By Jenna Marina Lee
ORLANDO, Fla. (May 17, 2018) – The hospitality industry is known for prioritizing customer service above all, and that is certainly the case for Michelle Jenkinson ’07 and her team within the fan experience and operations department for the Orlando Magic.
So when a fan who had gotten engaged two days prior to attending a Magic game lost her ring underneath the bleachers, Jenkinson’s team sprang into action. An operations staff member knew of a crevice in the floor and located the ring, where he hooked it with his pinky finger and safely retrieved it.
“Those are the moments that we teach our employees about at the Amway Center,” Jenkinson said. “If you think back to your favorite moment of a sporting event, do you remember the score? It’s more likely you remember who you went with. Or the fact that the usher bent down and talked to your child and got them a foam finger and made them feel special. We want to create legendary experiences for our fans.”
Anecdotes like this and other motivational takeaways were shared at a career enhancement panel hosted by the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management Alumni Chapter on May 15.
Jenkinson along with two alumni who have gone on to become prominent professionals at Walt Disney World and City of Orlando shared their insights and experiences at a networking and social event held on Rosen’s campus.
Below, we share some of the panel’s top tips that apply to any job.
A snapshot of the panelists:
• Marylouise Fitzgibbon ’94, Regional General Manager for Walt Disney World
• Michelle Jenkinson ’07, Director of Fan Experience and Operations for the Orlando Magic
• Allen Johnson ’81, Chief Venues Officer of Orlando Venues
• Moderator: Tom Hope ’09MBA, UCF Assistant Vice President for Strategic Initiatives
1: An effective leader leads with kindness.
Marylouise Fitzgibbon: “We’re still making really smart business decisions and still working on smart strategies and forming tactical plans, but in every decision we make, people make all the difference. It’s not just something, it’s everything. Leadership is all about relationships. When I was in school, I think that concept sounded nice to have, but now that I’m further along in my career, it’s a differentiator. The reason we all got into this business is that we wanted to make a difference in the world. For me, that difference starts with one person, one employee, one guest, one peer. That’s something I’ve tried to hold onto all these years. There’s so much data that shows that leaders who have a style of kindness are more effective. Those are the people you want to work for. Those are the people I want to work for.”
Michelle Jenkinson: “Some leaders want to lead with fear or want to lead with being aggressive. It just doesn’t work. Lead by being part of a team. A lot of times, the leaders I’ve admired and something that I try to emulate now, is having the mindset that I’m no different than the greeter on the club level checking tickets. It’s all about the fan experience, the guest experience and making sure you are part of your team. You just have to get your hands dirty, whatever it takes to get the doors open and the lights turned on. You’re not above it.”
Allen Johnson: “I agree that kindness is one of the most important qualities of a leader. Qualities that I look for in a leader is No. 1: listening. No. 2: know your people. Know their names. And if you know their wife’s and their husband’s or companion’s name or their kids’ names, you’re golden. There’s four words I tell everyone you have to learn. The first two are ‘thank you.’ The last two will get you through life on everything: ‘I’m sorry.’
2: Prioritizing work-life balance (or integration) is necessary for career longevity.
Marylouise Fitzgibbon: I have two sets of twins, it’s sort of my claim to fame. At one point I had four kids under the age of five. I used to get asked the question about work-life balance a lot. Choose your spouse, your companion really careful. The only reason I can do what I do is because I have an amazing husband who gets me. I joke that I don’t know the name of my kids’ dentist, I never have, but their very perfectly capable father does and takes them. I don’t say that with pride, but I also don’t say it with embarrassment either. I’ve stopped using the term work-life balance because it doesn’t exist. I like thinking about work-life integration. You aren’t two separate people, as much as you try. Be aware that the people who work for you are dealing with the same issues that maybe you are, so I work a lot with my team on integrating our personal and professional lives.
Michelle Jenkinson: I have three small children, 6 and under. Balancing that on top of 45 games a year — on a game day I’m there at 9 a.m. and typically don’t leave until 11-12 o’clock at night. So what does that look like? I have to have an awesome team at home as well as an awesome team at work. We know when we need to pick up the slack for one another. It’s important to have fun in the office and do things as a work family. I love every single one of them. The other key is to take the down time when you have it. If you get a day that it’s slow in the office, take it off. Realize that work is always going to be there.
Allen Johnson: I know everyone struggles with this, even more so in this industry. I consider the time I spend with my family special. Whatever we are doing, I try to make it special. Sometimes, it’s as simple as taking them to the library because that’s what they like doing. But everyone needs to find what their happy place is. My degree is in psychology and I’m big on mindfulness. I learned how to meditate when I was in high school and I do that a lot when I’m in a stressful situation. It’s up to you to find the things that work for you to help balance.
3: It’s all in the details.
Michelle Jenkinson: When it comes to events, a lot of people have this idea of what it’s about. They think weddings, the Grammys and you have an unlimited budget and life is good. Let me tell you, that’s .02 percent of the events industry. Every event has the same components though – attention to detail. We’ll go on walk-throughs on a game day, and I’m worried about a scuff on the terrazzo. That seems ridiculous, but if we don’t do that, those scuffs add up. That’s maintenance on your building. So it’s easier to take care of those little things. As for the job, you plan as much as you can, but also know that nothing in events goes to plan. Be able to adapt to that and be flexible. Keep that mindset because it will get you further in this industry.”
4: Don’t wait for the perfect job.
Marylouise Fitzgibbon: “Stop trying to find the perfect job right out of college. Get something. Your degree will pay off big, but it’s probably not that very first job. It won’t be long to set yourself apart. Don’t get caught up with titles. Just get a job.”
Allen Johnson: “You have to start somewhere. I think Marylouise is absolutely correct. People are impatient when they first graduate because you want to be us up here on this panel. It’s a long road. What I look for when I’m hiring someone: If I have two candidates and one has the most perfect background, education, experience, everything, and the other candidate as the best attitude, I will hire the best attitude every time. It’s the only thing that you can control.”
5: No matter what year you graduate, it’s *always* a good time to be a Knight.
Marylouise Fitzgibbon: “I chose UCF because in my small graduating class, a lot of my peers got into UF, FSU but they did not get into UCF. So when I got the acceptance letter from UCF, I chose it truly out of spite (laughs). I know that’s a bad reason, and I’m embarrassed to tell you that, but we’re all friends here. I graduated in 1994, and back then even, it was a big deal to get chosen to attend UCF. Now, being out in the world and being an employer, the reputation that this university has is so phenomenal and powerful. It’s a proud moment when I’m sitting in recruiting meetings and people are actively trying to find UCF students and I’m the one in the room who whispers, you know I went to school there (smiles).”
Michelle Jenkinson: “I was born and raised in Florida in Merritt Island. I had a lot of friends that went to UCF. I would come visit them. I loved Orlando, loved campus. I honestly didn’t apply anywhere else. Orlando had a good mix of bigger city but that excitement of college life. UCF was growing quite quickly. I’m extremely proud to be a UCF Knight. Even since I’ve graduated, I love to be a part of the success the university has had.”
Allen Johnson: “It’s weird, I started at a school called FTU and graduated from UCF. I don’t know how that happened (laughs). I’m third-generation Central Floridian. I was born in Kissimmee, raised in St. Cloud. I fell in love with UCF and a girl. UCF gave me an opportunity to experience college life on a scale that is much bigger now, as we all know, but back then it was still a major university. I’m proud to be a UCF Knight. I run Camping World Stadium and we have a bowl game every Jan. 1. This year is the first year I’ve missed it in 14 years. I chose to go to Atlanta. My boss allowed me to. That’s how important UCF is to me.”