Vinnie Polito, mdg‘s principal, co-owner and live events expert, has been selected to receive IAEE’s Pinnacle Award, the association’s highest honor. The Pinnacle Award recognizes an individual who has advanced exhibition management through innovative practices, the dissemination of knowledge and the perpetuation of the highest ideals and professionalism. We’ve asked Vinnie to share his knowledge and advice for others hoping to follow in his footsteps.
How did you get into the conference and trade show business?
I was working for a company called Highwire Associates, producer of TeenAge Magazine (a monthly for college-minded young women) and Apple Computer Clubs, designed to keep the Apple ll first in the minds of educators. Part of my job was working with Apple to launch Applefest, and the rest is history!
That history includes working for Sheldon Adelson, a man you often call your mentor in this business. What did you learn from him?
There is a long overdue book about Sheldon’s contributions to the industry. Working for him was an incredible experience. I learned how to negotiate. To be relentless. To think about revenue (“If people are throwing money at you, don’t duck!”). To realize that no show is ever sold out. To always be truthful. To draw a floor plan. To find a way to be two or three steps ahead of others without taking your eye off what is right in front of you. Mr. Adelson sold the business a few years into my time at Interface, but his lessons still impact me today.
How do you continue to evolve your skills and build your knowledge to stay relevant and ahead of the changes that are driving the events business, the media landscape and/or the industries you serve?
As a partner at mdg, I have the privilege of working with many of the brightest minds across a wide spectrum of industries. In a given week, I may be meeting with a leading cardiologist, the chief content officer of an iconic media brand, the CEO of a successful tech startup and a handful of innovators in the association space. I stay active in all the leading industries. I remain inquisitive. I listen. I pay attention to the international landscape. I am always looking for best and next practices that can be applied strategically across our client list.
You participated in formal mentorship programs through IAEE and are often named informally as a mentor by industry peers. What is the most important piece of advice you have to offer to emerging professionals in the events/association space?
In my early days, the help and advice I received inspired me to make this industry into a career. One particular MATSO meeting reminded me of the meeting of the five families in “The Godfather”. I was awestruck to be in the room and to be treated with respect and friendship. I try to remember things like that and hope I can inspire early career professionals. My advice? Don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t be afraid to make decisions. This is a dynamic industry. Don’t allow yourself to ever get stale. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of industry leaders. You’ll be surprised, and hopefully impressed, at how willing people are to share their experiences with you.
What have you learned through “reverse-mentorship” and what advice do you have for other senior level professionals to ensure that they are open to acquiring knowledge from the younger and/or junior members of their staff?
Make a point of spending time with everyone on your team. The best organizations have a good combination of veterans (institutional knowledge), mid-career types and new employees. Listening to the perspectives of younger employees helps you make changes that will benefit you and your events.
How has giving back to the industry benefitted you personally and professionally?
I have been extremely fortunate to learn from others at every step of my career. I’ve formed friendships that have withstood many changes over the last decades that benefit me every day. I am a better person because of them, and if you think I might be talking about you, you are probably right.