Staff Spotlight Interview: The Partners! Jill Tate & Courtney Church
March 7, 2022
Photo of Jill Tate & Courtney Church from the 2021 Boston Business Journal article:
In-person events are back. Boston’s planners are scrambling to keep up.
March is Women’s History Month and as a women-led business, what better month to sit down with our Co-Partners Jill Tate and Courtney Church for their Staff Spotlight interview?! Courtney and Jill founded Corinthian Events exactly twenty-two years ago in March of 2000, and we wanted to know how they got started in the industry, their drive behind starting their own business, and what it is like being women at the head of a business today. You will find all that and more in this month’s special edition of the Staff Spotlight!
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Why events? How did you get your start in this industry?
JILL: For me, it all started with trips for my friends. I grew up in a small coastal town in Rhode Island and it was very much a summer community. In the summer I sailed and had so many friends that were only around in the summertime so, as a kid, I built a yearly group ski trip so I could see my friends in the winter, too! I would handle every little detail of the trip – the travel, where we were staying, what to do when we were there – everything. I would hand write the invitations and on the border of the page I would write the names of everyone who was invited so everyone knew who else was coming! I loved details like that. I was always the “party person” of the friend group and would ensure we all got together, and I found I was always planning up the next thing.
I went to UNH and studied hospitality, not knowing exactly where that would take me, and after graduation I ended up working for a handful of years as a cruise director on a ship for a handful of years before getting into events. The ship took groups to St. Thomas in the winters, and to Canada in the summers.
COURTNEY: It was always about hospitality for me. I always gravitated towards it from both a work and a leisure standpoint. I loved staying at hotels, searching out great food, and traveling, and I knew it was in my blood. I always had an entrepreneurial spirit, so it wasn’t really a specific decision to get into events, it was more just following the path I knew was right for me! I started off as a travel agent, did that for many years, and then when I wanted to settle down a bit I eventually moved into wholesale wine sales.
How did I jump from selling wine to planning and executing events? Well, it probably had to do with maternity brain! After having my first child, I wanted to jump back into work and, with help from a mentor, I applied for a position at Faith Moore & Associates. When I started at FMA, Jill was actually leaving to go on her maternity leave, and when Jill returned, she was my boss for the better part of three years.
Courtney mentioned that you were her boss for three years – what was that like? Did that run together help your partnership today?
JILL: (Laughs) I guess I was her boss, wasn’t I! I completely forgot about that since I always just see Courtney as a partner. That was during our time at Faith Moore & Associates. After I was on the cruise ship I ended up working for Faith, filling in as contract work. After about a week I fixed a whole lot of stuff to make things easier, so Faith made a position for me to keep me on the team. I was the first salaried employee at FMA, and then we hired Rich (who became my husband) who I knew from an old role at Filene’s Basement, and then when I went on maternity leave, we hired Courtney.
Working with Courtney at FMA was great. I do remember pushing hard with her on one thing – neatly stapling our papers! It drives me nuts when the papers aren’t lined up when stapled and I think it might have drove Courtney a bit nuts that that is what I was so focused on such a small thing, but it is the small things that matter in our industry!
Did you always want to start your own events company? Or was there a succession of events that led you to a situation where starting your own company was the next logical step?
JILL: I never had a dream or set out to start my own events company, that was never the plan. What’s funny is I did interview for a job once and they asked where I’d be in the next five years and without really thinking about it I said ‘I’ll own my own company in the next 5 years.’ Entrepreneurship just felt like it was in my blood.
Courtney and I went to start our own business with my lifelong friend, Mary, who had just left her role at Party By Design, and it completely changed the course of our work. We thought we would do mostly DMC work because that was the background we had, but with Mary’s creative background it changed the course of our business direction and soon we were doing Special Events, Meetings, Conferences, and all types of gatherings.
COURTNEY: Starting Corinthian Events kind of just happened. It happened really fast and fell together quickly when Jill, Mary, and I started to conceptualize our business. We were so deep in the business every day, so when we first got the idea to go off on our own it just happened so quickly and next thing we knew we were working at – or, leading – Corinthian Events!
How did you come up with the name Corinthian Events?
