Leadership / 10.25.23
Ticketing Legends: Gary Lustig’s Incredible Journey Began With a Classified Ad and an Opera Company
Like Tamino in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” Gary Lustig embarked on a journey he did not anticipate and discovered an enchanted realm far removed from his previous life.
Gary at INTIX 2017 in New Orleans.
“I was working at a hotel supply company, and I hated it,” he says bluntly. “There is nothing particularly exciting about selling logoed toilet paper to hotels, plus the company was losing money, and that is never fun. This was in the early ‘80s. When I was going through classified job ads, I saw an employment ad for the Dallas Opera. They were looking for somebody who had technology and customer service skills. I had those skills, but honestly, I had never been to an opera in my life. I applied and John Toohey, then the Dallas Opera Marketing Director and now a longtime friend, saw something in me, and I got the job.”
That twist of fate is similar to many others who have unintentionally found themselves in ticketing careers. The good fortune is also how Gary found himself working in a ticket office which, he says, had been rendered “unauditable” by the organization. Again, just like Tamino, he faced numerous challenges but scored many triumphs along the way.
“I made lots of mistakes but had more successes than failures,” Gary says. “And 40 years later, I am still in the industry.”
Indeed, Gary is a true ticketing legend who has left an indelible mark on ticketing over the past four decades.
From the Dallas Opera, he went on to become Vice President of Performing Technologies, spending eight years there before being hired as Director of Ticketing and Information Technology for the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. Then came a move east in 2003 when Gary became Managing Director of Ticket Philadelphia. While still there, he assumed the role of Vice President of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts (now the Kimmel Cultural Campus). Today, he continues with a dual purpose, sharing his business expertise as a volunteer mentor for SCORE Mentors Canton and as founder and principal of LusTicks, which provides ticketing consulting for the live entertainment industry.
Gary at his Kimmel Center retirement party with his wife Patty and Jim McCafferty.
In these various positions, Gary has been somewhat of a renaissance man. He has gone from ticketing to technology to sales to ticketing, gaining critical experience in fundraising, finance, marketing and more. He emphasizes that all of these areas are interconnected.
“I think that so many of us in this industry fit into the category of a renaissance person, because to be successful, you have to be connected to all of those things in some way,” he says. “I have been lucky to have been involved in so many of these facets … I can't name a favorite, though I suspect I would be a terrible fundraiser. I do not like taking no for an answer; I don't do it very well, and fundraisers hear a lot of nos. I also spent six months as a marketing director, and the ticketing side of me hated me for those six months. Though some of my best friends are marketers, it is probably not the area that I would have been strongest in. But as for trying to pick out one, I can’t because I enjoy them all.”
Gary at INTIX 2001 in Toronto.
Gary got into ticketing when new technology began transforming the industry, including the PACT/3000 electronic ticketing system. PACT originally stood for “Patron Accounting” and was later rebranded as “Performing Arts Computer Technology” when the system incorporated more of a marketing focus. He reminisces:
“PACT was developed in the early ‘80s for the Dallas Opera by a brilliant man named Gary Biggs. He developed maybe the first true CRM systems for the arts, [with] fundraising, ticketing, marketing [and] finance, all in one integrated database. Early on, it was adapted by the San Francisco Symphony and its capabilities expanded for much larger organizations. It ended up installed in almost 40 organizations with many of the most prestigious arts groups in North America … It was robust. It was reliable. And frankly, for the ‘80s, it was ahead of its time. For example, real-time credit card authorizations came years ahead of other systems with PACT.”
Gary with his grandnephew Conor.
Indeed, the client list for PACT was impressive. Beyond Dallas Opera, it included the Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Woodruff Arts Center, San Francisco Ballet, The Denver Center, Lyric Opera and National Ballet of Canada. As for his experience with the PACT system, Gary says it was daunting but also a lot of fun.
“The early adopters had a great influence on product development, and it was rewarding to see all of these arts organizations leave behind paper or systems that were greatly lacking,” he says. “The clients were like partners in many ways. I truly believe that PACT set the stage for future systems that are great successes today by establishing a CRM mindset among arts organizations. It was no longer just enough to be a ticketing system. You had to be all of these other things as well.”
“So many of the systems today integrate fundraising, marketing and ticketing together in one system, and it just makes the most sense because it's so patron focused. It is how you go through the lifecycle of developing patrons. You start with a ticket buyer, turn them into a subscriber, turn them into a donor, and having all that data allows you to successfully develop those folks into loyal patrons.”
Gary says PACT paved the way for many of the technological solutions currently used in the performing arts industry and left him with a profound insight.
“The right technology in the hands of the right people can really drive significant success at performing arts organizations,” he says.
While PACT undeniably played a pivotal role in shaping Gary’s professional journey, it also made an everlasting mark on his personal life, leading to a pact with the woman who was to become his future wife.
Gary and Patty visiting Niagara Falls.
“Patty started out in ticketing, but then she had the good sense to move to finance,” he says. “She was the CFO at one of my PACT clients when we first met, and actually, we did not like each other much because we only seemed to talk when something had gone wrong somewhere along the way. Somehow, we got past that and turned it into a 30-plus-year marriage.”
Gary says getting Patty to marry him in 1990 was his greatest life accomplishment.
