Maven to Know: COURTNEY RISSMAN, EVENTS DIRECTOR, DOWNTOWN INDY INC.
Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before the current shelter in place order and we all look forward to events resuming around the city once it is safe to do so.
Before taking on her current role as events director at Downtown Indy, Inc., Courtney Rissman spent 14 years of her professional career in events at Pacers Sports & Entertainment.
The 41-year-old Indiana native who currently resides on the Old Northside with her husband, is the go-to maven for all Downtown Indianapolis public events. She works with organizers, public safety officials, and other city and state entities to ensure that all events are executed safely and properly.
Courtney shared with Indy Maven her life advice for women in the industry, an honest morning routine that keeps her grounded and prepared for her unpredictable days, and the moment that changed her mindset about life forever.
Perseverance. I’ve always been a fighter and was put to the test a couple years ago when I had a stroke at the age of 38. It rocked me, my family, and my friends to the core but I was one of the lucky ones and have no deficits. I was able to get back to work within three weeks and continue to be a bit of a miracle. It’s crazy! But it changed a lot of perspective in my life and really grounded me in a way I hadn’t been before. I feel so blessed every single day that I continue to be healthy and happy. And that I can really enjoy life experiences, cultivate relationships, laugh loudly, and drink wine!
When it comes to solving a work problem, how do you balance listening to your intuition and listening to the data?
In the events industry, most of the time your gut is the right decision and often you must react immediately. It’s [about] making educated and smart choices at a moment’s notice, knowing that it will be affecting hundreds or thousands of peoples’ experiences but they won’t ever know the decision was even a choice.
Is there anything about your job you’d like people to know?
I feel like my job never stops. In this day and age with technology, many jobs have morphed into 24/7 and mine certainly has. So many things happen on weekends and evenings downtown and my cell phone is always on me ready to jump into action. I might not have the answer, but I will know someone who will. If anyone ever took my phone they’d land a gold mine of Indianapolis contacts.
What does your morning routine look like?
I go to Orangetheory every day at 5 a.m. with my husband so the alarm clock goes off at 4:30. I have turned into one of those crazy people. But since we’re being honest, I go home, shower and get right back into bed for an hour or so before I come to work.
That’s about the only consistent thing about my days. Every day is different, especially on event days, which can sometimes be 20-hour workdays. But on non-event days, I get my work done prepping for future events and then always try to have at least two to three more “personal” work meetings a week. Many of my days start with coffee with a peer and end with a happy hour with a different peer. I feel like relationships are the most important thing you can have, in this job and in my life, so it’s important to spend that time really building a network of people you can count on.
“I feel like relationships are the most important thing you can have, in this job and in my life, so it’s important to spend that time really building a network of people you can count on.“
How does the city of Indianapolis continue to inspire you?
All of the new development in and around the mile square-the restaurants, the shops, the accessibility of getting around-it’s all inspiring. And to be smack dab in the middle of it all every day is like a dream for me.
Your career has been devoted to the city of Indianapolis—first at your role at the Pacers and now at Downtown Indy—what has kept you engaged in being an advocate for the city?
I was fortunate very early in my career to be involved with large civic events and that has been my passion throughout. My first civic event was the 2002 FIBA World Basketball at the young age of 23 which gave me the opportunity to work with Visit Indy (then ICVA) and Sports Corp and really allowed me to see all the work that goes into a huge event like that. I have had some wonderful women mentors—Allison Melangton, Susan Baughman and Ellen Saul—to name a few, which allowed me to see what really needs to happen to continue to make this city thrive and look good on a global scale. I always want to be at the table in whatever room that is continuing to put Indianapolis on the map as far as event activation.
What’s a great piece of business or life advice you have received, who gave it to you, and how has it changed your life?
My dad is a Hall of Fame high school basketball coach so when he gave advice, I listened, contrary to what he thought. But he always taught me to play hard, be smart and poised, whether it was on the basketball floor or in life. I dare someone to out hard-work me!
I am always the first to get my hands dirty and dive right into a task for the betterment of an event. And there certainly have been times when my patience has been tested but because of my line of work, I always have to keep my cool and get it together-and quickly-and make sound and safe decisions. Someone always has a better idea on how to do my job so I just roll with it and keep my head up because they don’t understand what goes into making events happen. That whole maintaining poise is so important in this role.
What advice do you have for young, talented, ambitious women who want to rise?
Use that network! Relationships are EVERYTHING! Get involved and meet people. Seek out other women in your industry and reach out, get to know them and how they got where they are. It’s so easy to ask for help when you’ve got a network of people who want to help you succeed and make you better.
Lenie Tsakonas is a regular contributor to Indy Maven.