Politics and Passions
This week we learned that Dan Fenton, one of the founders of Team San Jose and immediate past-chair of Destination Marketing Association International, resigned as the corporation’s CEO. Fenton, one of the industry leaders profiled in the December issue of Rejuvenate magazine, led the company for six years. Prior to the creation of Team San Jose, he ran the San Jose Convention and Visitors Bureau for eight years.
Fenton, who leaves his post at the end of January, cited a decision to pursue new ventures as the main reason for stepping down in a press release from Team San Jose. An acting CEO has not been named. A transition team of the board of directors and senior team of the corporation has been created, according to the release. A week earlier, the San Jose City Council unanimously voted to put out a request for proposal for management of the city’s convention center and performing arts theaters, threatening the Team San Jose model, according to reports in the San Jose Business Journal.
The model, based on a collaboration of local hotels, labor, arts and business industries, has come under fire for budget overruns and other concerns in a politically charged atmosphere. Fenton says the city is stronger as a result of what he and others built, and that the Team San Jose model will survive. In fact, he pointed to the recent take over of the Memphis Convention Center by that city’s CVB as an example of other cities adopting the San Jose’s model.
“I am proud of the unique meetings services model we created, which has received a 95 percent customer service rating and is a nationally recognized approach being studied by other destinations for possible emulation,” said Fenton. “We knew our previous model as a traditional CVB acting separately from the management of the convention center was broken and we developed a new approach that has 97 percent of meeting planners surveyed saying they’d return to San Jose. Team San Jose wasn’t based on a bureaucracy but on the best consultative experience for customers.”
During the past six years, Team San Jose says revenues increased by 95 percent compared to its predecessor, the then city department that managed the convention center. In addition, Team San Jose claims credit for growing the operating fund balance that supports the center’s operation to more than $10 million in 2008, adding that the fund is now being used to support operations during the down economy, as well as the city’s potential convention center expansion and renovation. Fenton points out that this was accomplished while balancing one of the worst economic downturns in decades.
“We’ve always got to keep working on the collective message, ‘What does success look like?’” Fenton said in an interview with Rejuvenate. Relating to the plight of planners who are challenged to prove “intangible” factors, like overall attendee experience when measuring ROI, Fenton said economic impact, room nights and cultural vibrancy are all pieces of the puzzle in determining economic success. “Activation of theatres may not bring the most profit, but it is vital to San Jose as a community,” he said. “It is important to have local opera and ballet to deliver the best visitor experience.”
Fenton also pointed to the net effect of revenue versus expense, reacting to reports that Team San Jose is over budget and in default by a reported $750,000. “The real bottom line can not be based on one expense line item but instead should be considered the driving force behind those greater revenues,” he said. “ We had more activity than we originally planned for and we have had the toughest economic two years in this market’s history. It has been deep and sustained and absolutely a challenge; if we didn’t have flexibility with this comprehensive program we wouldn’t have had this level of activity and revenue.”
Team San Jose’s approach integrates the convention center, hotels and area attractions to simplify meeting planning. Fenton furthered the customer approach by bringing food and beverage and ticketing services in-house, secured a Broadway partnership and a concert partnership with Nederlander New York and Nederlander Concerts, respectively. He also led a campaign approved by local hotel owners to tax themselves for the purpose of supporting capital needs at the convention center. This campaign, approved in 2009 during the economic downturn by 78 percent of hotel owners, is now the sole funding source available to support a proposed convention center expansion and renovation as budget challenges prevent additional funding from the San Jose Redevelopment Agency and City of San Jose. “Without the Team San Jose model, this expansion would not have happened,” said Fenton.
On a personal level, Fenton said he is ready to move on after 14 years in San Jose. “I’m extremely excited,” he told Rejuvenate. “It’s a great opportunity for me to make an impact with another organization.
“I am an ideapreneur,” he said. “My passion is for building new pioneering ventures. I believe that after 14 years we have built a great foundation and it’s time for me to move on to consulting, where I can constantly innovate new projects.”
2011 Rejuvenate Marketplace in San Jose
Of course, being meeting planners ourselves, we asked San Jose’s departing CEO about the effect of his departure on the 2011 Rejuvenate Marketplace, Nov. 8-10. “The senior team and organization is ready and excited, and the preparation will continue,” he said. “It is going to be an absolutely fabulous experience for Rejuvenate attendees, exposing many to a totally new city.”