Leadership / 11.23.21
Thanks (and Thankful) For the Memories — Part 2
INTIX sends warm thanks and heartfelt gratitude to David Cushing, Teri McPherson, Mardi Dilger, John Harig and Linda Forlini. In total, these incredible ticketing professionals provided almost 200 years of collective service and expertise to our industry. The INTIX and broader entertainment ticketing community is better because you are in it and because you walked among us.
In part one of our “Thanks (and Thankful) For the Memories” story, we featured long-time INTIX members and industry stalwarts David Cushing, Teri McPherson and Mardi Dilger. Both David and Teri are retired, and Mardi was just weeks away from her retirement at the time of writing. In part two, we feature two more ticketing superstars, both now retired, and share their memories, successes and advice.
John Harig retired from his position as Vice President, Ticketing, for the Cincinnati Arts Association in May 2021. He is still trying to get used to it, but says he is thankful for all the people he got to know and all the opportunities he had that gave his life meaning and purpose.
“It was me,” he says with pride of his career in ticketing. “It gave me purpose. I was a ticketing guy. It is a career that really depends on serving others, and that is rewarding. Another thing I think about is the people. I met and befriended a lot of really good people. I worked with a lot of them and just ran into them and met them through different things. It is just amazing to look back on some of the relationships I was able to have and some of the projects I was able to get involved in with different people. The people I worked with, the people that worked for me, they are some incredibly talented people.”
“Working on the same project as some of the performers was great, too,” John says. “When you work on a Broadway show and you do ‘The Lion King’ on the first run, that was a highlight ... We had lines around the block, and we had extra ticketing stations through the lobby. It was a game changer. The first time we brought ‘Hamilton’ in, it was a game changer once again. The technology had changed what we had to do to sell online, but we still had a lot of people at the venue. To serve equally from both avenues there, it is incredible when you look at what we were able to do and nurture.”
What turned out to be John’s purpose in life was actually more like a twist of fate. In 1984, he was working part time in a record store in Cincinnati with big plans to become a tour manager. And then serendipity struck. An outdoor amphitheater had just been built at the Riverbend Music Center, a five-minute drive from where he was living. He said, “I need to work there. That is where I belong.” John wanted to be hired as production manager, but that position was already taken. That is when a friend who worked there suggested he apply for a job in the ticket office.
“I interviewed for it, but I did not get the job,” he says with a sense of relief. “Thank God, because I really did not know enough to [run the ticket office] at the time. But I did get hired as an assistant manager. Over time my friend taught me all about ticketing, and I ended up as the box office manager. So that is how I got into ticketing. I tried to get out of it numerous times in the early years ... In fact, I really do not think I considered myself a ticketing professional until I got involved with INTIX, which back then was BOMI, and I started seeing the possibilities for a career. I just kept going with it. I was 40 years old when I went to my first INTIX conference, so I had already been kicking around a while before I figured that out.”
He says, “It was a good career, and I enjoyed it. Ticketing just grew on me, and it was multi-faceted too. I was a jack of all trades, master of none ... I was driven by wearing all these different hats and the opportunity to work with other people and build something great.”
Indeed, John did help build something great. The Cincinnati Arts Association is a not-for-profit organization that oversees the programming and management of the tri-state’s finest performing arts venues — the Aronoff Center for the Arts and the Cincinnati Music Hall — and is dedicated to supporting performing and visual arts.
Even after being named INTIX’s 2019 Outstanding Ticketing Professional, John says the pinnacle of his career was his retirement. He explains that is because, only after leaving his career, did he have time to reflect upon it and realize how great it had all been.
“I am able to look at it now and say it was a good career. We did good things. Those who remain are still doing good things. [Ultimately, I think my entire career] was really a high point,” John says. “We brought in some events from outside the organization, big events that went on in the city, and we worked hard to do that. We had a World Choir Games in Cincinnati, which was a huge choral event. I was keen to bring that in and support it. Bringing in Tall Stacks, which brought steamboats in every so many years on the river, [is also very memorable].”
John says, “[My retirement was] the pinnacle, but not the high point. It is very confusing to sort your feelings out when you are in the middle of the pandemic, people are getting layoff notices and everybody says, ‘What do you do? You do not have anything to do if you are not doing shows.’ But we had plenty to do because we were running backwards. We give customers the money and they give us the tickets back, so there was a lot to do. It was a discouraging time, but I thought about it, discussed it with my wife and other people I am close to, and I feel good about what I have done.”
John was not furloughed and did not retire because of the pandemic. He had already been thinking about calling it a day before COVID-19 begin to impact the industry. Now that he is out of the fray, so to speak, he is finding plenty to keep himself busy.
“I play guitar,” he says. “I have been playing guitar my whole life, but I have been disciplining myself to learn new things instead of just picking it up. So that is fun because I did not do that for years, I would just take it out and play. I am disciplining myself to improve. I garden and I have tons of peppers. There are fix-it projects around the house, and then I have old cars and motorcycles. None of the motorcycles run at the moment and they haven't for years, so I am getting back into fixing those. Stuff like that. Hooking up with old friends and getting exercise on a regular basis [has been really rewarding too].”
When we asked John if he had anything else to add, he joyfully expressed his gratitude to everyone, especially all his friends and peers at INTIX.
