Women in Events | Four Brilliant Business Leaders



Each year around International Women’s Day we like to feature a collection of strong females from our industry. 
 
This year we were eager to feature women who had started their own businesses in the events industry. While female owned businesses are on the rise, there are still crazy stats around the balance of business leaders in our society... For example, did you know there are more CEO’s named John than there are total female CEO’s in this country?!
 
As a female business owner, myself, I am keenly interested to learn how others started out, how they built successful businesses, what they learnt along the way and what they have planned for the future?

So, join me as we learn more about four brilliant women who have built amazing, successful businesses within the events industry – creating jobs, great work and a legacy for others to follow suit… 

Featured Women in Events: Francesa Peskops + Jill Covitz + Mandy Foley + Tracy Wood
 

 

Francesca Peskop | Event EmporiumFrancesa Peskops | Co-Founder Director, Event Emporium

Francesa started Event Emporium with business partner, Alastair Paterson over ten years ago and they haven’t looked back! They had known each other for a quite a while in the industry and were friendly competitors, yet they both saw that there was a genuine connection.  
 
They rented an office space to ensure they began as they wanted to be, and had to make it work fast. Luckily, they hit the ground running, having clients even before furniture. 
 
Event Emporium is a successful event management agency that works with brands and products to create live experiences & communications by engaging audiences.  Their philosophy is to focus on artistry being the big idea, the story, how are you going to engage on a deeper level with your audience to create brand or product advocates.  Then it’s all about planning, intuition and detail, being proactive.

Over the last 13 years Event Emporium have produced all styles of events from product launches, awards programs through to conferences and public activations. 

Event Emporium | Event Portfolio
Left to right: Integrate Exhibition Aug'18 | PGH Bricks Launch  Nov '18 | Australian Construction Achievement Awards May '18

What was the biggest challenge in starting your business?  

Not being prepared for growth. It’s the nature of this industry that suddenly your turnover can double. You need to be flexible and nimble and have a way to scale up quickly. 
 

What do you wish you had known before you started your business?  

How to say NO. If you say yes to the wrong projects or pitching for the wrong-fit business you can end up side-tracked and missing golden opportunities. Working collaboratively with positive clients is key.
What are three highlights you’re most proud of in your business journey?
 
1. Doubling our first-year targets. Was reassuring to know we were on to something good.
 
2. Juggling a family with young children whilst building a business. They both need a lotta love and you need to be good at prioritising and systems.

3. Being a bespoke agency that has kept several leading global brands as repeat clients for over 10 years.
 

What three tips would you give to others starting a business in the events industry?

1. Plan for at least a year, identify your point of difference.
 
2. Let go of the perception that the industry is all glamour and parties. Its hard work and can be very stressful. 
 
3. Trust your gut…. oh, the challenges I could have prevented.
 

Where or who do you draw inspiration from?

I am a personal development junky. I travel in my car a bit so I listen to podcasts. These might be entrepreneurial such as Tim Ferris or creative ones by Debbie Millman or Brian Kopelman. I am a huge movie buff and as most big ideas come from evoking people’s emotions, it’s a great resource. However, inspiration can come from the most random places, a person’s outfit, a song or a quote. The main thing is not to be scared of failure and the good opinion of others. 
 

What is on the cards for the future? 

We embrace change and the events Event Emporium produces today look very different to the events of 4 years ago which is exciting and drives our continued desire to evolve, grow, invent and imagine new ways of working to ensure we remain of greatest value to our clients and team. It can be a fickle industry you need to be one step ahead.


 

Jill Covitz | TCM EventsJill Covitz | Owner and Director TCM Events

WOW! Jill’s career rap sheet is bloody impressive… From starting her career in the music industry with Columbia Records/ Sony Music – working on MTV Music Awards After-Parties, the company Christmas parties, the Head of Sony’s celebrity-filled wedding and then later, helping to produce Foo Fighters Big Me video, to working on six Olympics, a Commonwealth Games and working for Baz Luhrmann… And, we haven’t even got to mentioning TCM Events!
 
