by Bob McGlincy
(Pictured: The Northeast contingent piecing it together: Kewriga; Fantauzzi, Peters; Jardin; Studley; Franzen and Bota)
Covid-19 crushed conventions, shuttered venues, and eliminated jobs. Some businesses closed their doors. Here’s how one company survived.
When shows first cancelled, Willwork began making adjustments. This was nothing new for the company, as the organization historically embraced change: evolving over the years from an I&D contractor, to a full-service General Contractor, to the creation of teams specializing in AV services, Digital Solutions, Retail Environments and Concert Productions.
The pandemic created new challenges, and the company produced new solutions. Willwork constructed field hospitals in convention centers, and began selling Personal Protective Gear. They researched state safety regulations before commencing outdoor construction, and performing indoor retail and graphic installations. Willwork produced numerous virtual events for tradeshows, galas and fundraisers. Flipping houses in several states became another avenue for keeping key personnel employed … all the while, the company continued with limited I&D and GC work. At the same time, the business challenged itself to think longer term—what can be done to improve systems and procedures? As can be seen below, the women of Willwork led the charge on many of these projects.
Denise Franzen is a rock-solid pillar of the organization. She has impacted the service, attitude and profitability of the company more so than anyone, with the exception of the president and the CEO. A graduate of Stonehill College, she first worked in the healthcare industry before joining Willwork. With more than 21 years of industry experience, she has run operations and sales, and currently serves as the administrative director. During the pandemic, Franzen facilitated the health and safety training for Willwork teams in multiple states—including infection control trainings, GBAC technician trainings and WHO certifications. She developed a system for ensuring Willwork’s COVID-19 regulation compliance for construction and retail work throughout the country. She facilitated the launch of the company’s new website, and has been working with the IT department to improve internal platforms. She is active in the community, serving on local youth program boards and facilitating social groups for grade school-age children. She lives on the South shore with her husband and two boys.
Lisa Studley is the chief financial officer for the company. After graduating from U. Mass Dartmouth, she began her career in public accounting in the construction industry, passed the CPA exam and then moved to the private sector, working in publishing, property management and home construction. She joined Willwork in April 2011, and under the tutelage of then-CFO Ted Barowich, she progressed from senior accountant, to accounting manager and then to controller. During the pandemic, in addition to her regular duties, she has maximized PPP funds and ERTC credits. Studley says, “Keeping up with the changing rules and regulations related to PPP and other programs being administered by the SBA is a full-time commitment.” She has been involved with retail installations, managed PPG sales and suggested Willwork begin work flipping houses. She met her husband in high school and has been a “hockey mom” to her two children.
Sarah Fantauzzi is the executive vice president, sales for Willwork. She has a Master’s degree from Roberts Wesleyan College. Experienced in HR, sales and technology, her career spans multiple markets including insurance, software, manufacturing and construction. She is a team leader with more than 10 years of industry experience, and joined the company in June 2019. During the pandemic, she transitioned to become an executive event producer, as opportunities switched from live events to virtual ones for sales, fundraisers, galas and, of course, tradeshows. She is on the Board of Directors for the NHRA, and the EDPA Northeast chapter. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and two children. “If the last 14 months has taught me anything,” Fantauzzi says, “it is that resilience, patience, thinking positive, making an impact in the lives of others, and never giving up are at the core of life, both personally and professionally.”
Dee Peters is the digital solutions and IT manager for Willwork. She is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and has been in the industry since 1998. Tasked initially with revamping the IT department, she has assisted in creating digital platforms and maintaining and growing the company’s digital footprint. During the pivotal period of the pandemic, she has used her knowledge to manage virtual events for new and existing clients. In addition to being an amazing part of the leadership team, she holds a black belt in Muay Thai and Krav Maga and continues to train.
Anita Bota knows tradeshows and events. She has been involved with the industry for the past 32 years, starting as a college intern, working with AutoCAD. A graduate of Wentworth Institute of Technology, she worked as a graphics manager and national account executive. She joined Willwork in January 2014, as the director of event creative services. In addition to other duties, she produces several large GC shows. During the pandemic, she transitioned from a non-stop road warrior, to being at home and getting re-acquainted with her daughter. She has assisted with retail estimates and graphic installations for Willwork, and has also transitioned to director of operations for a family concrete construction company, employing some of the efficiencies that she learned in the tradeshow industry. She is currently planning tradeshows for this summer and fall.
