People With A Passion: Gary Nolan – Strategic Accounts Director

The events industry, despite its current battering, is well-stocked with multitalented individuals who love what they do. Atlanta-based Gary Nolan is one of ours.

A career event-industry professional and sports enthusiast, over the years Gary’s played many positions and deeply knows the game, both where it’s been and where it’s heading – a pretty good basis for thinking strategically. So we were keen to quiz him about how his personal passions feed his client-centric work with CDI World. We recently shared a virtual sit-down.

When did you first realize that you wanted to build a career in events?

My career has evolved somewhat. My first passion was in lighting design and then scenic design, construction and stage management for the theatrical and event industries. Later, I worked in production and sales, corporate events and exhibitions. It was an organic process. Somehow, though I’ve played many professional roles, I’ve never felt like I changed course.

If you weren’t working with CDIW, what profession would you like to follow?

Lighting design. Lots of fun, technical tools to play with these days and with light, gel and software, the capacity for creative expression is limitless.

What recent CDIW projects have given you the most satisfaction?

Virtual Event Experiences are a new challenge for me and I’ve embraced the opportunity to explore our industry through a new dimension. ‘Virtual’ is still very much an emerging field and the learning curve is steep but that’s what attracts me to it.

Do you have a source of inspiration?

There is a lot of music that inspires me. Quotations can also lend inspiration. There is one Larry Bird (NBA Basketball Player) quote that I particularly love. When he was asked about a miraculous last-second shot that he made, the interviewer expressed that maybe it was actually just “lucky.” Bird responded: “And the more I practice, the luckier I get.” I’m inspired by hard work.

What keeps you excited in your work these days?

I love traveling and the camaraderie of working with my colleagues and clients. So the pandemic has of course been challenging there. Currently, I am involved in a company-wide, renewed focus on interior projects, which is exciting. I try to mix up my daily routine by setting up work environments outside and breaking up my day with exercise and walking my dog.

Is there anything, beyond your work with CDIW, that reliably puts you in a ‘flow’ state where skills and challenges are perfectly balanced?

Gary (left) after winning league playoffs with his neighbor and fellow Cornhole competitor.

Playing sports put me in flow, particularly basketball and more recently – Cornhole, which I play competitively! I also enjoy playing acoustic guitar; Kenny Chesney and Matchbox 20 are a few favorites. Getting lost in these pursuits, I can often feel like nothing else matters. Healthy distractions all the way!

How would you describe your professional edge?

I have years of industry experience (and inscription) and so enjoy being an all-purpose resource to my clients and colleagues. I’d also call myself a pretty solid ‘creative problem solver.’

What would you say is the single most important factor in creating good relationships with clients?

Mutual trust. 100%. Looking out for each other, helping each other to be successful. 

What annoys you and encourages you about your industry today?

Covid has been a major obstacle on many levels and it’s frustrating to me that, on the national one, we haven’t yet had a cohesive plan for tackling it. Really good people have lost their jobs in our industry. Jobs that likely won’t come back. People with families to feed, can’t wait indefinitely for things to rebound. It’s painful. But I am encouraged by the resiliency and positivity of my CDIW colleagues and the people around me. 

Do you have a favorite pastime or interest outside of work?

Currently and proudly, it is Cornhole, a lawn game similar in vibe to horseshoes or Boules. I play in a league with a neighbor of mine. We’re having a lot of fun with it and have actually gotten pretty good, competing in two qualifying state tournaments this past summer. My wife says that if I spent as much time practicing classical piano as I do playing Cornhole, I’d be a virtuoso by now!