Executive summary

Meet Suzanne Chabre

Brief

Suzanne Chabre (BS Marketing ’78, MBA ’79), vice president of marketing and communications for The Smith Center in downtown Las Vegas, has built the performing arts center’s brand from the ground up.

With help from her eight-person team — which focuses on marketing and supporting the center through mass media, direct marketing, digital marketing, public relations, and data mining analysis — she’s built an enviable identity for the institution. In a town jampacked with entertainment options, she’s carved out a space in a tourist-driven city that locals adore.

Stats

Chabre landed at The Smith Center in 2010, long before it first opened its doors. Since the center’s opening in 2012, it’s attracted more than 2.5 million patrons to its Broadway shows, concerts, dance performances, and educational events. Pollstar magazine named it among the 10 best theaters in the world.

Background

Chabre, who grew up in Las Vegas, followed her older sister to Arizona State University. She got both a bachelor’s in marketing and an MBA in four years flat.

Her first job out of college was as a market analyst for Volkswagen, where she dug into data to collect and evaluate information that supported sales plans and other initiatives. She quickly scaled the corporate ladder, excelling in the testosterone-fueled automotive world. She found ways to capitalize, even when the men she worked with underestimated her.

Dealers, for example, often resisted buying cars until they needed them, not wanting to keep extra inventory. Still, they’d brag about their successes and sales when they met with her. “You could use their big egos,” she says, to persuade them to buy more inventory. When Volkswagen launched its District Sales Manager of the Year Award, Chabre was the inaugural recipient.

Eventually, Chabre switched gears into gaming, one of Nevada’s white-hot markets.

She joined Caesars Entertainment in 1998, where she served as vice president of marketing for Bally’s and the soon-to-open Paris Las Vegas.

Her work started well before the first visitors walked in the door. In a town known for its elaborate fakery, Chabre’s research led her to a marketing strategy that looked much different from its competitors.

“Las Vegas — especially at that time — was faux this and faux that. [But our research showed that people] wanted authenticity,” she recalls. “So, we went to Paris and studied everything. The Eiffel Tower we built was from an actual rendering from Paris. We even filmed our commercials in France.”

It worked: Paris Las Vegas is now one of the city’s iconic brands.

Insights

Chabre has learned that everyone thinks they’re a marketer. She could pack a stadium with the number of well-meaning but inexperienced friends and acquaintances who want to tell her the best way to use social media or reach out to audiences.

She politely sidesteps the advice, knowing that foundational research is the ticket to true marketing success — a lesson she took from her years at the W. P. Carey School of Business. “I always take the consumer perspective” she says, “That means doing a lot of research first, whether that’s focus groups, samples, or quantitative and qualitative work.”

Challenges

When Chabre arrived at The Smith Center, she might have assumed she’d have it easy. “I’m in the target market for this place,” she notes. And in a city of 2 million (not to mention the 40 million or so who make Las Vegas a vacation destination each year), she and her team just needed to figure out how to fill 2,000 seats for any given performance.

Still, there’s a reason she calls her work the toughest job she’s ever had. After doing an enormous segmentation analysis, she learned that the primary target market for the center is a much smaller half-million people.

Not only does she have to find an audience for the hundreds of different performances each year, but she has to help persuade the most devoted supporters to part with more than just the money for a ticket. Because The Smith Center is a nonprofit, Chabre is also charged with supporting the development staff, which raises a quarter of the operating budget through donations.

She does it all on a fraction of the budget wielded by the big-name brands just down the street. In this environment, building a top-notch team demands something more than money. “It requires us to work with people who are passionate about the arts, who will choose that passion over a paycheck,” she says.

Recommendations

Chabre has climbed to a high perch in her field, and she has surprising advice for ambitious young marketers who hope to do the same: Slow down. “People always want to get to the next spot, they want to get promoted fast. But it’s OK to be patient, to focus on doing a good job where you’re at, and to learn as much as you can,” she says. “That approach will help you contribute more in your next position.”

Meet Jela Foote

Brief

As a managing director at KPMG’s Philadelphia office, Jela Foote (BS Computer Information Systems ’01) is one of five leaders who head up a team of 80 IT advisory professionals across the state of Pennsylvania. His areas of focus are helping organizations address technology risk, delivering internal audit services, and collaborating with the audit practice at the Big Four accounting firm.

Background

Foote was determined to become the first person from his family to graduate from college. His six years of military service in the U.S. Army and the Army College Fund G.I. Bill provided the financial support to do so.

His last duty station was in Fort Huachuca, a few hours south of ASU’s campus in Tempe, Arizona. He was particularly intrigued by the computer information systems (CIS) program at the W. P. Carey School, with the combination of business and technology studies. “On the application for the degree program you have to select your top three degree choices,” he recalls. “I was so sure about my choice that I put CIS for all three.”

He got in.

The discipline and focus he honed in the military fueled him, and ASU’s Veterans Upward Bound program helped him brush up on the skills he needed to excel academically. “We did small group work to get our math skills and writing skills up, and they were my coaches, mentors, and cheerleaders who supported me throughout my college career,” he says.

Foote’s education positioned him for a career in consulting. As a member of the Black Business Student Association, he learned those skills were in demand in the public accounting firms. At a career fair, Foote met an Ernst & Young leader named Christopher Horn, who was eager to help him find a role in the field. “He was genuine and interested in my success,” Foote recalls. He joined the company as an intern and later as an associate.

Stats

The education and networking opportunities Foote gained through W. P. Carey made an almost immediate impact.

Strategies

Foote benefited from an array of groups and individuals who wanted to see him succeed, which has driven him to do the same for others. After four years at Ernst & Young, Foote moved to KPMG, where he has become laser-focused on mentorship.

Foote says that while hard-driving firms like his demand long hours and excellent work, he strives to balance high expectations for his team with a sense of humanity. “This is hard work,” he says. “But our job [at KPMG] isn’t to sell a widget or a product. It’s to sell people and their skills. And what comes with that is treating people as humans, helping them meet their career goals, and recognizing that they have responsibilities and lives outside of the office.”

Challenges

In addition to the high expectations that KPMG places on all of its employees, Foote knows he bears an extra responsibility as an African-American in a leadership position.

“Statistics show there is room for improvement in the public accounting industry related to the recruitment, retention, and success of people of color,” he says. “People with backgrounds similar to mine don’t know about the opportunities at the firm, don’t know how to get them, and don’t know how to be successful when they arrive. I understand and feel a responsibility to help.”

To that end, Foote plays an important role in KPMG’s African-American Network, developing and delivering curriculum for national conferences to support professionally diverse organizations. He also does significant campus and experienced hire recruiting, and helps new hires from all backgrounds get the support they need to succeed.

Recommendations

Remember the people and the opportunities that helped you get to where you are today, and find ways to support the next generation of people who can benefit from your efforts. “I will never forget what it felt like to have someone who was interested in my success, what it felt like to get that first job offer, and what it felt like to understand that I was on a journey to true financial success,” he says. “It’s a good feeling to help people navigate this environment and help connect people with great opportunities.”

By Erin Peterson
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These alumni know there's no business like show business.
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