Leadership / 07.29.20
Jeff Koets: Ticketing Lifer, Gentleman Farmer, Family Man and Arts Devotee
Less than two hours east of Toronto, there is a small community called Grafton, Ontario. Once a bustling shipping port, today it has just a few hundred residents who call the quaint hamlet home. Among them are the descendants of many original settler families, as well as Jeff Koets, Chief Operating Officer of Red61, his wife Jody, and their two boys, Liam and Noah.
Jeff Koets and his family.
The Koets’ move to Grafton and Jeff’s job with the Edinburgh-based company have been the ticket to the type of small-town life that many of us watch enviably on the big screen, as worthy of a Disney or Hallmark storyline as any movies we’ve ever seen.
But the tale does not start and end there. It harkens all the way back to high school, when Jeff was growing up in the same area where he finds himself today, and he fell in love with theatre. What he did not know then was that this teenage love story would guide him to meet the love of his life and give him the incredible joy of family, both at home and at work.
“I got really hooked on theatre in high school. By the time I got to grade 11 or grade 12, I loved it so much that I decided to go to university for theatre and dramatic literature. As part of that process, I dove right into the arts,” Jeff says. “I started working [part-time] at the Brock Centre for the Arts as a stagehand and [then full-time] at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which was my first real box office gig. It is also where I met Jody and fell in love.”
Jeff Koets and the love of his life, Jody.
Jeff would later make the move from that town on the shores of Lake Ontario, at the mouth of the Niagara River, to Toronto, where he joined the team at what was then Young People's Theatre. It was there that he met Kevin Kimsa, the founder of AudienceView, where he ultimately spent 15+ successful years.
“At some point, as I was trying to achieve a decent work-life balance, I realized that I was missing the mark on the balance a little bit. Jody and I were spending so much time trying to get out of the busy city every weekend. It just became natural for us to want to move to the countryside, so while I was still at AudienceView, we moved out here and we started the small farm that we have,” Jeff says.
The role of gentleman farmer is a far cry from that of a ticketing industry executive, but Jeff has proven that they do not have to be mutually exclusive.
“We have a 26-acre lot, and we live on about three acres, which is where we have a sizeable vegetable garden, a large chicken shed and a fishpond. That whole experience was really our first love; just being more involved in the boy's life, their understanding of the world, and where food comes from,” Jeff says.
The house that the Koets family built in Grafton, Ontario.
Growing food in Grafton, Ontario.
Farm-fresh tomatoes grown with love by the Koets family.
From field to bowl, you can't get strawberries any sweeter than this!
In the Koets' case, the chickens come first ...
... and these are some of their beautiful eggs.
Fast forward to today and Jeff has been the operations leader at Red61 for a little over three years.
“With Red61, I get to work for this amazing company that is based in Edinburgh, so I have the privilege of spending lots of time in that beautiful city on a regular basis,” Jeff says, “but because of the way that the travel works, spending three to four weeks here and then a week on-site, I still get to enjoy country life in the evenings and on the weekends.”
The formula seems to be working, as Jeff grows crops with his family and grows the business at Red61. The company has increased its global footprint and grown extensively into Australia and Canada over the last couple of years, he tells INTIX, adding that “2019 was a blockbuster year for us.”
And while Red61 has continued to sign deals amid the unprecedented global entertainment shutdown, the company is addressing challenges, too, just like its industry peers.
“We’re really trying to work closely with our customers to figure out what they need. That is an ever-evolving discussion and a bit of a different discussion depending on the geography,” he says. “I believe that institutional arts like operas and symphonies are going to be somewhat slower to recover, and because of that, I think the demographics will change significantly in the marketplace, ultimately leading to a slightly younger audience on the other end of this pandemic. I also think that there are a lot of unknowns.”
Among them, the role that digital events will play post-pandemic.
“There are lots of people that have enjoyed the experience of entertainment from home, but what does that mean? I think that is a big discussion that is going to happen in the industry,” Jeff says. “My personal feeling is that a lot of people are going to want to go back to more traditional forms, going out to see art and enjoying it with other individuals, having cathartic moments in a dark theater, and then going to talk about it; things that are not quite as available in a digital package.”
Case in point, when Jeff was in university, he remembers seeing a piece called “Insomnia,” which was written and directed by Guillermo Verdecchia and Daniel Brooks, at the Theatre Centre in Toronto.
“Four of us went to see the show because our professor asked us to go and review it. We had dinner beforehand, and there was lots of talking and excitement,” Jeff says. “It was an interesting, detailed piece that was analyzing the society of greed, marriage, parenthood and friendships through the hazy lens of a ‘right-thinking’ man. You were effectively watching a couple and their neighbors evolve within this sleepless state. There was a baby born at the beginning of the story. By the end of the play, they have all become so consumed by insomnia that they fail to realize that the dinner they are eating is the actual baby. We all got in the car and drove from Toronto to St. Catharines afterwards, [which is at least a 45-minute drive]. Nobody said a word all the way home. I don’t know that I spoke to some of those people for days afterwards because it impacted me so strongly.”