COURTNEY: The definition of Corinthian is the last and most detailed and ornate of the Greek architectural orders. I think the name Corinthian Events actually might have been my sister’s idea. She is clever and had the idea to have our name higher in the alphabet so it would appear higher in the yellow pages – you know, the way people found you before they could just pull up Google. In my family, I would always have a direction and plan for the family when we were on vacation or traveling together, so my nickname was always “the pillar.” Mary is Greek so the name Corinthian was fitting in that aspect, too. It just really matched what we wanted the company to represent.
What has been your most satisfying business-related moment in your career?
COURTNEY: The most satisfying moment for me as a business owner was hiring our first employee. Once we started hiring beyond that core team, that was so satisfying. I still remember her well – her name was Jenni and she now works at a brewery in Maine. It was just awesome to be able to hire that first employee.
JILL: It sounds sort of strange, but the most satisfying business moment for me was when we finished a year with over $10 million in revenue. It was just exciting. As you know, we don’t talk about finances much to the public, but I was at a Christmas party and I was talking to my friend who is this big finance guy, and I just privately let him know “Guess what. We just passed ten million dollars this year,” and he was ecstatic. It was super validating since there is always this stigma that we are “little party planners.” Never in a million years did we think we would get to that point, bit we did, and it really was satisfying.
Talk about being a woman in business – has that changed at all since you and Jill founded Corinthian Events over 20 years ago?
COURTNEY: I don’t think being a woman in business has necessarily changed a lot. Owning a business in a female-dominated industry definitely has its stigmas. I have been to way too many dinner parties where I am pushed off as a “party planner” and hear things along the line of “wow that must be so fun!” and it feels like my work is somewhat undermined. I always want to respond, “I am the co-founder and CEO of a multimillion-dollar company that manages a staff of over 20 employees.” This industry, as is the case in most female-led industries, is surrounded by stigmas that our work is a “side job” or that we are “filling our free time,” but Corinthian Events is much more than that. The events industry is much more than that. Planning and managing corporate meetings and events comes with much more responsibility than the name suggests, and we will continue to show people that with incredibly designed, memorable, jaw-dropping events.
What impact does being a business owner have on your personal life? Jill, you of course are married to our Bookkeeper, Rich – does it make it difficult to avoid taking your work home with you?
JILL: Rich and I actually don’t talk very much about work at home. I will ask Rich to remind me of something the next day or he will give me a quick update on something that is going on, but really we don’t talk much about work at all. I love to learn but not necessarily in a formal setting, so being a business owner has let me learn in a different setting. Sometimes I feel like I am really smart and I get a ton of respect from people in the industry and that surprises me – in a good way! – that people are impressed by doing things or knowing things that I am passionate about learning about, so they feel like they are second nature to me.
COURTNEY: As rewarding as it can be, I think any honest business-owner would tell you it is incredibly hard to balance your work and personal life. I feel like I work 24 hours a day and never stop thinking about work, but I also never don’t enjoy it. I love my job. Even in the depths of COVID I still enjoyed my work even when it was really hard. I do this for the passion, the engagement with the team, and the connection with our clients.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone just starting out their career in events or looking to get into the events industry, what would that be?
COURTNEY: Network. Pick up the phone and be a bulldog. If you are given names, chase them, and don’t give up until you get a firm “no.” That is the business!
JILL: Listen to everybody and hear everybody whether you are invited to the conversation or not. You can hear so much and get so much from listening. 90% of your work is at your desk making calls and working on the computer. If your goal is to be onsite at the event 100% of time you’re in the wrong place. You do all the work and someone else gets to enjoy the party.
Lastly, what is the best part of leading the Corinthian Events team?
COURTNEY: Working with Jill, hands down. There are very few companies that have co-heads and I think to this day there are a lot of people that are flabbergasted with how we are still here. Sometimes Jill and I need tiebreakers which is where Jamie comes in as a General Manager, but every day I feel so lucky to have a partner in this venture. Jill and I are very different leaders – I love to get other people’s opinions and strive for collaboration; Jill likes to just make a decision and jump right into it – both of these styles match perfectly and have gotten us to where we are today.
JILL: Leading the team challenges me every day. Being a good leader is one of the hardest things I do. It requires a lot of introspection as to how one relates to others in order to get things done. So much emotional intelligence is required. Some days I feel on top of my game, other days I feel utterly useless at it. Lately, as we are doing business at an amazingly high rate of speed, it is harder than ever. Courtney and I have skills that complement each other. Leading with a partner gives me support through the ebbs and flows of life, both in my business and personal lives – they are so intertwined that it is actually one, but who is keeping track.