Culture Factor 2.0

The Pivot that Saves Lives, How this Event Company went from Facing Decimation Overnight from COVID19 to Overnight Success

Episode Summary

Today we sit down with Ryan Choura, Founder and CEO of Choura Events. Upon opening his new business he was immediately faced with the recession of 2007, so he is no stranger to challenge. When COVID19 brought with it the meeting recession of 2020, he was grounded with a healthy company culture and agile enough to pivot overnight. According to a recent Forbes article, the travel and event industry warns of $910 billion in losses. Choura Events was facing monumental losses with a 100% cancellation rate within 5 days of all of their shows, like Coachella, Acura Grand Prix and the Golden Globes. They are the Top 100 Fastest Growing Private Company and the largest tenting company in the Western US. Let’s dig deeper with Ryan and see if we can provide a blueprint for other companies right now.

Episode Notes

https://www.choura.co/

 

http://www.companytribes.com

 

http://linkedin.com/in/hollyshannon1

 

https://www.instagram.com/the.culture.factor/

 

 

Episode Transcription

Speaker 1:
Welcome to the Culture Factor where we talk to founders and influential leaders about company culture. We share stories from the C-Suite that help executives engage their business from the inside and create a map to transform their culture, because the truth is, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Holly Shannon:
This is The Culture Factor, and I'm your host and co-producer Holly Shannon. Please subscribe, rate and review our podcast. Our journey into company culture has just begun, and we'd like you along for the ride. Today, we sit down with Ryan Choura, founder and CEO of Choura Events. Upon opening his new business, he was immediately faced with the recession of 2007, so he is no stranger to challenge. When COVID-19 brought with it the meeting recession of 2020, he was grounded with a healthy company culture and agile enough to pivot overnight into building hospitals. According to a recent Forbes article, the travel and event industry warns of $910 billion in losses. Choura Events was facing monumental losses as well with a 100% cancellation rate within five days of all of their shows. Their clients are Coachella, Acura Grand Prix, Golden Globes. They are the top 100 fastest growing private company and the largest tenting company in the Western US. Let's dig deeper with Ryan and see if we can provide a blueprint for other companies right now. Hello Ryan, how are you doing today?

Ryan Choura:
Good morning. Doing great, thank you.

Holly Shannon:
Excellent. Let's jump right in. In your 12 years, you've scaled at a rate of 23% each year and acquired five companies. What did your company culture look like during these times? Please share what worked and what didn't, as I believe all companies benefit from identifying failures as much as successes.

Ryan Choura:
Well, I think first, company culture is so critical to talk about because when you get going, you have typically this small group, and you're trying to do something great with your business. That small group has so much passion and excitement and has a ton of good, and it also probably has some dysfunction and some things that you don't know what it does under stress or under success for that matter. That's typically where and why an owner, CEO, president, leader needs to constantly think about culture because it can get away from you, it can take on a life of its own. And so, when I think about the 12 years of Choura and all that has happened in our company, I think culture was one of our largest strengths of our company.

Ryan Choura:
We have always had this really competitive, this really driven group, this want to win, this want to play in the bigs, this want to be a part of things. And so, that was the good. There was also some other things, how hard we ran, burnout and things like that. Culture evolves, culture changes, but it's always good to make sure that culture reflects the direction of where you want your company to go.

Holly Shannon:
That actually brings us to current day. How did you decide to pivot? Because you obviously have been in the event industry and you are building all kinds of structures, but now you're building out hospitals. Can you walk us through how you and your company, your employees landed on your decisions and how you chose to build hospitals?

Ryan Choura:
Well, I think that going back as a part of your conversation about cultures, we've pivoted throughout the growth of our company, constantly looking for things. And so, I'm so proud of our company that we were able to pivot to something really good and really helpful and really solution-based. We did it really fast, 72 hours. When we first learned that BNP Tennis, which is one of the largest events that we have the opportunity to help build, was canceling after having one reported case of COVID-19, when I heard that that was canceled, I realized that this cancellation deal was going to happen throughout. We knew that this was happening. We thought, well, how could we be a resource, somebody helpful? I felt that hospitals would need capacity. There was talks of testing centers, getting homeless off the street. And so, you start diving into, okay, well how could we be a part of this? The best way we could be a part of this was deploying our assets and our people to help hospitals and government agencies with those needs.

Holly Shannon:
You sat down with your employees and crowdsourced those ideas.

