weather is both good and bad. Everyone who comes here wants to experience what is beautiful about Colorado and be somewhat, if not all the way, outdoors. But there is no way to do that without tenting, and even with tenting, we have wind issues. And they are always, always looking for a way to put their event as close to the mountaintop as they can!
SPECIAL EVENTS: You did a lot of work for the Democratic National Convention, held in Denver last summer. What event were you most proud of?
SEXTON: My favorite was the MSNBC/Newsweek party with [Newsweek writer] Jonathan Alter and co-hosted by [TV political anchors] Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann. It was supposed to have 200 people in a private home, but we had over 400 people! We had to do all passed hors d'oeuvre. It was a great night.
SPECIAL EVENTS: What is better and worse about the event business now than when you started?
SEXTON: Google is better! It was different when you wanted to write a proposal back then. Now, I never need to open a book. I can use “Go to my PC” [remote-access program], and I can work from home.
What's worse? TARP — the Troubled Asset Relief Program!
SPECIAL EVENTS: What haven't I asked you that I should have?
SEXTON: I am very positive; I feel very blessed and very grateful. I'm working a lot but am lucky to have the jobs. I'm not complaining at all! On other hand, I want this message out there: For the sake of all of us in the industry, forget about “perception.” If companies can afford it and it's in the budget, please entertain your employees and your clients. Think about what you are doing for the community!
Syd Sexton Event Production 1629 Downing St., Denver, CO 80218; 720/560-1755; www.sydsexton.com