In Convention Center management, what you don't see still counts

Bob McClintock

First impressions matter and for Bob McClintock, a first impression that counts in a convention center is something the public never sees -- the back service corridor. That's what McClintock told me during our Leadership Agenda interview published in Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer. McClintock is in charge of 15 million square feet in 71 convention centers, including the Pennsylvania Convention Center. 

"I can walk a back service corridor, look at  how clean it is, how things are laid out and I can pretty much tell whether the building is run tightly or loosely," said McClintock. He is chief operating officer of the convention center division of SMG, a West Conshohocken company that manages arenas, convention centers, stadiums and theaters.

Question: What did you think of the Pennsylvania Convention Center's back corridor?

Answer: We saw improvements that could be made.

Q: What are you looking for?

A: You look for where the equipment is stored, how it is stored, stuff that is laying around that shouldn’t be laying around. One of the things a good operation will do is when it’s done with a piece of equipment, it will put it back where it belongs. You look for cleanliness. If someone's not taking care of that area, chances are they aren’t taking care of other areas. Usually, you can take a look at the service corridor and get a pretty good handle on the operation.

Q: What kind of people are successful in the convention center management business?

A: Here’s the thing that is really fabulous about the hospitality business in general and certainly in my business. Many businesses you could get into require you to have a certain degree from a certain school or certain training. In our business, once you get into the business, you can pretty much go where you want. It’s based on hard work and dedication and what I call the sense of urgency.

Q: What do you mean?

A: Sense of urgency is  when you look at any situation you have that absolute need to fix it right way. It’s not a tomorrow thing, or a next week thing. It’s got to be done now. So if there is a customer concern or you see something you know needs to get fixed, you don’t wait. You get it done right away. We are in such an immediate business. Our customer feedback – we’re only as good as what they are enjoying that moment. They could have had a great experience two hours ago. But if isn’t working at that point, we’ve failed that customer. So if the food isn’t hot or the bathroom isn’t clean or whatever, we’re right there [to fix it]. This is a very immediate business.

Q: What do you like about the business?

A: Every day is different, there’s never a boredom factor in what they do. If you like working with people, obviously this is a fabulous business to be in, because you get to work with so many different people from so many different walks of life. Our customers are some of the smartest people in the world. When I walk into our medical shows, I say, ‘Every single person in this room is smarter than I am.’

Q: A lot of nights, holidays and weekends too, right?

A: There’s only two kinds of people in the business. Those who really love what they are doing and those that are looking for a career change.

Monday's blog post: Respect, and saying hi.