You know those kickass women who make you want to reach higher and be better? Leanne Constantino is one of them. Experiencing how a business was run at an early age put Leanne in good stead in her role today as the Director of Forum Group Events. We sat down with Leanne (who’s also one of our PowerPlayers) to talk career paths, setbacks and why the GFC became one of the defining moments of her career.
1. What were you doing before Forum Group events?
Event management has been a focus for me, and I began my pathway in this industry before acquiring Forum Group as an event manager for several organisations. I gained broad experience working for corporates, associations, and PCOs over 10 years.
Before my event management days, I worked in my family’s hardware business. It was in that family business environment where I developed my passion for small business, and I learned first hand, and from a young age what was involved in making one work.
2. What made you realise this is what you wanted to do?
I’ve always had a talent for managing projects (from the school science project to my 21st birthday!), and I get excited when I see something start from an idea develop into an exciting finish for everyone involved.
It became very clear to me that events and marketing are what I wanted to do after my first volunteer experience at the Darling Harbour Authority working on ‘Fiesta’ – a Latin cultural festival. Seeing the excitement of the event come together after months of planning was really motivating and energising for me.
Commitment and loyalty are inherent values I gained from my upbringing so when there is a project I am responsible for, I see to it that it is created and executed to its best potential. I want to make sure that all stakeholders involved are satisfied. So when it came time to study and work, events management naturally interested me.
With the marketing side of things, this came hand in hand with events – events being a significant part of a healthy marketing mix. When managing events, the challenge is how do we get people to attend? And once they attend, how do we keep them engaged? And once they leave the event, how do we maintain that relationship?
I love seeing the influence well-executed marketing strategies have on people’s decisions. Putting into place strategy and tactics and seeing how people react and what actions they take is a rewarding and fascinating process. There is an element of innovation and evolution with this as we often need to change tactics to get the best results for our clients.
3. What drew you to Forum Group in the first place?
In 2006, I was presented with an opportunity to buy the Forum Group business. One of my former colleagues was working at Forum Group and reached out to me on behalf of her boss. By this stage of my life, I had 10 years’ solid experience in events, marketing and I had small business experience with working in my parents’ business. I was itching to try something new… so I took the risk! The brand had an excellent reputation in the industry, and within the agency space so I was attracted to the opportunity of taking the brand from great to greater!
4. You describe yourself as a ‘mumpreneur’ – balancing career and family life is a difficult task, how do you find a way to achieve this on a daily basis? Is it even possible?!
Being a ‘mumpreneur’ to me means delicately balancing both business and life as a mum. I was a business owner first, and so my natural ability of managing projects came in very handy when I became a mum as well. I have a 3-year-old and six-month-old and the week is carefully planned the same way I would plan an event. Effectively these two are my youngest clients!! Every Sunday night, I review the diary to see if there are any extra activities for the school day such as “photo day” or “crazy hair day” and I prep for that. The night before, I’ll pack their bags, get the next day’s food ready and lay out all our outfits, so when I wake up the following day, I am not rushing around and stressing about forgetting things. I have notepads and post-its for everything!
Finding the right childcare can be challenging in Sydney. For me, having daycare and family help with looking after the kids is a godsend and keeps me on track. The kids have given me a fantastic perspective and purpose and their schedules force me to find the right balance between work and family life.
Before kids, I would not stop at 5.30pm. I’d stay behind in the office to finish off a presentation deck or spend a few extra hours finishing a budget, so I found that my work would carry over into my personal time very quickly. Having kids, I somehow manage to get my workload done within a short time-frame so that as soon as it’s home time, the laptop is put away and I can focus on being a mum and spend time with my family. Discipline, focus and having a good support network to lean on are critical.
5. We all face challenges and setbacks during our careers. Have you faced a significant challenge that has also been turning point in your career?
Market forces play a huge role in business. When I first took over the business the economy was in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). I saw first hand the effects on the business – clients peeled back their budgets, prospective clients chose to allocate their marketing funds to other activities, international delegates were less willing to travel, and competition became more fierce with every agency reducing their fees to win business.