“A big thank you. A big thank you for including me in the ride and bringing me along. A lot of people brought me along through my career. That is how I really learned ticketing.”
For six-and-a-half years, Linda Forlini served as Vice President of Ticket Philadelphia. She retired in May 2020, after a career that spanned well over a quarter century.
At the start of her career, Linda reveals she earned just $2.35 an hour and thought she was “hot stuff.” Now she says the reality has set it. “Even if I had saved $10 a month back then, that would have made a huge difference in my retirement.”
It is no wonder then that her advice to those starting out today is to always put something into your 401k or whatever other savings and investment vehicles are available. “I do not care if you save just $25 a week. You are 19, 20 or 21 and you think you are invincible. You are going to be 65 one day, and you are going to thank me for telling you to do this.”
Such practical advice was natural for Linda and the no-nonsense approach she adopted with her professional life. Saving for retirement is just one piece of advice that she would give every new staff member on their very first day. Her other wise counsel would include two additional recommendations.
“Never let any vacation time roll over. Use it. That is why we gave it to you ... Do not roll the time over. You know why? Because every single one of us is replaceable. The pope dies, you get a new pope. Do not think that you are irreplaceable and that we cannot go on if you take a long weekend. No, we will be fine. You do what you need to do and you take care of what you need to take care of,” she says, adding that mental health is so important. “The third one is do not lie to me. If you do something wrong, tell me because I am not going to lie to you. Do not cover anything up. I am going to find it, and it is going to be worse when I find it.”
Linda with husband Joe.
Linda obviously learned a lot over the course of her highly successful career. What stood out, we asked?
“I think the best thing I learned was that you are never going to be your staff's friend, but you do need to be honest with them. You need to tell them what is going on, you need to tell them the truth. Good, bad or indifferent, the truth is the best way to go. I was never friends with any of my staff. I did not see them socially outside of work unless it was a group of us going out somewhere, but they all felt that I was their friend,” she says. “It is so important to have their trust and for them to know that whatever it is, you are going to tell them. It took me a long time to do that because I always felt like shielding them would be the best thing, but it's really not, because they are going to find out the truth anyway. If you are just honest with them upfront and then you go through whatever it is that you have to go through together, and because they know everything that you know, it was the best. Even when it was telling people that they are on the chopping block and have six weeks to go. What can we do in these six weeks to get them prepared to move on? It is much better than telling them two weeks before you let them go. I felt it was. I just always thought that it was much better to be open and honest.”
While Linda mentioned that she was never friends with any of her staff, she certainly had no shortage of friends in the industry.
“They are not just in the city I live in, they are across the globe,” she says. “There are friends in Australia, friends in the U.K. and friends in Ireland. There are not many industries that are going to give you this friend base that you get when you are in an international association [like INTIX] or a business that is international. It is great to be able to say, ‘Hey, I am going to be in your country. I am going to stop by and say hi,’ because I have done it. Or, ‘I am going to be in your state. I am going to swing by and say hi.’ It is your family of friends that you meet at your first conference, and you hang on to them; you know them, and you meet new people the next time, and it just grows and grows. You have people that you can call, and it is pretty special.”
While there were many special moments, the high point of her career came when INTIX presented Linda with The Patricia G. Spira Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.
“You work for recognition from your peers,” she says. “And that to me was the highest honor I could get in this industry. You are not going to get that from your employer. You are just another face to them. When your peer group, people that you have known for literally 35 years, says that you have reached the highest pinnacle, that is pretty special.”
Although she is thankful for the career she had, Linda has been planning her retirement for a long time. It started when she was in New York and planning on retiring from the New York Philharmonic.
“Literally, when I turned 50, I said, ‘I am retiring at 55. Start looking now, whatever you need to do, but I am out of here.’ It did not work out, because I ended up taking the [Ticket Philadelphia] gig. But when I took that on, I said, ‘I am retiring at 58. I gave them 48 months notice. Literally, the day after I signed, I said, ‘I am out of here,’ so they would know I was not long term.’”
Sure enough, just one day after her 58th birthday, Linda left her Ticket Philadelphia office on the Kimmel Center Campus and thus began the rest of her life.
“Not working is giving me so much joy I can't even tell you. Even if I never left the house. Not working is joyous to me, but I do leave the house. My husband and I just went on a little seven-month jaunt because we could, and we are planning four or five different trips for 2022. We are doing a five-month, around-the-world cruise, and we leave Dec. 22, 2022. I am really looking forward to that. On May 9, 2023, we end up in London, England. We are doing Iceland and Scandinavia, too.”
Remember the words of wisdom Linda gave earlier? Well, she clearly took her own advice.
“In addition to my pension from the New York Philharmonic, (where she worked as Director of Customer Relations and Sales for 14 years before taking the job with Ticket Philadelphia), which helps, and my husband Joe’s pension and medical coverage from the state of New Jersey, where he worked for 37 years … I absolutely maxed out my 401k for the last 25 years. That meant sometimes I did not have much money, but I maxed it out so that I would have the money in retirement. I can't touch it yet, but I know it is there.”
And that, along with a career and life well lived, is truly something to be thankful for.
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Tags: Leadership , ticketing pros