What led to a high school math teacher, cheerleading coach, keen gardener, pot-roast specialist and active parent become one of CDI World’s top ASMs? We thought we’d ask her…
Kayla, your journey to becoming an Account Service Manager at CDI World didn’t follow a conventional route, did it?
No, as early as high school I wanted to be a secondary math teacher. Numbers have always been my thing and I ended up majoring in Mathematics Education at Grand Canyon University. After college, I taught math at Jackson County High School, where I also coached cheerleading. The money wasn’t great, but I loved my job and the community. I was fully on the teaching path. But this is where it gets kind of random.
One day at my local hair salon, a friend told me they were hiring at a company called Fusion, which was a professional Exhibition House. The money sounded really good, and the shop was a much closer to my house. On a lark, I went for an interview and was asked “Do you know what a tradeshow is?” Of course, I had absolutely no idea! Still, they must have seen something in me as the interviewer laughed and said the company would train me up. Next thing I know, I’m resigning from Jackson County High and joining a brand-new industry.
There must have been some math geek/cheerleader tears when you left!
Big time waterworks! We were like a huge family, and they all loved my son Jace too. But as much as I loved working at the high school, the chance to provide more fully for my children was a priority, so I put my passion for teaching and coaching on the back burner to enter a new career. It wasn’t an easy decision, I was heartbroken, my colleagues were heartbroken, and my cheerleaders still haven’t forgiven me! Although I do keep in touch with most of them.
What type of work did you do at Fusion?
Initially, the majority of my workday consisted of hands-on warehouse management while simultaneously having to balance account service management. I got a crash course in all aspects of the exhibitions industry. From conception to execution, I was always watching and learning. After a year, I was given the opportunity to work at another local exhibitions and interiors company called Exhibitus. It was there that I was able to focus mostly on account service management. Add a few more years on the dial and a co-worker of mine moved to CDI World. Hearing they were in need of account service staff, he offered to forward my resume on. And here I am.
How would you summarize what an Account Service Manager does?
You essentially control the entire project from start to finish. You oversee everything, making sure the communication flows well between all the stakeholders and departments, as there are so many people involved. You are client-facing in a big way, and by the way, the client is always right! Your main task is to take specific client information, all aspects of the job, and break it down so that you can translate it to each department. You are part of a large team and communication is key. An ASM can sometimes take on a sales role too, courting and winning new business.
We’re always fascinated to find out how people’s early interests relate to the skills they employ today. So, as a child, what kind of play were you drawn to?
Life was very different when I was little – particularly out in (what was back then) the country part of Gwinnett County, northeast of Atlanta, where I grew up. For one, we didn’t have all the technology kids have today, we were always outside playing. We made our own tree houses and were always creating stuff out of sticks and mud! I was a complete Tomboy. As for how this relates to my current job? Back then I was always the boss: “This is what we’re going to do today, kids!”
A proto Project Manager?
That’s right! Under my leadership, we would make mud pies, or perfume out of berries that we found. We were always searching for new and interesting artifacts to make something out of. Looking at this all now in retrospect, it seems like I’ve always been eager to create something out of nothing.
How did your passion for Math arise?
I was never really into literature growing up, but numbers made perfect sense. If there was a clearly defined answer I could get to, a right or wrong solution – then I was fine. I discovered I could do numbers all day. This really took off in high school, where I had an amazing math teacher. I just flourished in my math classes and was always helping math-challenged friends with their homework. I fell in love with the feeling of being able to explain math concepts in ways my classmates could understand. That’s how I got inspired to enter teaching.
And do you get that same inspired feeling today when it comes to trade exhibitions?
The first time I took a project to Pack Expo, I went through the entire process with two of our largest clients; starting in the warehouse, hitting the paperwork, managing contractors, and getting my feet wet. As a social being, I enjoyed the whole process and all the human interactions that are part of getting things done. But the real “wow” moment was sensing just how happy the client was at the unveiling. That’s when I knew I loved this industry and the job.
What makes a good ASM?
My main thing is to make things as easy as possible for the client – a stress-free experience. To succeed, you really have to learn each personality and their preferred working method. In my first contact with a new client, I can usually pick up on how they like to operate and adjust my approach from there – you have to be a kind of chameleon. You also need to be obsessive about detail, making sure every little thing the client needs to achieve a stellar show is totally right. I think the ultimate goal for any ASM should always be to exceed the client’s expectations.
How about life outside of work? We’ve heard from your colleagues that you’re an accomplished chef.
Cooking! Yes – that’s a passion. I’m not a baker but I love to cook. Italian food is my favorite. I like to bring in meals to the CDI staff as a bonding treat. A Brownie Pan Surprise for a recent event really went down well. I also designed a family recipe book and gave it to my mom for Christmas. It has all our family recipes in it, pictures, and stories, all typed out. For me, food giving, and sharing can’t be beat. I love to grill out too.
Pot roasts every time!
One final question we ask all our interviewees: if CDI World offered to support a ‘passion project’ of yours what would it be and why?
Can I mention two?
I think we can allow that!
First, I’d want to start a business making and selling woodwork: mainly benches, cupboards and tables. I’m imagining a little workshop, where I would design and construct custom items. There are so many cool things that people really want. You know that vintage, farmhouse decor style that’s so big these days? I’d love to make items in that aesthetic vein. Everyone has different needs and preferences, so creating things for them is always going to be an engaging process.
I’d like to design and build a school for kids that might be interested in doing hair or becoming a farmer; a Practical Skills High School, where they’d have an agricultural class, a cosmetology class, a cooking class, a sewing class. I think a vocational style high school in my community would offer tremendous benefit. There aren’t a lot of these kinds of schools around where I live. Virtual and digital tools are amazing but the physical engagement, the hands-on part of learning is key to understanding how something works. This school would focus on that.
Maybe on your headphones while you’re learning the circular saw! The most important thing is to inspire children and also to show them that being a hard worker is important, maybe the most important thing. I certainly want my kids to see that if you put in the effort you can progress and work your way up. Dedication to a profession and a company is really meaningful to me and I hope it will be to them too.
Thanks Kayla – it’s been a pleasure.