This semester, Professor Joe Goldblatt will be acting as a visiting professor at the Tisch Center, and traveling from Scotland to teach the second session of the Current Issues in Events course (MSEM1-GC 2050). With over 50 years of experience, Professor Goldblatt is a pioneer in the field of event management and is credited for publishing the first special events textbook ever written for college students, as well as developing the first undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs in the field of event management. Professor Goldblatt tells us more about his background, experiences, and plans of instruction for the Current Issues in Events course this spring.
What is your background?
I actually started producing events when I was about six years of age. I noticed that other children in the neighborhood were selling lemonade, it seemed to me like a hard job for little money. I thought a more fun job would be to create a backyard carnival and hire all the kids in the neighborhood to run little games and concessions, and then I could be the “ringmaster”. That sparked an idea, and I then went on to have a career as a performer for about 25 years, and I met my wife while I was performing. We had the idea of getting other people to perform for us, and so we created a company called the Wonder Company. At the time, it was one of the largest event companies in the United States and produced inauguration events for President George HW Bush and White House events for President Ronald Regan, the opening of the Nashville, Tennessee Convention Center, the opening of the Donald Trump Taj Mahal Casino, and so on. Eventually, we sold the company to a much larger firm, and then I thought, “what do I do now?” I had just published my first textbook, which was the first book ever written in the field of special events for college students, and I thought maybe I could turn this into some sort of a course because I had been teaching people that I had worked with my whole career, and I was very comfortable with teaching.
I contacted one of the last people that I had produced an event for, Oprah Winfrey. I called Oprah's partner, Stedman Graham, and told him I was thinking about developing a curriculum in higher education, but that I only had an undergraduate bachelor's degree, and to be taken seriously, I would have needed a master's or doctorate degree. But I knew if I had him and Oprah endorsing my program, the doors might open a little wider, and so I asked if they would support this. And they agreed to support me on one condition, I had to offer the first courses to women and minorities because in business, and most of the traditional professions, they are the ones that are excluded. I was creating a new field, and in this field, women could go right to the top. Stedman and I went to a variety of different universities, all historically black universities. And then thanks in large part to Dr. Allan L. Goldstein, George Washington University called and said that if I were to create the first undergraduate and postgraduate events management degree there, they would provide me with free tuition to earn my master's degree and my doctorate, as well as give me an office and teaching assistant to support my research. So, in 1992, I went to George Washington University, earned my doctorate, and created the first undergraduate and graduate degrees in this field. Then I left in 2000 because I had been promoted to Dean at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island, stayed there for three years, and then went to Philadelphia, where I was the Executive Director of the Event Leadership program in their tourism school. And then Queen Margaret University invited me to apply for a post, and the next thing I knew, we were moving to Scotland. I retired from teaching four years ago.
I always say that I had three professions in my career. I started as a performer, and then I became a producer, and then retired as a professor.
Outside of your work in academics, some of your other roles include being an author, speaker, and event professional. Can you speak a little more about the other facets of your career?
During the course of my career, I've published 40 books in the field of event management, some of the books I wrote entirely on my own, some I was a co-author or the editor of the book – the majority of which are textbooks in the field of event management. I was also the founding president of the first professional society for event managers, which was originally called the International Special Events Society (ISES) but now it's called the International Live Events Association (ILEA).
In addition to this, I’m a husband with 45 years of marriage to my wife, a father to two sons, and a grandfather to two grandsons.
During your career thus far, what would you say you're most proud of?
I think one of the things is, I didn't realize how difficult it was for women and people of color to get into the business world, into established fields like events management. When I was at George Washington University and starting the event management program, we had to produce a catalog to promote the courses. One day a black woman who worked on my staff came into my office and opened the catalog on my table. She said, “look through the pages and tell me what it's missing, do you see any black faces and those pictures?” And when we republished the catalog with half the pictures now being people of color, the profile of the students changed. When we started that program, African American women who wanted to be in event planning were essentially secretaries earning about $15,000-18,000 a year. Well, once they earned their degree or certificates in event planning, their salary doubled and went from $15,000 per year to $30,000 per year. I'm really proud of that. And now, 80% of the people in this field are women, and I'm really proud of that because it's a much better profession for having women in this field.