Maureen Jardin has been with Willwork for the past 21 years. She is a graduate of U. Mass Amherst, and prior to joining the company she worked in data processing and marketing. She is the national operations manager for the company; previous positions included: event specialist, CSR, account manager, assistant city manager and director of information and research. During the pandemic, she has been tasked with maintaining relationships with partners and clients. Despite having a job that some weeks requires availability 24/7, seven days a week, she has a life outside the industry: a violinist since the age of nine, she has performed with the Brockton Symphony Orchestra, four times a year, for the past 14 years. She also acquired her cosmetology license in 2015, and works as a part-time hair stylist.
Stephanie Latzanakis is an award-winning designer in the Massachusetts office. She interned in May of 2016, and joined the company in 2017, after graduating from Stonehill College. During the pandemic, she joined the social media team, assisting with the visual design of content, and transitioned to the planning, sourcing and scheduling of the postings. This work proved to be a great way for her to gain experience in other areas, including research, copywriting and marketing—which have helped further elevate her design skills and contributions to the company.
After receiving a Master’s degree in communications from Marshall University, Danielle Clark joined Willwork as an event services manager in August of 2007. She progressed through several positions and is currently the Southeast general manager. She is a Certified Meeting Professional, and is also the executive director of Curry Ford West (part of the Orlando Main Streets Program) and will lead “in fostering growth and relationships among community residents and business owners.” She lives in the Orlando area with her husband and two children. She is involved in the planning and production of upcoming shows in several cities around the country, including the first GC event in the brand new $375 million Caesars Forum.
A graduate of Southwestern University, Noelle Webster started her tradeshow career with Willwork in September of 2016. Prior to that time, she had been in events ranging from fundraisers, brand activations and corporate meetings. She is currently a national account manager, and leads Willwork’s Austin, Texas, division. During the pandemic, she has transitioned to new sales in retail, while maintaining existing relationships, and leading social media posts. She helped establish the EDPA Texas chapter, and currently serves as its vice president. She is part of EDPA’s class of 2020 Future Leaders, and is serving on the board of directors of EACA. She is passionate about industry advocacy and mental health, and has helped organize and host webinars on those subjects.
Shannon Cushing is a senior event manager, and has been employed by Willwork since her graduation from the top- ranked Rosen College of Hospitality Management at UCF. She has been involved with IAEE and MPI for the past ten years. During the pandemic, she has been more involved with retail. She received GBAC training, and is assisting and educating clients with “new/safe ways to bring events back … adapting to a ‘new normal’ that we as an industry are still trying to navigate.” She helped with the planning and producing of Mr. Olympia in December (one of the largest live, international events in the U.S. at the time). Cushing, along with the rest of the Orlando team is producing six events in June, several over the summer, and McLane, Mr. Olympia and the ATT Summit in the fall.
Kaitlyn Kewriga is the director of client services. At U. Mass Dartmouth, she was captain of the swimming and diving team, and graduated with a degree in marketing. She worked in hospitality before joining Willwork in May of 2013. She began her career as an event specialist, and progressed to account manager, then to account executive. Mentored by Franzen, she learned all aspects of operations, sales, accounting and administration prior to her present leadership position. During the pandemic, she pivoted to retail installations, becoming the main point of contact in real time, between customers and the field. During this period, she learned more about construction, and developed new processes and internal programs to better service customers. She continues to work with clients, account managers and account executives on current and future projects. Kewriga and her department are the glue that holds the office and field together, the critical link between the sale and the service.
It takes a team to create success: owners, employees, clients; field, office; men, women; … everyone. Those listed here are not all the women that work at Willwork, not even all of those in leadership positions … these are ones that added responsibilities, and shifted to new roles to help keep the company functioning. Willwork is keeping people working, in the field and in the office.
As Franzen explains, “The past 15 months have certainly been challenging for our industry and our organization. So many of us have adapted and changed in order to survive. We are so proud of our team and their ability and desire to rise to the challenge. Because of their extraordinary abilities, passion and dedication, we have not only survived, but know that we will continue to thrive.”
Willwork: Still here. Still working.
The cover photograph was taken by Paula McCallum, an account manager and graphics designer, who joined Willwork six years ago.