Jill started The Corporate Method (now known as TCM Events) with Monika Toth back in 2011. At the end of 2016 they parted ways and Jill has been flying solo since. TCM is an Event Management Company responsible for launches and premieres, corporate meetings, retreats and hospitality programs, red carpet affairs, gala dinners, cocktail parties and fundraisers.  They have also produced live and public events, created activations, and has been responsible for event theming and design.  

On top of her work with TCM, Jill has recently helped kick off an exciting start-up called FUNLOCKA. Without further ado, let’s dive into getting to learn more about Jill….
 

What was the biggest challenge in starting your business?

Having to wear all of the hats yourself is hard!  Starting your own business doesn’t necessarily mean that you are good at all the areas that are required to run a company - from sales and marketing, to accounting, IT and design.  You may think that these roles are ones you may need to assume as the owner of a new business to save money or keep your overhead costs low.  However, that is not the case!  It’s important to be honest with yourself and own the areas you feel comfortable with and outsource (or learn about!) the areas you’re not.  
 
I’d also say time management is another challenge that you have to take control of early on in the piece…. This can prove to be extremely difficult if you're new to building a business and running your own schedule.  It is imperative to keep a good work-life balance and if you're just starting and working out of your home, it can be easy to find yourself on the computer from 7 in the morning to dinner, only to spend another few hours at night crossing a few more things off of your list!  
 
What's more, you may suddenly find yourself manic about work and business-related tasks, only to neglect the responsibilities you have for other areas of your life. Exercise, time with friends and family, and sleep are often taken for granted but they need to be scheduled into your day just like your work tasks do.
 

What do you wish you had known before you started your business?

I’m actually really glad that I didn’t know a lot of the things I know now before I started or I may not have started in the first place!!  I think being blissfully unaware of all the things it takes to run your own company made the starting out journey easier.  And if I look back, I think that if I knew then what I know now, I may not have started my own business!  
 

What are three highlights you’re most proud of in your business journey?

1. We were so lucky to have signed our first contract to run the Corporate Hospitality Program for Foxtel at the London Olympics only 2 weeks into the start of our business journey.  Without that, I think the road would have been a whole lot bumpier!   That project was a year-long retainer which gave us purpose and a place to start and I still look back on it as one of my favourite experiences ever! 
 
2. I’ve been able to adjust and change the business to suit what is needed in the industry and because of that I think we have had longevity.  The Corporate Method was originally created to focus on Corporate Events only.  We realised we didn’t have many good contacts in that network so we moved back into the entertainment space where we had both worked for over 15 years as it was a natural fit.  And I’m happy to say that it all worked out and the business flowed on from there.  
 
a. When activations became a popular experience for companies to use within their marketing plans, we found a way to get involved.  In this business, sometimes you just have to roll with the punches and trust that things will work out how they are supposed to.  Adding activations to our company’s resume has turned out to be a blessing and has brought in a lot of work and introduced us to a lot of new clients we might not have otherwise met.  
 
b. Because I am now the sole director, I am able to freelance for other companies as a Senior Event Manager or act as a consultant and because of that I get to work on some really exciting events I may otherwise not get the opportunity to.  I’m not too proud to put away the ‘TCM hat’ and join another company under their moniker for a project.
 
3. It’s really simple but staying in business for nearly 8 years is something I’m really very proud of!
 

What three tips would you give to others starting a business in the events industry?

1. Stay true to yourself and your business model BUT make sure you’re able to roll with the tide of the industry and adjust to what your clients want – don’t just stick to your guns and stay static as your business will not have longevity!
 
2. Make sure you get involved with the type of events you’re passionate about because running your own business will be something you spend most of your time doing!  If you don’t love what you do, chances are you won’t last long doing it.
 
3. I personally could not have started the business on my own – I needed a partner to do it with.  One of the reasons I love events is because it means working with a team.  I was honest with myself about that personal trait and even though I now run the company by myself, I often make sure I surround myself with like-minded folk and stay involved with groups of PLUs (People Like Us!).  I have a great network of colleagues and people I make sure I surround myself with often.  So my take away from that is to know yourself, be true to your strengths and weaknesses and honour them throughout your business journey.
 
Side note:  I have faith and truly believe that as long as you have a strong plan and more importantly the passion and drive to see it through, you will succeed!  Sometimes all it takes is to sit down and start.
 
Go have a lot of coffees with people (I find most people say yes if you ask) and find out what people do and how they got started and just DO IT.
 
