Greg Werstler, Chicago Hospitality Professional of the Month (July 2018)July 27th, 2018 | hereschicago
First and foremost, can you tell us your current position, company and describe what you do?
I am the Creative Sales Director and CFO for CSz Business Chicago, the events services division of ComedySportz. We’ve been producing comedy for everyone for more than 30 years in Chicago and we’ve worked with everyone from the C suite of a Fortune 100 to a bar mitzvah mom. We deliver smart, fast, clean, customized improv performances; training delivered with the excitement only improv provides; professional talent for experiential marketing campaigns and trade shows; engaging emcees or customized sketch comedy for any event.
What aspects of hospitality do you incorporate in your business today?
The collaborative spirit that is required to pull off a perfect event is also how we run CSz. We try to live by what we teach: “yes, and”. I think this is the same in hospitality. You don’t have a script, you have a plan, you’ve worked on it with your partners, but something is going to happen that you didn’t anticipate. When it does, you accept it and build upon the new information.
Where did your hospitality career begin and when was that “aha” moment when you knew you were supposed to be in hospitality as a career?
I’m a theater nerd from way back. When I found theater in High School, I knew I found my tribe. When I got this position at CSz and needed to sell our products, I started attending industry events. Seeing the amazing work that was being done in the industry, meeting the people, laughing with them, sharing ideas with them; it felt like when I first did a play in High School. I knew I had found my next tribe. I never thought I would find an industry that had as strong a sense of community and was as supportive of one another as the theater, but this is definitely part of the hospitality industry.
How many years have you been in the hospitality business? 10
What would your friends say if they were nominating you for hospitality professional of the month?
“He’s in hospitality? I just thought he was a nice guy… So, you want me to say something nice about him?… He’s kinda tall and he doesn’t suck at what he does. Whatever that is… so… yeah… you should probably give him an award.”
What qualities to you feel a person needs to have to be hospitality professional?
You must play well with others. You have to be modest because you will produce events that will make everyone else look like a rock-star, but you will never be in the spotlight yourself. And beer. It helps if you like beer.
What do you love about planning events in Chicago?
The people. Clients and colleagues.
What do you recommend for others who want to get into the hospitality profession?
Get involved. Volunteer for events, join an association, take someone in the industry out for coffee. Do something, anything, with a company you admire and do that job 110%. Someone is always watching, so no matter how crappy or menial the job, you have to do it like it was the most important thing you’ve ever done. Because it is.
What are you passionate about?
Helping groups of people work better together.
Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
Jeff Bezos is the biggest influence in all of our lives. We just don’t know it.
What kinds of things really make you laugh?
Other than the stuff my kids say, I’m a fan of old-school comedy stuff. I remember as a young kid being awoken one night by a loud noise. I came downstairs to see what was going on and I realized the noise was my dad laughing so hard he was crying. He was watching Revenge of the Pink Panther (the Peter Sellers version). That was my introduction to comedy.
What’s your favorite place in the entire world?
Any place where the beer is cold and there are friends and laughter.
Who is your best friend? What do you like about him/her?
I’m lucky to still be very close to friends from college. We’ve known each other for going on 30 years and we’ve been through everything together.
What is your favorite movie of all time? Why so?
Forrest Gump. Because of its epic scope. If I find it’s on the television by accident, I have to cancel my plans for the rest of the evening and watch it to the end.
What’s your biggest goal in life right now?
To raise two productive members of society (my daughters).
What is your favorite way to spend a Saturday?
Play a pick-up game of basketball in the late morning, take a nap, spend time with my wife, kids and friends in the evening.
Do you have any pet peeves?
Filling out exceedingly long questionnaires about myself.
What was your family like growing up?
Traditional middle-class, rural, 70-80’s family. My mom was an elementary school teacher. My dad spent several years in the administration of a school district. My family is Pennsylvania Dutch, so we ate a lot of pickled foods.
What were you like as a kid?
What should I know about you that I’d never think to ask about?
I discovered Bruce Springsteen late in life. Now that I’ve gotten into him, I can’t stop playing his music. Don’t let this happen to you- go listen to some Bruce right NOW!
Did you—or do you—have a nickname? What’s the story behind it?
My best friend decided that my nickname was “Clambake”. There was no reason to it, he just decided. It stuck.
Have you received any praise or accolades recently?
I was VP for the Industry Xchange Committee that produced the April 2017 event. That event won a RISE Award from MPI International and Committee of the Year from MPI Chicago. It’s certainly not about me, but I am really proud of the work that group did. Amazing!
What type of events you plan?
What type of music do you love?
My favorite artist is Neil Finn. Google him.
What don’t people know about you?
I am an open book. Everyone who meets me knows every crevice of my soul.
What is your favorite restaurant or bar (Personally)?
I like dive bars, cause I’m not impressing anybody. Konak’s on Clark street became a hang-out in my 20’s and 30’s because it wasn’t ridiculously crowded like Hopleaf next door and it had pool and Golden Tee golf.
When not working, what do you love to do?
Play basketball, read, learn new things, drive my kids around.
Have you ever sung karaoke? If so, what song?
Future trends in event planning?
I think the lead time on events is going to continue to shrink. I’m not one who subscribes to digital replacing live events. I think as the world gets more and more digital, live events and human interaction become even more important and desired. We’ll have to adapt digital aspects, we’ll have to allow for on-demand programming at our events, but meeting in-person will continue to be important.
What does it take to be a successful event planner?
Knowing where to go for professional, clean, improv comedy. I got you.
What is your favorite color?
Do you have any Association affiliations?
MPI. I’ve been on the board of the Chicago chapter for the past 4 years.
Are you a Cubs or Sox fan?
Cubs. I can’t cheer for a team that won’t let the pitcher bat.
What’s your go-to meal when you’re home alone?
When does that happen?
What’s your favorite thing about your hometown?
Eeesh. My favorite thing about my hometown is that I don’t live there anymore.
Which book(s) have you read multiple times?
Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins. Immortality, Milan Kundera. I recently earned my Master’s degree, so there are plenty of academic books I’ve read multiple times, but I don’t want to bore the audience with those titles.
What’s on your bucket list?
Skydiving. Being recognized as “Hospitality Professional of the Month”
What’s the most embarrassing moment you’ve had?
I tend not to be too embarrassed by doing dumb things. It’s kind of my hallmark: dumb things. However, I was hosting MPI Trivia Night a couple of years ago and Tina Reedy and I were doing a bit where we presented the “spirit award” to the audience. The award was a ceramic pig. I was supposed to stop Tina from leaving the stage and then grab the pig out of her purse. Well, I grabbed it out of her purse and proceeded to drop the pig on the stage. It broke into several dozen pieces. There wasn’t much to do. I had broken the spirit of the event! We ended up presenting the pieces of the award (affectionately named “Ham-ly Cup”) in a cup.
What was your First concert?
Little Feat at The Mann Center in Philadelphia
If you had to go back to school or learn a new skill, what would you want to learn?
Funny. I just earned my Master’s in Management and Organizational Behavior. I don’t know that this was necessarily a “new” skill, more of an expansion of skills I already possessed. It’s the study of how groups of people operate in organizations. How the systems affect their behavior, how you can get the most out of people and systems, how you can more effectively manage change, and how you can put the culture of an organization to use in achieving business goals.
What are your thoughts about Hereschicago.com?
I think hereschicago.com is an amazing resource. It’s great that a person can go to one place and find all the resources they need to plan an amazing event. We’ve been a long-time partner with the platform. I like that we can control the content and change it when we want. I like the RFP’s that are sent from the site.