By Convergent AV
This is an interview with commercial AV industry professional Alexis La Broi. Alexis holds a BS in communications from Northwestern University and an MBA in Hospitality and Tourism from Strayer University. Alexis volunteers with AVIXA, Integrate Baltimore and Meeting Professionals International.
Alexis talk about how your career in AV began.
I attended a college preparatory boarding school for high school called The Hotchkiss School. I was exposed to a great arts program and I began taking theater technology classes that included learning about audio and lighting, building and painting flats for sets, and stage management. I enjoyed being around and learning the backstage and production aspects of being in a theater.
When I arrived at Northwestern University, I began working in the audiovisual department at the campus student center. I received hands-on AV training so that I could set up, tech, and strike all kinds of meetings and events on campus. Audio and video signal flow, film and 3-gun projectors, lighting design, and power management were all part of our instruction. Sophomore year, I decided to pursue a major in technical theater.
Working in the audiovisual department and having access to theater technology in college gave me the foundation that led me to a career in live events and staging. Running the audio or lighting for a play or concert were the best gigs to get. I recall landing a spot-operator position for a Duran Duran concert that was happening near campus my senior year. I loved the group and was so excited to be there. When I arrived ready to run the spotlight, the venue’s tech manager told me that because I was a “girl,” I couldn’t climb the ladder to the spot position. They refused to let me work that night so they ended up paying me to watch the show. Experiences like this fueled my fire and made me work harder to prove that my being a “girl” would never be a reason to keep me out of a space that should be occupied by any qualified person.
Being in the event space from the beginning of your career through 2014, can you talk about the space and what it meant for your development in the AV industry? Also talk about being a Board Director for Meeting Professionals Intl. (MPI).
I had an internship at the Black Ensemble Theater in Chicago my senior year as part of an arts management class and worked part time at the Star Plaza Theater in Indiana as a stagehand. When there were no full time positions for me at the theaters after graduation, I turned to AV for a permanent position. I began working for PSAV in 1995 at the Renaissance Chicago Hotel. I started as a floor technician and eventually became the Assistant Director. I missed working in the theater, but I looked at live events as “corporate theater” so it worked out well for me to continue in this field.
Opportunities opened up to me as a result of working in hotel AV similar to the types of opportunities available to people in the hospitality industry. In 1998, I transferred to the Hyatt Fair Lakes to be the Director of AV. In 2000, I became the AV Director at the Hyatt Reston. Between 2001 and 2007, I made several moves for my career- DC to Nashville for a stint at the Nashville Convention Center, Nashville to Chicago with Swank Audio Visuals (now PSAV), then I moved back to Nashville to work with PSAV again at the Gaylord Opryland.
I returned to DC to be on the opening team of the Gaylord National in 2007 as the Director of Sales for PSAV. From 2007- 2011, I developed the sales strategy and accounting processes for my team and was eventually responsible for training and developing sales talent in the region. I was also on the team to develop and beta test the company’s new CRM/ inventory system.
A manager once told me that the best manager creates other managers. I have tried to pattern my career after him by mentoring and advocating for my team. It is extremely rewarding to see my former employees take on bigger and bigger roles as the years go on. I can’t help but be proud of them and all that they are achieving.
I was successful in the event space because I understood that I needed to know and understand the latest technology to speak the language of producers and understand event planning in order to speak the language of meeting and event professionals. The first certification I earned was the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) because I knew it would increase my credibility with meeting planners. I wanted to earn their credibility faster so they’d trust me with the goals and objectives for their events. I joined the Potomac chapter of Meeting Professionals International (MPI), began volunteering on committees, and eventually became the Board Director for Membership Recruitment and Retention in 2015. This year, I am volunteering on MPI’s Global Membership Advisory Council where I hope to influence policies that will positively affect the local chapter experience for MPI members all over the world.
You joined a manufacturer after that, can you talk about the differences going from sales with event and integration companies to manufacturer sales?
I left live events and staging in 2014 after a company change and a layoff. At this time, I had to choose between job offers with another live events company and with a manufacturer. I decided that I needed a change from events and I chose a position as the Regional Sales Manager, Mid Atlantic, for Media Vision.
Media Vision distributes TAIDEN delegate microphone systems for installed applications. I liked the product and could see its use in every application that we uncovered. I spent a lot of time on the road between Philly and Norfolk attending trade shows and doing demos for end users and integrators, which I loved. One of the big differences that I noticed between live events and selling integrated systems is there was a longer sales cycle in integration. In events, you know when the meeting is happening and if it’s a recurring meeting, you can predict which way the customer might go. In integration, funding and budget, timelines, and priorities can all change throughout the course of the project. The strategies to sell in this environment are very different.
Your career then took you to commercial integration sales, can you explain what prompted you to go in that direction?
I have been a Systems Consultant at Avitecture, an AV integrator based in Sterling, VA, for almost three years now. Everywhere I go, I meet potential customers that I can help by solving a communication problem that they have in their board room, conference room, ballroom, classroom, etc. Recently, I had lunch at a hotel bar in downtown DC. In one of the video walls, 3 of the 8 displays were not working properly. In another of the video walls, an image of a frequently watched channel was burned into the display, and not one of the 4 displays presented any live content. Unbelievable that such a high-profile location like this would be in this condition. This type of downtime = a negative experience by their customer and missed branding and revenue opportunities for the hotel.
I believe that coming to AV integration was a great move for me. I did not make the decision to leave the live events world and move to integration lightly. I have always taken calculated risks all my life: from leaving Gary, Indiana and my family at 14 to attend a boarding school in Connecticut, or moving to DC for work and not knowing a soul (remember, this is before Facebook). Life is short and I live for exciting/ challenging opportunities, adventures, and experiences. I feel that I have a responsibility to make the most of every opportunity that is available to me. I was put here on earth to have experiences that I can share with someone else who may never get the opportunity to have that experience.
You are an AVIXA volunteer – both with the Leadership Search Committee and with the AVIXA Women’s Council – and you are also currently a volunteer with MPI. Can you talk about your involvement with both and just what volunteering means to you? What advice do you have to give to people who are looking to possibly volunteer in the industry?
I have been so fortunate to volunteer with AVIXA on the Leadership Search Committee the past two years. It has been great to get to know the leadership of AVIXA and its board, who are all leaders and influential people in the audiovisual industry. I look at the LSC as the HR department for AVIXA’s volunteer force. We are on the lookout for volunteers for the councils as well as for future board members. If you see something that you have a problem with in our industry, don’t just complain about it, VOLUNTEER! If there’s something that you’d like to change, VOLUNTEER, and make your voice heard.
At MPI, I wanted to help attract and retain more members to the Potomac Chapter, so I made my interest in membership clear when I applied to be on the board. Now, I want to help address membership issues for all of the chapters, so I am volunteering in the Chapter & Membership Advisory Council. I am interested in supporting women in the AV industry so I am volunteering on AVIXA Women’s Council by planning events in the DC area.
AVIXA Women’s Council – DMV group “March Madness” event in 2018
I am also excited about being named to the board of directors for Integrate Baltimore so that I can help in its mission: closing “the technology divide in our community,” providing “workforce training access,” and providing “resources for locally hiring companies and networking events to unite the STEM & Professional communities.”