Come March, you will be teaching the Current Issues in Events course (MSEM1-GC 2050). This course is hosted twice a semester and is constantly changing, do you have any ideas of what specifically you'll want to cover or key objectives?
There's a theory called anti-fragility which has to do with all systems and how they eventually weaken and break - just as we had happen with the pandemic. So, you should plan for this, you shouldn't be surprised by it. And rather than resist, we should actually embrace it and be able to say, “we now have the systems in place to get stronger as a result of this''. So, that's my goal. We will then apply that to my 50+ years of event management experience, and I'll give examples of how the good and the great who produce events like the Super Bowl, the Olympic Games, etc., all experienced fragility and had to become stronger with the anti-fragile systems that they've developed. The pandemic wasn't on anyone’s radar screen, and that just shows you how both universities and industries were “behind the eight ball”. Now, we have to get in front of the eight ball - especially because with the internet, the world is a much more complex and interconnected place than it used to be.
I think the most important thing is to realize that in this course, we're on a real learning journey - which means that we may never reach our destination. But along the way, we'll do a lot of exploring, challenging, and debating, and hopefully, as a result of this journey, we will have learned so much that at the end, we might just be able to change the world a wee bit.
What impact do you hope to have on your students and the NYU community during your time here?
I would hope for three things. Number one, I went into teaching full-time 25 years ago, not because I was particularly intellectually curious or wanted to invent the next formula for event planners - I did all of that, but it wasn't my goal. My goal has always been to help young people find careers to bring them the true joy of life. So, one thing I want to do is sit down with individuals and ask, “Where do you see yourself in the next year, two years, three years, and who do I know that can help you get there? What introductions can I make? What guidance can I provide to make the path easier and more successful?” So, career development is one. The second one is to promote intellectual curiosity that will generate new ideas for a new generation. I'm going to be 70 in June, and while I have a lot of new ideas, they're based upon my mindset of 50 years ago. I want to plant seeds within younger generations that can then be cultivated so that the event industry is even more sustainable. Students will create their own formulas, their own plans, their own systems, etc. The third thing is I want to have fun because I think learning should be fun.
Have you noticed distinct differences within the event industry from work you’ve done in Scotland versus the United States?
I actually write a weekly column for the national newspaper in Scotland, and they've asked me to keep writing when I go to the United States, but to change the column and focus on the similarities and the differences that I perceive having been away from the United States for 15 years. But in terms of events, two things that I know is that because America is such a large country, the events are larger. If you have a conference in the United States, you might have 3,000-5,000 people. If we have a conference in Scotland, it's 300-500 people, and that's a large crowd, so scale is a big difference. Another thing that is different is the rituals of event planning. We do things more slowly in Europe, there’s much more social time when warming up to do business than in the United States. So, programs are more protracted, conversations are longer - there's a courtship that goes on. I think in the United States, it's more instant because of the cost and time and so on. Other than that, it's really the same business because we're all looking to achieve outcomes. The word “event” comes from the Latin term “e venire”, and “e” means “out”, and “venire” means “come”. So, an event is literally an outcome. And whether you are producing an event in Scotland or you are producing an event in New York City, you're achieving specific outcomes.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
I’d just like to say how much I admire the staff, the leadership, the faculty, and the students of NYU. I say this because I retired from teaching and from being an administrator to university pre-COVID. So, I can't imagine the pain, the challenge, and the heartache that you all have been through in the last 2-3 years as members of a learning community. I hope as a result of my contribution as a visiting professor, I can learn as much from you as you learn from me. I'd like to hear your stories of resilience, how you turned tragedy into triumph, and how these kinds of anti-fragile systems in human beings can be applied to events.