Working for yourself, earning more money (hopefully), getting to set your own – and often more flexible schedule - and all the other benefits of running your own business may be full of risks and challenges BUT it’s usually worth the rewards in order to realize your dream.
 

Where or who do you draw inspiration from?

Everywhere and everything!  
 
I am probably a tough friend to go to the movies with, attend an event with or even try a new restaurant with! I am always soaking up things around me in terms of design, ideas, concepts and new ways to do things. My photo library is overflowing!
 
I get a TON of newsletters on everything from design and events to travel and food - not only within Australia but also from all around the world. 
 
I am out and about a lot and always checking out what’s on and what’s new.
I like to network and am often meeting up with people and getting connected through friends and colleagues…you never know where a good meeting may lead and more importantly what it might lead to!
 
And of course, social media, Pinterest and the web are great places to get inspiration from.
 

What is on the cards for the future? 

FUNLOCKA!
 
I met a ‘like-minded-folk’ through a business club and we decided to work together on his new App.  Nearly 2 years later and our start-up business is moving from strength to strength!  
 
I am lucky enough to be able to work on this new project and also keep my events business going but my hope is that FUNLOCKA (a new VIP App that connects corporates with unique experiences) will be my future.  It combines all of my passions into 1 neat little box – networking and connecting people, finding unique, one-of-a-kind experiences that money can now buy, and creating FUN!  And most importantly it makes people happy.  What more could you want out of a job!

Jill Covitz | FUNKLOCKA


 

Mandy Foley | StedmansMandy Foley | Managing Director, Stedmans Hospitality Personnel & Training

Mandy Foley established Stedmans with former business partners, Stephen and David back in 1986 - by far our longest serving business owner in this group. It’s no surprise really… If you know Mandy, you would know that her dedication to her business, staff and clients is second to none. 
 
Having started the business because, in Mandy’s words, “I was a single mother and needed to provide an income and future for myself and my daughter”, we say hats off to Mandy! Being a single parent AND a business owner is not an easy path to follow, but Mandy has nailed it. 
 
Stedmans was established as a one-stop shop, assuming all responsibility for staff, superannuation and payroll for hospitality personnel on behalf of our clients, revolutionising the hospitality industry and establishing Stedmans as Sydney’s premium supplier of highly skilled and talented industry staff.
Let’s find out more…
 

What was the biggest challenge in starting your business?

Finding good, hard-working staff who had a similar client service mentality.
The clients were the easy part!
 

What do you wish you had known before you started your business?

How much a rollercoaster it would be.
 

What are three highlights you’re most proud of in your business journey?

1. I love giving people a job in the industry I love, whether it be kick-starting their career, or assisting in the development of their career.
 
2. Winning Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year in 2009
 
3. That I was able to juggle motherhood and a career. I think I set a good example to my children that career and family can co-exist very happily, and the value of good, hard work.
 

What three tips would you give to others starting a business in the events industry?

1. Know your product and be proud of it.
 
2. Work out what elements you want to give back to the community. I have always been incredibly passionate about philanthropy* and have passed this on to my staff (who all very happily donate their time to various charities).
 
* Mandy supports many charitable committees including the Sydney Theatre Company Foundation, the Taronga Zoo Foundation, the Centennial Parklands Foundation, The Sydney Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Royal Women’s Hospital Foundation, and have been a judge for the Veuve Clicquot New Generation Award since 2014. 
 
3. Don’t be afraid to give it a go (but make sure you know your numbers).
 
4. Surround yourself with people who have the same moral compass and values. (sorry that was a 4th!).
 

Where or who do you draw inspiration from?

I admire many strong, hardworking women who have forged their own path, but in particular Madame Clicquot - she was a trailblazer and a businesswoman at a time when women weren’t meant to be having careers, whilst raising her child as a single mother.
 

What is on the cards for the future? 

So much! There are many exciting new opportunities on the horizon and I can’t wait for them.
 

 

Tracy Wood | FunktionalityTracy Wood | Managing Director, Funktionality Events and Experiences

If you don’t know Tracy Wood, perhaps you recognise her hair! Tracy is the founder and MD of Funktionality – an event company based in Sydney specialising in full service event management.

