By R.V. Baugus
If you know Robyn Williams, CVE, first, you should consider yourself fortunate. If you do not know the past IAVM President (Chair) and her great work leading the Portland’5 Centers for the Arts, trust us when we say there is no more compassionate person not just in the industry but walking the face of the earth.
With leadership comes difficult decisions as well, none greater than what many venue executives around the world have been facing in the loss of event income as it relates to staffing. Some creatively manage to keep staffs intact, but numerous must deal with the aspect of either fully terminating employees or furloughing them with the expectancy to return them to their position once the pandemic has run its course.
The trick, of course, is no one can point to a day or date on the calendar and say that all is 100% well. There is the “ramp up” process that has to come into play as well for venues. With all that in mind, and herself having to make decisions that have brought Robyn to tears, we were fortunate to get a minute of her time to talk about such decisions along with other aspects of working through COVID-19.
As a leader over so many people, what is the most difficult aspect of the job when you have to share “bad news” about a furlough or full-time job loss for employees?
It can be crushingly emotional and personal. One of the things I’ve realized over the years is how close venue managers are to their staff. They are family as well as friends to us. I haven’t found this to be as true in other lines of work I’ve been involved with. Maybe it’s because we often spend more time with them than we do with our family and friends.
People think it must be great to be the leader, but what types of stress can these decisions put leaders under?
I really believe the buck stops with me. I’ve been going over and over in my head about what I could have done differently that would have made us less vulnerable to such catastrophic business loss. I should have built a bigger reserve that would have allowed us to weather this storm. I feel personally responsible for these layoffs.
How far out do you project with this virus when it comes to if further difficult decisions have to be made?
The problem is not knowing when we can expect to reopen. I’m a numbers person and I have a really excellent budget analyst. The operations team is doing everything possible to shed costs at the venues. We’ll keep watching the numbers and make decisions as time progresses.
Is there anything you are doing to help in any way with those you have had to release?
We’ve sent them a lot of information on resources they can tap into. I also stay in touch with them to let them know they haven’t been forgotten.
How difficult is it working from home, or do you occasionally get to the office?
We have a policy that only the most essential folk-custodians, security, and engineers are in the venue at the smallest number possible. If everyone was coming and going at will there is no way we could keep up with sanitizing everything. Plus I’m a huge believer in what the CDC is saying in terms of what you need to do to slow the virus. I have only been out in public once in the past three weeks. I’m a social person by nature so I feel very isolated working at home. Thank heavens for video conferencing, though. It allows us to at least see each other. And I’ve participated in IAVM’s virtual happy hour for performing arts centers recently and it felt really good to see my venue friends.
There has to be some good that one day will come out of all this. You are an optimistic person, so what is the good that you foresee?
I have been very guilty of saying things like “Hey, let’s get together soon” or “Let’s go do (whatever) soon, I’ll call you” and then six months or a year goes by and I never did anything. I’m trying to call friends, family, and colleagues out of the blue now. I think I’ll do more to stay connected to everyone after this is all over. I’ve started to realize how short life really is and how precious people are. So, if you don’t get a call from me, call me!!