Ryan Choura:
Yeah. The first thing was to grab the group of people that are on that inner circle and to say, "Hey, we need to get on this." The first thought actually, if I go back, the first thought was before events cancel, we thought how do we help events in being safer and being healthier? And so, that was our first mode, sanitation stations and things like that. But quickly in the cancellations, we moved to hospitals and government agencies.

Holly Shannon:
How is your team adapting to the new initiative? How are they seeing that impact your company culture? What is the feeling behind this now?

Ryan Choura:
Well, two parts there. One on learning the uniqueness, and those are sending purpose. I think there are different events that you feel purposeful about. But when you're building to potentially help save somebody's life or make a patient experience better, there is no other word than purpose. There was no other idea than purpose. For us, it really energized our company. That's one. The second thing is, not everybody in a company or in a company culture can pivot quickly. And so, what you find is can people really move with you? How fast can people move? In our company, again, if you look over the 12 years, everybody's been able to move really fast. But when you have something like this, you get to see really who the stars are that can handle it. What's great about that is I could say every single person in our company has been a star.

Holly Shannon:
That's very impressive because that's not just that type of environment is fed from the top down, but it sounds like the initiative is equally from the bottom up. There's not a lot of people who can show up to work and feel like they're there for a reason, that there's a purpose to what they're doing. This must be very meaningful for everybody on board. Ryan, those in the event industry are very much accustomed to building a fully functional city, a temporary city in a matter of days from all of the logistics, from transportation to buildings, to food and beverage, to audio/visual. That industry is accustomed to that. You are doing these fully functional hospitals in about 48 hours. Can you speak to how your team felt about building the hospitals amid the COVID-19? Because now there's also questions of exposure for them and learning the unique needs of a-

Ryan Choura:
... Expectations or standards of a hospital. I think that when you build events, at least the people that build great events and help facilitate great builds, they're great at discovery and they ask a lot of questions and the right questions. And so, when we were walking into these hospitals asking about flooring and asking about how surfaces need to be cleaned, and what products are they going to use, and what type of HVAC is needed, and the ability to provide negative air that's different than typical heating and air, and all these different elements really occurred in discovery. As soon as you do that, you learn what the standards are, you learn what you need to build towards. And then the second one is what are the standards of your workforce to deliver working in those environments? And so, for us, we want to make sure that our crews and ... safe. We were listed as an essential business.

Ryan Choura:
And so, we had people coming into the office. It's kind of what's the new normal in our world. We remember after 9/11 what it meant to go back to an airport and what the check in process was. It was different, and we adapted to it, we evolved to it. And so, now our workers are adapting and evolving to a new normal, which includes gloves and a mask and sanitation wipes, and making sure how do you say, "Good job," to an employee? Can you give a high five? There's so many things that you're watching people adapt. We are just trying to make sure that we're moving as fast as we're building with ensuring the safety of the people that work in our company.

Holly Shannon:
It takes a Herculean effort to get that all right or at least hope that you're doing everything correctly. My hat's off to you for that. Is this a good time, would you say, for leaders to shift their business as you did? Although you've always been in the event and building out industry. But do you think this is a good time for leaders to shift? What advice could you share that reflects your experience from quickly scaling your business to 200 employees and then directing your team during a crisis?

Ryan Choura:
When somebody asks me, "When is the event industry going to come back," or, "When will it be like it was," the first thing I say to people is it will never be. Nothing will ever be the same. This is too massive. It's too big of a tidal wave, if you will. And so, when you ask should CEOs or should leaders, how are they evolving? I think everybody has to think about that. You think about it like, will you ever eat from a buffet again? Will you ever sit next to somebody at a ballpark? Everyone's going to answer those questions very differently. Very, very differently. What will become that new normal? I think businesses, again, going back to your first question about culture, if evolution is not a major piece of your culture and the ability to adapt, change, look at where the puck is going, not where it is, where are things headed, what's the new demand, what are the changes, what are the icebergs out there?

Ryan Choura:
Yeah, I would encourage all CEOs, owners, leaders to be reflecting and being a part of that. And then I think when you talk about your culture, I think a couple practical things is what will work culture look like on a go forward? I'm sure some people have probably said, "I'm more productive at home." Probably some people have said, "I'm less productive at home." How about the person that doesn't take PTO time because they want to bake them for vacation but they come to work sick? That sounds like a silly one, but all of these things are going to change, the way an office environment is, the way you treat, the way you interact, the way you scale. I think the leaders and CEOs that are able to put those puzzles together ... because they're very complicated puzzles. Even I think back, there was a time where you are stoked at work, something good happened and you maybe gave somebody a hug or you gave him a high five or so proud, and then you go through this time where it's like, okay, is that appropriate? Can we do that?

