“The loyalty and longevity we receive is a result of how we treat people within our organizations. We have been built more like a family, and this goes way beyond summer picnics and staff parties. This lies in how we enable, empower and challenge the people within our organization. We have an open-door philosophy and send our KPI’s out daily to everyone within the organization. This allows us to build trust amongst one another. I am proud to say that our upper management averages 23 years. To put this in perspective, United Continental Holdings upper management team averages 12.3 years while General Motors Corporation averages 10.3 years. Both of these are considered to be some of the highest tenures for US companies.”
I had the privilege to interview Randy Cohen. Randy is the Co-Founder and Chief Energizer Officer of TicketCity — the world’s largest privately-owned online ticket marketplace. Launching the first, fully-functioning e-commerce website for the ticketing world nearly 30 years ago, TicketCity transformed the way fans buy tickets to their favorite sports game, theater show or live event forever.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
What started in 1987 with $1,200 in my life savings and selling college basketball tickets to The University of Texas at Austin basketball games during the March Madness Tournament has turned into one of my greatest achievements. Today, we are the largest privately-held ticket company in the world and because of our long-standing expertise in the space, we are able to consistently evolve and make changes based on what our customers tell us they need. This is why our event page was recently completely reimagined. To me, it is now the simplest and most knowledgeable place to purchase tickets online.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Since the inception of TicketCity, I have consistently made an effort to be intentional with my employees -almost to a fault at times. My employees who have been with me for a long time like to tell this story from time to time. Back in the late 90’s, TicketCity had a few consultants working for us on a contract-basis. One Friday during payroll, I decided I wanted to bring each employee in and talk to them about their professional journey at TicketCity, personally say thank you and hand them their check. This was before the direct deposit systems we all have today.
I called in a young man and began talking to him for 20 minutes about my passion for TicketCity and my desire to see it succeed. I went to reach for his check and realized, I didn’t have his check or know his name because he was not an employee of TicketCity. I still think of how generous he was to sit in my office and listen to me rant about a company he didn’t work for. My attempt to be personal and thankful turned into the office laugh for the day.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
It’s very rare to work with any business in the service industry that has nearly three decades of success. In fact, there’s no other company that has been reselling tickets on the secondary market longer than TicketCity. The recipe for success for us is two-fold: Our in-depth industry expertise in the field of ticketing coupled with our strong commitment of putting our customers first. The two are equally important and are absolutely non-negotiable for us. In fact, since we’ve continued to uphold high standards for our customers, it has resulted in maintaining the highest customer review ratings in the secondary ticket market.
For example, back in 1996, TicketCity was onsite for the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. As we were helping clients, delivering tickets and ensuring all accomodations were organized for the start of the games, I received a call from an elderly woman who explained she would love to buy a ticket, but still needed transportation. She lived 80 miles outside of Atlanta. Initially I thought this was a strange request since I was still in the mindset of just selling tickets. I was quickly reminded that we’re not in the business of selling tickets but rather selling experiences that our customers can take with them for a lifetime.
So I told her, “Get ready! I’m coming to get you!” I rented a Lincoln Continental and drove over an hour outside of Atlanta to pick her up. Later that evening, we watched Muhammad Ali light the cauldron and experienced one of the most spectacular sports experiences in the world, together! To this day, all TicketCity employees are empowered with the ability to provide unforgettable experiences, even if sometimes it’s a little outside the box.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Touring the country promoting my newest book, Secrets of Swagger — How to own your cool in life and business.
Kicking off a new foundation, tentatively named the “Loop of Love Foundation” which will aim to incentivize and promote grade-school level students by providing tickets to their favorite events in exchange for success in the classroom and community.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
My number one piece of advice is to empower your employees! Empower them with the freedom do to their best, the autonomy to make their own decisions and the confidence to take risks. A big part of our internal mantra at TicketCity is to be one percent better every day. To be better every day, we as a company must have a heart. By empowering your team, your team is overall more engaged and more passionate about the projects they’re working on.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Verne Harnish, author of Rockefeller Habits and the founder of Gazelles. Verne has been a mentor and coach. His systems, applications and style have enabled TicketCity to become a fast and agile company. He has helped TicketCity grow and improve over the last 18 years.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Through my ACE’s (Austin Council of Entrepreneurs) group! The ACE’s group is a CEO peer group that helps our companies and ourselves improve for the better. Another way I use my success is through the “Gathering of Titan’s” group. This group is made up of 70 CEOs from around the world who get together for four days in Boston, Massachusetts at MIT each year. The same 70 CEOs have attended for 17 straight years.
