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Powerful Women: Let's Talk - 94: Meghan Distel

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Meghan Distel

Meghan Distel, President and CEO of Broadway Grand Rapids, joins Shelley Irwin on this edition of Powerful Women: Let's Talk

Meghan Distel is the President and CEO of Broadway Grand Rapids. Her career began in sales and her background shaped and readied her for this leadership role. She credits much of her success to her mentor father and her competitive spirit in athletics. Meghan joins us on this episode of Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.


Full Transcript:

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>> Produced by women about women. Powerful Women, Let's Talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world, transforming who we are and how we live.

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Shelley Irwin: She helped to grow and nurture Broadway Grand Rapids as marketing director and now assumes the role of president and CEO Meghan Distel began her business study at MSU’s Brode College and has crafted her niche in sales and marketing to her present-day success she’s balanced with a supportive family and the love for the outdoors yet as an athlete, she did break her nose during the high jump. So welcome Megan to this edition of Powerful Women Let’s Talk.

Meghan Distel: Thank you! Thank you and yes that is a funny story and yes, I did break my nose. My only bone that I've broken and did it in the high jump. I got cracked right in the nose with a standard and I took a trip right to the hospital. So, yeah, that was interesting.

Shelley Irwin: My follow-up was, did you make the jump?

Meghan Distel: I didn't make the jump because in hitting the crossbar and kicking the standard, it came right back and hit me in the face so nope, didn’t make that one.

Shelley Irwin: Alright. Well, more fun facts to follow so, the Megan Dream Show Broadway Grand Rapids, and I'll say congratulations on your success, I mean.

Meghan Distel: It's been incredible. I mean, since I've been on board the last 11 years, I've seen some incredible growth. We've quadrupled season tickets sales, you know, community partnerships and sponsorships and seen the very best of Broadway to come to our community. So, I feel so fortunate and so rewarded to be a part of the organization during this this last decade, it truly has been an amazing experience and as I said, very, very rewarding.

Shelley Irwin: Okay, let's take you back to the young Megan. Did you grow up in a business family or a sales family where did you get this drive?

Meghan Distel: Well, my dad actually was in sales. My dad was a bit of a Jack of all trades. He played college football and then he went into the insurance business and he actually got a master's in engineering. He had a lot of different passions and he was a glass half full kind of guy, very positive and a role model for me in terms of just building relationships and how impactful that can be in your life so that probably is where I first developed an interest in just working with people. But, like most people a path is not always straight and as I arrived at Michigan State for college, I had a lot of different ideas about what I might want to do. The first being, I originally thought I wanted to go into French studies and become a French teacher. I had a really inspirational teacher in high school who instilled a love of French culture and language in me and so when I got Michigan State, that's sort of the direction that I wanted to go and my parents, you know, thought that was great but, you know what else maybe could you do with that French degree? And so I started looking into maybe some communications, you know, areas psychology and I ended up deciding to get into the business school in Michigan State's known for their hotel restaurant management program. So I was in that for a short bit and I ultimately ended with a marketing degree and that was a really good way to kind of bring together a lot of my interests in studying people and what makes, them want to buy and businesses how they can market their products to people but, all along the way I continued with those French studies because that was something that was really important and I felt really passionate about and so I ended up with a minor in French and my first job out of college, which is interesting, my dad had this idea that I create my resume in English on one side and French on the other, which I was laughing. I did that but, at the time in 1992, you know, we really weren't even using the Internet to apply for jobs. You're sending your resume and I wanted to make a difference and stand out with my application. So, my first job was actually working for GM of Canada, well really the Cadillac headquarters in downtown Detroit but, they had an area where they focused on GM of Canada, customer service and so they wanted me to use my French skills to people to talk to dealers and customers in French speaking Canada. So, I did end up using that French just a little bit in my career.

Shelley Irwin: Nice. Well, I know you've also spent time in Paris. We'll talk about that as well. So, I guess we’ll stay on the topic of sales. When did you land the job at Broadway Grand Rapids?

Meghan Distel: Well again I am on an unconventional path. So, this is actually something I'm really excited to talk about because as a woman who is balancing a family and a career, it's sometimes difficult to manage both and so I was in sales working for a medical supply company here in Grand Rapids. I made my way over to the West side of the state when I got married and was working in sales here and when I had my first child, my company didn't allow for part-time work and so it was, you know, balancing the full-time job with a new baby and then shortly thereafter, I got pregnant with twins and my twin pregnancy was a high-risk pregnancy. I was on bed rest for 4 months and once I had the twins, I had three kids under three and it just felt impossible to be able to juggle both at that time. So I took a bit of a hiatus and I was so fortunate to be able to do that. I mean, I know I'm lucky that I have a supportive spouse and that we were able to make that happen and I really feel fortunate but, I knew my career wasn't quite done. I mean, yeah. I always had a bit of a competitive spirit and a drive to, you know, to do more and knew that eventually I would get back and that's challenging for women, though, when you have this gap, how do you get back? And I really tried to stay involved in the community. I tried to get involved volunteering with things that were important to me while I was, you know, raising my young family I volunteered for the women's committee at the symphony working on the board of care ballet on doing the things that the PTA president and treasurer and all those things to try to keep me close involved with what my kids were also doing and all the while I kept just talking to people and trying to, you know, build my network and relationships in the community because I knew I did want to go back and about 9 years later. So again, I this unconventional path to a role like I'm in now and that I have this time that I wasn't working and I hope that that inspires people because I want women, particularly, I think struggle with that balance and knowing that it's not too late. It's not too late to go after a career and what you what you want in a fulfilling manner and so by talking to people, I ended up getting in contact with Mike Lloyd who had just taken over as the executive director at Broadway Grand Rapids and he was looking to launch a group sales program. We had no group sales program at a Broadway at the time and that's an opportunity to really grow ticket sales, of course and you know, I really met Mike through his wife Kathy, again, just being open minded to talking to people, building the network and he gave me an opportunity to come in and work in sales at Broadway and my path quickly changed because 6 months into that, our marketing director took another role and the marketing director position was open. So Mike and I went into his office after about 30 seconds and you know, Mike, he is somebody who has strong convictions and I knew I needed to be very convicted in my desire to move into the marketing role even though I didn't have all the skill sets maybe that were required at the time. I knew that I had the passion for the Arts, that I could do it and I just said I want this job and he said to me, “do you want my job?” He answered my question with “do you want my job?”