Ryan Choura:
It's constantly what I would just call social norms or things you accept. Change is a part of society, and that changes the way businesses interact. Leaders and CEOs have to be able to answer those questions. The leaders and CEOs who do answer those questions will be the ones that people follow. That's really what changes a company, when people really follow the vision and direction. Not that they're blindly following a CO or leader, but they believe in it, they're a part of it, they're engaged in it. That's really when I see a company grow and grow.

Holly Shannon:
That's incredible. I don't even want to add anything to that. Well said, Ryan. This is really amazing. I don't want to add anything there. I think what you said is so profound, and I think you hit the nail on the head. Watching how companies handle interaction now and when maybe we're back in the headquarters building or at an event, it'll be interesting to see how COVID-19 shifts things. Because like you said at the very beginning, 9/11 shifted things. The way we operate in an airport is completely different. I guess time will tell for us all. I did notice on Instagram that you're keeping a lot of things running up there, valid information about what your company's doing and how people might be able to help out by reaching out to their governments to see where the need is. Is there anything that maybe you would like to direct people to? In my closing logistics, I usually tell everybody that there'll be a link in the show notes, and there will be. But is there anything where you're posting more relevant and timely information that you would like people to look to?

Ryan Choura:
What I've been trying to do is ... everyone, and specifically the event industry, so many industries have been devastated by this. Hospitality and restaurants and travel and so many. The list could go on. But particularly as a representative to the event industry, I've been utilizing my social channels, specifically LinkedIn, as calls to action, meaning we can only do so many pushup challenges and post pictures of our past to utilize the time, if you will. But what I've been trying to do is encourage the event industry to be a part of the solution. I don't see that there's any other industry that would better assist governments and hospitals in the planning and execution of these builds. And so, one of my frustrations has been that I see government agencies not utilize the resources and expertise of people that really know how to do this. And so, they build these areas, they build these things that are ... said, they're half ass, they're not right. I see it in testing centers. I see it in hospital build-outs. I think whether they used our company or any event company, any good event company, that they would have a better end result, would actually help patient's experience, would help outcomes, would help those testing facilities to be able to see more people. There's so many things that would help. That's been my call to action.

Holly Shannon:
Okay. You've been putting this on LinkedIn.

Ryan Choura:
Yes. Yeah.

Holly Shannon:
Is that under Choura Events or Ryan Choura?

Ryan Choura:
Under Ryan Choura.

Holly Shannon:
Okay. Just so our audience is aware, it's C-H-O-U-R-A, is the spelling of your last name. As I said, I had noticed on Instagram, your tag is @choura.co. Perhaps this might be a call to action to people in the event industry to reach out to you. Maybe you can provide a blueprint or a prototype so they don't have to start from scratch. They can take the knowledge that you've already acquired from building out seven facilities that are helping during this crisis. I hope it's okay to put that call to action to you.

Ryan Choura:
Yeah, yeah. No, no, 100%. So many people have sent me the sweetest, nicest messages. "I want to help. We want to be a part of this." I want to just keep people working on good stuff, on positive things. One of the biggest gifts and burdens of any owner, of any CO is the opportunity to employ people and for people to make that payroll. I think it's been a real calling for me to keep people working and working on things of purpose.

Holly Shannon:
Thank you for all of your knowledge and wisdom and what you're doing now. It's phenomenal and appreciate you taking the time to share all of this. I know that a lot of people, a lot of CEOs and founders and leaders can take a lot away from this, but especially those in the event industry, and they're the hardest hit at the moment. This has been great. Thank you.

Ryan Choura:
No, you got it. Thanks so much for the nice questions. Sorry if they were too long. Obviously, I think very passionate about what we're doing and very passionate about the culture. I don't know, it's just kind of an emotional time. Sometimes you've asked questions in our time going through this and there's just a lot of reflection and while trying to keep moving the ball forward, and so I really appreciate the time.

Holly Shannon:
Oh, well, thank you. What you said was gold all the way through, and I really want people to hear it.

Holly Shannon:
I want to thank our listeners for joining the Culture Factor, and ask that you subscribe, rate and consider leaving a review. We'd love to hear who you'd like to listen to next. Thank you to our sponsor, Company Tribes. They have an app and a virtual experience to help keep your tribe together during difficult times like now and business as usual. How strong is your company culture? Reach out to Paul at companytribes.com.