“Back then, I was not the greatest catch,” he says. “Patty certainly gets ticketing. She actually helped me create the first Ticket Philadelphia budgets I ever did, which were complex and daunting. Honestly, what I have learned from her about finance helps me look competent with other CFOs who I work with all the time.”
Gary and Patty with Gary’s family.
Gary has had a long, successful career in the industry and now in consulting. We asked him what he has enjoyed the most and why.
“I enjoy finding solutions and helping others find solutions, not just to existing problems, but also to expanding opportunities,” he says. “These solutions lead to helping people create the kinds of experiences and shows they will carry with them for a long time. Ultimately, it is about creating enjoyable experiences for the people who go to all the events that we sell. I just enjoy helping find solutions to get people into the shows.”
Expanding on his four-decade-long career, Gary says it is impossible to pick one most memorable moment, as there have been so many.
“I look at my career as having different components,” he says. “On the technology side, it was the Fort Worth Symphony becoming the first orchestra in North America to sell tickets online directly in its in-house ticketing system and allowing patrons to choose their own seats in real time. That was unheard of in 2000, so I'm pretty proud of that accomplishment.”
Gary continues, “On the management side, seeing Ticket Philadelphia transform into one of the most customer-focused ticketing organizations in the business and the fact that this has been advanced even more by my successors there, Linda Forlini and Matt Cooper, is also a memorable thing for me.”
On the people side of things, one moment stands out for Gary. “When I arrived at one of my companies, my new boss told me that I had a poorly performing employee who would need to be exited,” he says. “Not wanting my first action to be terminating someone, I asked for some time. Then, I got to know that employee and learned how they had arrived at that unhappy place. Poor management and support were big factors. Twenty-plus years later, they retired from that company as a valued and important member of the staff, and that employee would do any task asked of them, going far above and beyond. They bailed me out more than once over the years, so I think that's another memorable moment for me.”
Gary also has many memorable moments from his longtime involvement with INTIX and, before that, BOMI (Box Office Management International). It started in 1983 when he was hired at the Dallas Opera. He became a member and then attended his first conference in 1984. His connection, participation and enthusiasm for the organization have continued to the present time.
“Literally, I owe my career and my marriage to INTIX because without BOMI, I wouldn't have either,” he says. “I am not a particularly sociable person. At that first conference, Pat Spira literally physically dragged me out of the corner where I was hiding, introduced me to people like Angus Watson and Fred Maglione, and then put me on a committee. A few years later, she made me a conference co-chair. Without her pulling me out of that corner, I probably would have left the business after a year or two and never had this amazing network of friends and colleagues. [They are] people I have depended on for almost 40 years who are always willing to share or listen to you. People who might see you once a year, but it is like you never missed a minute. This is not something you find in every profession. I also love how INTIX has been expanding its footprint beyond the annual conference. Ongoing connections make us all stronger.”
Gary with Maureen Andersen, currently INTIX President and CEO, during his time as Board Chair.
Gary’s involvement with INTIX went far beyond sitting on a committee and serving as conference co-chair. He was a board member for a decade and Board Chair from 2015 to 2016. Even before then, he made his mark by being honored as INTIX Ticketing Professional of the Year in 2001. He was the recipient of the Patricia G. Spira Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.
Gary at INTIX 2014 after being named the Patricia G. Spira Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.
With all his experience and expertise, there is perhaps no better person to seek advice from than Gary. He generously shared some of that wisdom with us.
“There are a few things that have worked for me,” he says. “First, hire your staff carefully and choose your boss even more carefully. I have been able to work for some amazing bosses who gave me the space to experiment, take chances and supported my rise to the executive level of my organizations. Who you work for and who you work with are really important. Also, don't be afraid to fail. If there's no chance of failure, there's little chance of innovating. Lastly, one of the things that's worked for me has been to speak truth to power. So many times, we feel like we are just being told what to do or being told to do things that we know aren't going to work, so you have to respond to that, but you have to do it in a way that also presents solutions to the challenges at hand. You can't just say no.”
Gary was “put out to pasture” in 2017 by other Past Chairs of the INTIX Board.
Gary continues, “I would like people to remember that you are not in this alone. Sometimes it feels that way. Very few people understand what we do. I once had a boss tell me, the CEO of our organization, ‘I don't know what you do. I don't know how you do it. I just know that I don't want to hear complaints about tickets.’ That resonated with me. People do not understand what we do … You have lots of people who can be your support network to help you. Take advantage of it. I always did.”
What advice would Gary give himself if he could do it all over again?
“I would have a better work-life balance,” he says. “I would take more vacations and know that the world could survive without me for a little while. I would also have learned a lot earlier to delegate things so I could focus on bigger-picture issues and not sweat the details so much.”
Gary and Patty visiting a London pub with members of Patty’s family.
Returning to the comparison with Tamino in “The Magic Flute,” Gary’s story reminds us that sometimes, the most unforeseen paths lead to the greatest adventures in life.
“People think of accidents generally as bad things,” he says. “[Getting into ticketing] was an accident that I thought turned out to be a great thing. The amazing people who I have met offstage and on stage, it goes obviously far beyond selling logoed toilet paper, and you still get a warm feeling when you walk into a building and see a venue or walk into a ticket office. That is how it feels to have made ticketing and live entertainment my lifetime career. It is great.”
Almost as great, Gary, as the impact you have had on ticketing and live entertainment.
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Tags: Leadership , Ticketing Legends