“I was doing the job of 3 people (sales, operations, and marketing) and I was running the business month-to-month – operating in survival mode.”
On top of that, the probability of a small business surviving in its first two years was 30% – a thought which played on my mind.
These conditions forced us to make some tough decisions. We had to make staff redundant, and I had to multi-task. I was doing the job of 3 people (sales, operations, and marketing) and I was running the business month-to-month – operating in survival mode.
Those first few years of business were challenging but what I learned through that period were determination, persistence, and resilience. For me, this was a defining moment of my career. I grew in confidence, and I knew that if I could get through that, then I could achieve anything.
6. You have been recognised with many industry accolades, is there one that you treasure the most?
Yes – the one that stands out to me is the Meetings and Events Australia’s national award for Best Event Management Agency. This award recognised the actions of the Directors as business owners and evaluated how we run our business as well as acknowledging the efforts of the team. At the time of the award announcement, the team was delivering over 150 events annually which was a great achievement. It was also very timely – we had been submitting for this award for a few years, and in 2016 we finally won it! 2016 was a special milestone for the brand as it marked 20 years of Forum Group delivering events. It was a year of hard work and going the extra mile for everyone so to top it off with this award win was extremely gratifying.
7. We love seeing incredible women like yourself join PowerPlayers. What drew you to our program?
I have always advocated for continual development at any level. Even coaches need a coach! Over the years I have experienced 1:1 business coaching, masterclass groups, and general development sessions. What I like about PowerPlayers is the group dynamic and the structure of the program. One-on-one coaching can give you a very personalised program which is great, but there is so much you can learn and share in a small group session of like-minded women who operate small businesses.
8. What would you say to someone thinking about joining PowerPlayers?
It can be lonely as a CEO or Director of your company. You can surround yourself with consultants in specialised fields to help you on your business journey, but when you want some honest and non-judgmental advice (from other business owners who have experienced similar situations), PowerPlayers offers you that space. I liken it to having your own “Advisory Board.”
9. You have delivered projects not only nation-wide but also internationally. Does any specific project stand out to you?
By far, the most memorable international conference I delivered was taking a group of 300 franchisees from Australia to Disneyland, Los Angeles. It was five nights and six days of pure “happiness.” Not only was it a great conference to plan with all the variety of activity and entertainment we could incorporate, but it was the cultural experience of Disney that really left an impression on me. The Disney team who we worked with pre-event and onsite live and breathe the values of their organisation’s culture. When I saw that the onsite run sheets incorporated “creating magic” there was no mistaking that I was working with a team that was dedicated to ensuring an amazing experience for my attendees.
10. You are most certainly a woman in business who is kicking butt! Do you have any advice or tips to offer other women in your industry?
Thank you! My number one tip is to foster relationships with the people you connect with. Whether it’s your client, the sales manager of a venue, your colleague, the technician onsite, the accountant, the valet at the hotel … we all need to work together to get the best outcome for the task or goal at hand. Being respectful to every person you meet and treating them as you would want to be treated can go a long way. “Pay it forward” sometimes, and the positive experience, opportunity, and respect will most certainly come back to you at times you most need it.
Secondly, I would say – having empathy is really an ethical skill set to develop. When there is a situation of conflict or if something has gone wrong at the other end, I always pause a take a moment to put myself in that person’s situation and think “What was possibly happening that caused the situation?” or “Why would they think that way?” It’s amazing how situations are resolved so much quicker when you have empathy.
11. What’s the one thing that drives you to do what you do every day?
That’s easy — my two boys. Before I had kids, I held myself to a very high standard, and I was motivated by improving my skills and services to my clients. But now that they are in my life, I’m so motivated to set a good example for them. I believe actions really do speak louder than words so getting up early with energy to start the day is important. I always say goodbye in a good mood, and when I see them again, it’s the same thing. They are too young to understand what I do now, but one day when they do, I want them to be proud of their mum who ran a successful business and who also made time to be their mum. I’m driven to continue my work as it helps to give my kids the opportunity to do whatever it is they desire to do one day. And if it’s running a business, I can certainly offer them my advice!!