I am also in the process of creating a foundation, tentatively named The Loop of Love Foundation. It’s in the very early stages and I am excited to share what’s to come!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Over the years I have developed a list of 10 “rules.” I call them “Rules of Reasons” which are lessons and things I’ve learned over the last three decades at TicketCity. Here are five of my favorites:
Always Live your Values: Some of my values include always continuing to take risks, grow and learn — both personally and professionally. To be sure to laugh as much as possible and to make a difference in the world. In the world of live events, sometimes you travel to amazing places and get to experience bucket list items. Through it all, you must take it in. It was the 2006 World Cup and the TicketCity team was arriving in Frankfurt with ample inventory, a great location and solid strategy in place to help potential customers attend this highly coveted event. We were working a minimum of 14-hour days and at a moment’s notice could be traveling to Leipzig, Hamburg, Cologne, Dortmund, Hannover, Berlin and many more cities to deliver and pick up tickets for our customers. In the end, people got a once in a lifetime personal and professional experience.
Have a Big Heart + Make a Difference: How do you put heart into your cubicles and conference rooms of Corporate America? You instill a caring culture into the DNA of your company from top to bottom. When we sell experiences to people, there’s always more we can do. Over the years when clients have asked for specific tickets, I will look online and see if we can find them better seats and a better deal. In years to come, they will trust your expertise and want to continue to be a client of TicketCity. One client actually purchased a Final Four package from us years ago, but also mentioned on the phone he was going to need to rent a wheelchair for his sister to be able to attend with him. So, for a few extra minutes, I pulled together a list of medical equipment and providers in the area to share with him. Our customer service operations have always consisted of a big heart and a lot of energy. Because of this, TicketCity has been celebrated as the best customer service in the industry.
Never Stop Learning: There are times in life when you need to be a coach and there are times in life where you need to be a student. I know my desire to be a non-stop student has helped TicketCity succeed over the last three decades. Looking back, I wish I would have taken leadership courses and worked with executive coaches from the beginning. Now, I actively participate in peer groups like the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, the high-level CEO conference at MIT called the “Gathering of Titans,” and year-long programs like the “Stagen Leadership Academy.”
Take Care of Your People: The loyalty and longevity to receive is a result of how we treat people within our organizations. TicketCity has been built more like a family, and this goes way beyond summer picnics and staff parties. This lies in how we enable, empower and challenge the people within our organization. We have an open-door philosophy and send our KPI’s out daily to everyone within the organization. This allows us to build trust amongst one another. I am proud to say that the upper management at TicketCity averages 23 years. To put this in perspective, United Continental Holdings upper management team averages 12.3 years while General Motors Corporation averages 10.3 years. Both of these are considered to be some of the highest tenures for US companies.
Have Fun + Learn to Laugh: While operating a large organization, you are going to make mistakes along the way. When you do, you have to be able to laugh at yourself. Of course, life is not always fun and games. There will be tests and trials at every turn. Don’t let that throw you off track! For example, The Masters Golf Tournament is always a tricky event. You never know if a badge is going to rise over $1000 in just a few short hours, or if rain is forecasted and the market drops lower than you could imagine. One year, we were short on badges we’d sold to customers when one of our suppliers failed to deliver on time. Instead of being anxious, it’s important to understand your customer is likely even more anxious. So, what did we do? We went out and purchased fine wine and started a party in the office! We socialized with our customers until their badges were delivered and offered them discounts the next year for the delay they had to experience!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“The spirit, the will to win, and the will to excel are the things that endure. These qualities are so much more important than the things that occur.” — Vince Lombardi
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
Any members of the Shark Tank panel or Seth Godin. To break bread with these world famous individuals who have so much energy, charisma and knowledge would be extraordinary and as dream come true.
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.
Originally published at medium.com