Tracy and her team strive to create unforgettable experiences that entertain, communicate and inspire. 
She started the company with nothing but a laptop and a dream. It was in May 2000 when, after seven years working in Marketing and Events at PriceWaterhouseCoopers and two years as BDM for Gearhouse (an AV company), Tracy decided to venture out on her own. 
 
She felt that there was a gap in the market for quality décor in events sphere, having had trouble sourcing products in her previous roles. The idea snowballed when the company name “Funktionality” popped up – a name she was immediately drawn to and thought encapsulated her business concept well. 
 

What was the biggest challenge in starting your business?

As with most new business ventures, the biggest challenge for me was finding the means to fund the dream I was so passionate about. I took the leap and borrowed $50,000 from the bank against the equity of my home to set up the business, designing and locally manufacturing my own range of furniture pieces for hire. I began with a signature white range, and have continued building upon it ever since. 
 

What do you wish you had known before you started your business?

I wish I had known that although it was my business, I didn’t have to do it all on my own. It was a harsh learning experience in the beginning as I was run off my feet trying to wear all of the hats and take on every role myself. I had to take a moment to reassess, determine what my strengths were and look to others to help in the areas where I struggled. 
 
I knew I had a creative brain and excelled in sales/BD, but accounting/finance was always a weakness of mine. It was my father’s advice to invest in a competent financial advisor, and I’m so glad I did as it really paid off in the end.   
 

What are three highlights you’re most proud of in your business journey?

1. Funktionality taking home three awards at Meetings and Events Australia’s (MEA) National Awards was definitely a standout moment for me. I was incredibly honoured to be named Australia’s Event Manager of the Year amongst the sea of talented finalists, and then left speechless when I was awarded the title of Australia’s Professional of the Year for earning the highest overall score in the individual category! To top off the amazing night, my colleague Melbi Lloyd also received an accolade, winning Australia’s Y MEA Future Leader of the Year!
 
2. Funktionality was also announced as finalists for Best Achievement in Design, Look or Theming in the prestigious annual Australian Event Awards. The brief for the nominated event was to create an experience that would truly reflect the unique Australian experience, (exclusive of Indigenous elements). The objective was to create an exciting, thrilling and impressive finale that would have the overseas attendees talking about Australia and the company long after the event. Our response was ambitious. We devised a concept to completely transform The Dome at Sydney Showground into an experience right out of the 1979 cult Australian dystopian film: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The event was a resounding success, and although we didn’t take home the gong (we were pipped at the post by the Royal Australian Navy’s International Fleet Review), we were proud to be recognised for our work.
 
3. Being able to survive the Global Financial Crisis in 2008/09 – it was a terrifying time as companies literally overnight stopped entertaining and holding lavish parties and events. The fear for me and my staff was terrible. Luckily, I had saved for a rainy day and we were able to survive through it. I learnt a lot through those trying times and came out better for it.

Funkionality | Awards Winners
Left to right: Tracy & Melbi MEA Award Winners | Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome Event at Sydney Showground

What three tips would you give to others starting a business in the events industry?

1. If you’re a creative like me, make sure you hire good financial advisors to help you understand the financials and ensure you have a good cash flow.
 
2. Get skilled up in Business Development – being the owner of the business, your passion and knowledge of the services you provide make you one of its best ambassadors. This is a real advantage when trying to win business from potential clients so make sure you touch up on your business development and networking skills.
 
3. Having mentors in the industry who can help guide you and share valuable advice can really give your business the edge it needs to succeed. When I first started out, the mentoring I received from event legends David Grant, Greg Hancock and Toni Brasch was priceless.
 

Where or who do you draw inspiration from?

My team have been my biggest source of inspiration – we are all constantly learning from each other and their creativity never ceases to amaze me. Aside from that, I love reading interior design magazines, attending trade shows and immersing myself in different cultures when travelling. 
 

What is on the cards for the future? 

I want to continue growing and building upon the different services we provide – event management, décor hire, entertainment, incentives and destination management – but the real focus in the next few years will be the entertainment arm of the business. Stay tuned..




A big THANK YOU to Francesa, Jill, Mandy and Tracy for taking part and sharing their wonderful experience and insight with us - we loved reading each and every word!