The Toronto Star’s Vit Wagner said, "Think of ‘Insomnia’ as an impressively theatrical nightcap with which to neurotically toast the millennium."
Art can indeed have an incredible impact on us, and so do the people in our lives.
“I consider leadership to come from lots of different areas of my life,” Jeff says when asked about his mentors. “We have a really strong board [at Red61], so I have some strong mentors there. I consider Tony Davey [who founded Red61] to be a mentor. I still consider Kevin Kimsa to be a mentor, and he and I speak on a regular basis. I consider Maureen Andersen [President and CEO of INTIX] and Lyndsey Jackson [Deputy Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society] to be mentors. I consider anybody that is continually trying to progress things and helping me to see things differently to be a mentor, including my own kids.”
From left: Jose Ferran, Head of Professional Services for Red61; Dave Cations, Developer at Adelaide Fringe, a Red61 client; Red61 founder Tony Davey; and, Jeff Koets.
What does Jeff value most in a person?
“I am a pretty big fan of people that are real. We live in a world where people spend a lot of time positioning themselves before you actually meet them, meaning their social presence, what it says about them and who they are. I really, truly believe in people being honest about who they are and what they represent,” Jeff says. “In my friends, I value honesty. I think that is just a quality that I enjoy in people in general, in a sense of not being constantly self-promoting, and just being honest about who they are.”
If he himself is being honest, Jeff cannot name his single, most-treasured possession. His response, however, was in harmony with another of his lifelong loves: music.
“I guess I am torn about that. I have a collection of guitars that my dad has given me over time. In addition, I was lucky enough to inherit all of my grandpa’s instruments, including his prized possessions being his piano and his accordions. I also have a collection of over 1,800 pieces of vinyl, which is fully documented, organized, the whole bit,” he says. “[So, I will have to say] music in general, I guess. I do not know if that can be a possession, but anything I own that is tied to music, whether they are gig posters, my vinyl collection or musical instruments, [those would be my most treasured possessions].”
When it comes to his job, Jeff finds it to be an ever-evolving challenge. What does he love most about his work?
“We are a really close team at Red61, and I really, truly do consider them to be a second family. I enjoy working with our clients too,” he says. “I have always loved working in the industry and working with arts organizations. Prior to joining Red61, I had not had the opportunity to work as closely with more fringe-based festivals, and there is just a slight enough difference between the way they tend to function in the sense that ‘no’ is not an answer that is really accepted easily within fringe festivals. It is often, “OK, cool, but how do we do it? How can we go around it? How can we do it differently?’”
He continues, “Because of the way these types of festivals are often formed, there is a really strong shoulder-to-shoulder feeling within the collective group of venues, artists and providers.”
As for what brings him the most joy or greatest meaning in life?
“It is not one thing. Life is about a mix of everything that is happening around you. There is an ever-evolving list of things that you are managing on a daily basis to make sure that you are happy and the people around you are happy. For me, the focus is that people work better when they are happy and interested in what they are doing. I help secure happiness in myself through finding happiness in others and helping to explore happiness in others.”
When it comes to exploring our industry and developing some of the relationships that bring him joy, Jeff has turned to INTIX.
“I have been a member of INTIX for a very long time. Since the days of BOMI, I have believed that this international organization is needed and required. I think we have collective experiences globally, and it is important for us to share,” he says. “There is an aspect of what INTIX does in the marketplace, where through encouraging global discussion, we truly get to learn from each other. We get to promote our industry and how important our industry is, because the average person does not know what ticketing really is; they do not know what people do in a ticket office. Their understanding of ticketing is through Ticketmaster, StubHub or the big global conglomerates that we all know, so there is value in supporting the little guy. I feel like the ticketing industry is often the little engine that could, and we need organizations like INTIX to continue empowering us.”
And empower, it does. Thinking back to his most memorable INTIX moment, Jeff recalls a time before Maureen Andersen had become President and CEO, when she first spoke about our community as a “noble tribe” at the 2016 conference in Anaheim.
Maureen Andersen passionately discussing our community as a “noble tribe” at the INTIX 2016 Awards Lunch in Anaheim.
“I was watching people around us in the room saying, ‘YES! YES!’ You could see the clapping in people’s heads as she was saying it,” he says. “It was such a strong, emotional piece, and it made me realize that that’s what Maureen needed to be doing, was running INTIX. I have always felt strongly that Maureen is one of several people at the helm of this industry as far as helping people who are in box office positions and vendors work well with each other. From my perspective, the vendors are required to make the association work as much as its [other] members, and I think she has created an environment where everyone feels more inclined to interact in a different and more positive way.”
What else should the INTIX community know about Jeff?
“I am proudly Canadian. I am proudly a lifer in the ticketing industry, which is likely evident by everything that I have said [and done], and I do not see that ever changing. I am a huge advocate for the arts on all levels, but I think that is already pretty evident too. Oh, and I love my dog Piper like crazy.”
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