Carol Galle, CMP, is the co-founder, president and CEO of Special D Events, a strategic professional events company and its subsidiary, The Anniversary Company. Carol is active in many community and event industry organizations, having served on the Events Committee for the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Editorial Advisory Board for Michigan Meetings + Events magazine. She is also the co-founder of the Detroit Events Council. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame as “Best Meeting Professional” by Michigan Meetings + Events magazine in 2013.
Can you tell our readers about your background?
I have a bachelor’s degree in communications and began my professional career as a writer and editor for the auto industry. Along the way, I was exposed to the world of corporate events and made the leap to change industries.
What inspired you to start your business?
While working for General Motors, I was tasked with coordinating the Dealership Management Academy, an extensive training program that prepared the sons and daughters of Chevrolet dealership owners to take over their parents’ businesses. I was exposed to some of the greatest business minds in the world -- the academy’s presenters. Until that time, I had never considered becoming an entrepreneur. In fact, just the opposite. I craved stability. My father was in sales and our family’s income and security always felt at risk. When I joined GM, the promise of a full-time salaried position felt like the brass ring to me.
Where is your business based?
We’re based in the Detroit area, with offices in the city of Detroit and a suburb.
How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
My first step was to find a partner with the skills I lacked. I had become a skilled event manager and thanks to my Dad I could sell ice to an Eskimo. But, I found a partner whose passion was both HR and finance, and we made a great match. We shook hands over a Coney Island hotdog (it’s a Michigan thing!) and began by taking a class in entrepreneurship at Detroit’s Wayne State University.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
Referrals and repeat business. I’ve owned the company for 28 years and our longest continuous client relationship ran for 24 years. My team’s ability to meet our clients’ needs is key to future sales.
What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
The event industry is the canary in the coal mine for our nation’s economy. Although events can motivate a company’s workforce, generate sales, and build customer loyalty, many companies are quick to cut their event budgets at the first whiff of a downturn. It’s up to us to demonstrate the benefits of strategic event management. Still, we definitely struggled during the recession. During that time, I launched a subsidiary called The Anniversary Company which provides consulting services to organizations celebrating milestone anniversaries. While a special event is often part of an anniversary celebration, there are many other strategic initiatives that can be planned to not only honor the past, but also launch an organization’s future. Despite the recession, we were able to provide value to companies in a different way. Our clients didn’t want to miss the opportunity to celebrate their 50th, 100th or 150th anniversaries, despite the downturn.
How do you stay focused?
My husband always says that the hallmark of a successful leader is his/her ability to consume a tremendous amount of data, but immediately sift out what really matters. I am a life-long learner. I read everything from Vanity Fair to Fast Company to the New Yorker, and I always seek the person who seems the most different from me in a room. There is so much to learn, and I practice sifting out what matters every day.
How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
Our core values and they are not aspirational; they are genuine. My senior leadership team and I carefully considered what clients said they like about working with us, and we narrowed it down to five core values. We are responsive, accountable, consultative, nice and we roll with it. We hire, coach, and evaluate those values.
What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
It’s impossible to choose one strategy. Our marketing plan is complex and evolves constantly.
What’s your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
I recommend Googling the image for the Japanese word “Ikigai”. In English, the word translates to the “source of value in one’s life”. But the diagrams typically associated with Ikigai illustrate the intersection between what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs, and what people will pay for. If your business concept incorporates all aspects, you have the foundation for success.
What’s your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?
I’m obsessed with Furbo. I often travel for business, but no matter where I am in the world, I can use the Furbo camera and app to check in on my dog and even toss him a real treat. It’s pure joy for both of us.
Most of the blogs I read are event-related and I intentionally vary them so I’m always learning something new.
Danny Meyer’s book about the hospitality industry, “Setting the Table”, is one of my favorites. He is a master at making people feel welcome and valued, and that is crucial in my industry.
What’s your favorite business tool or resource? Why?
We use Smartsheet daily at our office. It’s a very effective project management tool and easy for anyone to pick up with little training.
Who is your business role model? Why?
My husband. I worked for him as a writer years ago and I always admired his dedication, passion and unwavering support of simply “doing what’s right” when it came to the customer.
What is your beauty routine? What are some of your favorite products?
Sunscreen, medium coverage foundation and lots of black mascara!
How do you balance work and life?
It’s easier to balance now that my step-daughter is grown and has her own life. But, I genuinely regret how much time I missed with her while she was growing up and I was building my company. I will never get those days back.
What’s your favorite way to decompress?
A healthy combination of wine, cheese, comfy clothes, and talking with my husband on our back porch. That’s my idea of heaven.
What do you have planned for the next six months?
Balancing my business along with supporting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I belong to a global organization of entrepreneurs and we recently committed to helping the UN achieve 17 goals that represent a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet. Over 178 countries have pledged their support, but the UN knows that governments and NGOs will need the help of business leaders and individuals to succeed.
How can our readers connect with you?
Carol A. Galle, CMP
Special D Events (and The Anniversary Company)
535 Woodward Heights
Ferndale, MI 48220