Courtney Deimel, Sr. Director of People at Red Frog Events, is passionate about a people first workplace culture, empowering individuals and teams to reach their potential, and continuing to help drive a purpose-driven company to new limits. She works alongside colleagues to bring bold practices to talent management and welcome change as Red Frog embarks on a significant growth curve.
1. Tell us a bit about the path you took to get where you are today professionally.
I graduated from Michigan in 2008 as a double major in Communication Studies and Psychology. I knew I loved working with people, understanding human behavior and really enjoyed my event planning internships. Therefore, I moved with a handful of fellow Michigan grads to Chicago with one catch—I didn't have a job. Jobs were hard to come by in 2008 and if you had one you were considered very lucky.
In hindsight, I'm so grateful it happened that way. The reason I say that is because not having a job meant I had to be creative and think outside the box. It challenged me to say "yes" to new opportunities, do things I enjoyed and do a variety of those things to make ends meet. I learned to be resilient, get comfortable navigating uncertainty and to take chances. For two years, I babysat for a handful of families while interning in various event-related positions. I worked in environments I hated. I worked in environments I absolutely loved. I learned wedding planning wasn't for me (although I love weddings).
My first moment of clarity around my career was working for the Chicago 2016 Olympic Bid Committee. I loved my co-workers. I loved the collaboration of so many talented people rallying around one goal of bringing the olympic games to Chicago. It was innovative, fun, challenging and short-lived. We didn't get the games and I was, once again, looking for a job and babysitting. A few months later, I found another internship (number 5 for those counting). It was for a very small start-up called Red Frog Events. I was asked to tell them about my favorite snack in my refrigerator and think of one thing I would personally add to their office. "Hummus" and "I don't think you can fit anything else" were my answers and a week later they offered me the position. I took one month to decide because I was determined to find a full-time position. How can someone have five internships two years out of college and still not have a full-time job? Plus, I just came from an office overlooking Millennium Park that had all the bells and whistles. Red Frog had missing pieces to their carpet but the people I met were incredibly nice.
I trusted my "say yes to opportunities" philosophy one more time and here I am (7 years later) still at Red Frog Events and loving every minute of it. I currently work with a very talented team of people, managing our People Department. I spent the first few years planning events but took a greater interest in making sure our people were taken care of as we were growing at a breakneck pace. In particular, my passion lies within organizational development, change management, career growth planning, company culture, making HR more about what you can do and less about what you can't do and everything in between.
2. What U-M classes or extracurricular activities did you find particularly helpful in your job field?
All of them! I genuinely mean all of them because life is about experiencing new things, meeting new people, being challenged by your beliefs and ideas and pushed outside your comfort zone to grow. There have been so many times throughout my career when I've recalled different experiences from the activities I was involved in at Michigan, the coursework, or the people I met.
I went to Michigan because I wanted to play varsity water polo. I was approved to try out as a "walk-on" and spent a few months part of the team during try-outs. I didn't make it. Neither did my roommate. We walked out of the pool that day and cried, probably ate a pint of ice cream and then decided we weren't going to let someone tell us we were done playing water polo. By November of our freshman year, we had an approved club team, a coach, and a handful of players. We started fundraising for tournaments, requested pool time for practices, and slowly but surely built the women's club water polo team that still exists today. This experience has been helpful across so many areas of my job and my life. It was a test of how badly you want something in life. Water polo meant everything to me at the time and, sometimes, it takes losing something you love to know how much it means to you. I learned to be resilient and work with grit.
In addition, I joined the Alpha Delta Pi sorority and American Advertising Federation. They are both great organizations as well!
3. When did you know what field you wanted to go into? What experiences led you there?
Honestly, I don't think I've really ever identified with a "field" in the traditional sense. At Red Frog, I've been working with employees to reshape the way we talk about jobs, professions, titles, and career paths. I'm challenging us to think more about what impact we want to be making. I believe our workforce is moving into a new economy. In fact, I've been really involved with the "purpose movement" based on a book written by another fellow Michigan graduate, Aaron Hurst. He wrote a book called The Purpose Economy based on research around what work looks like today and where it is headed.
More than ever, he identified that people are more interested in the type of impact they are making than their title or their field. I spent a week in September with Aaron and his team from Imperative getting trained to be a purpose leader. They have created amazing tools and assessments around purpose types. I'm an "empowerer," which means my imperative is to empower communities to realize their potential. Therefore, to answer your question more directly, I identify more with the impact I want to have on Red Frog and am motivated to impact the organization by building workplace practices that engage and retain Red Froggers.
4. Describe a day-in-the-life at work.
Oh my goodness. As you can tell, I'm not one to have simple answers and nothing about my day is the same as the previous day. I'll try to keep this one simple. Red Frog Events has 75 employees and we also hire hundreds of event staff throughout the year which falls within the people team. This week, as an example, I've rolled out new company values (7 month project), created a new workflow for how we identify event staff needs and hire them, continued a project identifying Red Frog's standard for "fit" per employee type that we hire, played a game of foosball (it's tournament season right now!), met with a few individuals I manage on general updates, and hired two new people who will join Red Frog on Monday.
5. What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
Hands down, it's the company and values we stand for at Red Frog. Our CEOs are amazing people that get how to run a company with compassion and a genuine care for people. It translates throughout the entire company and is the reason I work alongside talented people that have an incredible amount of grit and heart. In addition, we have committed fundraising $25 million to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and have since helped St. Jude open the "St. Jude Red Frog Events Proton Therapy Center." It's the one and only proton therapy treatment solely dedicated to children. They opened the center in November 2015 and we just took the entire company down there last month to visit and see their impact. St. Jude is doing groundbreaking research and treatment. I'm so proud to be part of a company that not only sees the value in its people, but also the value in being an active participant in society.
6. How has a degree in Communication Studies from U-M benefited your career?
Everyone should be a Communication Studies major! At the end of the day, communication is at the heart of everything. It's a very powerful tool and frame of reference when it comes to so many roles, fields, industries, etc.. It's helped me build key skills in collaborating, taking time to understand multiple perspective and empowering teams (and organizations) to work productively towards a common goal.
7. What is your favorite U-M memory?
It's hard to pick just one. In the moment, I'm recalling nights at The Brown Jug playing quarters, water polo practices at Canham Natatorium, meeting so many of my close friends in South Quad freshman year, and late night pizza at Bell's.
8. What is one piece of advice you would give to students looking to pursue a career in your field?
My advice applies to any field and it's to say "yes" to opportunities. Will you learn something new? Will you gain a new perspective? Do you think you could have fun doing it or at least enjoy your time with the people you'd work next to? If your answers are "yes," then take the opportunity and do it until those questions aren't true for you anymore. I promise it will lead you to finding the type of impact that motivates you to get up each morning before your alarm and keep a notepad next to your bed so you can write down the ideas in your head before you fall asleep.