Shelley Irwin: What did you say?

Meghan Distel: Absolutely. I said absolutely and you know, that really started off our relationship where it was a mentorship and he coached me and gave me that opportunity. I'm forever grateful for that opportunity because I knew I could do it. I just needed a chance and I dug into the marketing role, learning everything that I could working alongside Mike. And once again I was so rewarded with the progress and development of Broadway Grand Rapids into what it is today.

Shelley Irwin: Wow, congratulations because I guess as we look at what to recommend for the younger Megan, ask for what you may want.

Meghan Distel: Right. Right and don't be afraid to, I mean, I think there’s self-doubt after you haven't been working for a while. You feel like technology has surpassed you or that maybe you're not going to be given that opportunity, but just going out and you know, there's nothing that takes place of hard work and of passion and if you believe in what you're doing and you can find that then, it's really not even work, right? I mean, I do have a such a strong passion for the arts, I always have and this job feels like a dream come true because of that.

Shelley Irwin: Nice. Congratulations again to you.

Meghan Distel: Thank you.

Shelley Irwin: But yet you high jump and are a runner and participate in other competitive sports. How does that shape your life today? Not that you're pushing shoving and getting people out of the way but, the athletic performance must-

Meghan Distel: You know for sure, as a young girl being involved in sports, I mean, you learn the value of teamwork. You learn the value of setting goals and you know, collaborating and communicating with your teammates and working individually but, for a greater good and for a greater purpose of, you know, winning a game or contributing to the team and so those skills are so translatable, of course, to any business and really even to the arts, right. You know, you can't really just have you know, there are stars in shows but you know, the show does not go on without the ensemble, without the crew and without the team of creatives that make it all happen. So, I think there's a lot of lessons that I took from being a young athlete and being in a competitive house and an interestingly I'm the youngest in my family, my older brother and sister actually are more athletic and very, very competitive, I was less competitive as a kid. Really I was in sports but, I actually started getting gravitating towards the arts, particularly when I got to high school and started just, you know, that became maybe it was studying the French maybe, you know, it was studying art that led me to that but probably was seeing my first Broadway show.

Shelley Irwin: Which was?

Meghan Distel: Annie when I was 8 years old, I went down to the Fisher and you know, maybe it was that you that show in particular as an 8 year-old about 8 year olds or I don't know how old they are in the show but, obviously when you see yourself and you can see yourself on stage in a story, you know, for sure it resonated with me. And you know, I walked away like on the edge of my seat with the music in my head.

Shelley Irwin: Wanting red hair?

Meghan Distel: Yeah, I mean, right and also my mom was very you know, she loved Audrey Hepburn. We watched My Fair Lady, we watched West Side Story. I grew up watching musical theater on TV. Whatever movie renditions that there were Sound of Music and that was something that I think also just sort of instilled in me, a love of music and musicals and as I grew, I wish more than anything that I had talent but you know, unfortunately I wasn't gifted with a voice or the ability to dance and so, you know, I just became a huge fan. And I would actually in high school, go see other high school musicals. That's a great way to get exposed for people who maybe haven't the means to go see a Broadway show, which is which is something we're working on also to create accessibility but, you know, just when I go into a theater and you know, you start to hear the orchestra. I almost start to choke up if there's something that really is powerful to me. When you see something unfold on stage from the beginning to the end you know, it does change. It's life changing to me and can be life changing for people and for youth. And so like I said, this is a dream come true to be able to be leading the organization now.

Shelley Irwin: Never too late to get on stage Megan.

Meghan Distel: It’s on my bucket list Shelley, it actually is.

Shelley Irwin: Bucket lists are good. More fun facts. Please, how about this backpacking in Europe and what that did to you?

Meghan Distel: Well, I think travel is again I’m fortunate to be able to travel but with backpacking, you're doing it on the cheap in staying in hostels and taking rails around, that's before you know, you were flying places, but today it seems like kids are just hopping on planes and going. But, you know, when I did, I did study in Paris. I lived there for 6 months and when I was in college I had the opportunity at the end of my study to a backpack for 2 weeks around Europe and you know, there is something about being vulnerable in another country and being able to, you know, really just problem solve, you have to. You're learning about new cultures, you're kind of learning about yourself, you really are and reflecting on what you know and what the people you meet what their experiences have been. It' so educational, it's so incredible to me. It's almost more educational than traditional learning and books. I mean, you’re talking to new people from other parts of the world. So I really enjoyed the experience in getting to visit a lot of different countries and then after college I decided to do it again before I entered the real world and I went with a friend and, you know, was able to again just live carefree for a few weeks and we hit a new city when we decided to and got on a train and stay in a hostel and this is before phones. This is before. You know, and I do think about that sometimes even my study abroad. I arrived in Paris with a huge duffel bag. No phone, and I took a cab to this family's house that was staying in and on a Saturday I was knocking on the door. Nobody answered. You know, speaking the language but I mean, you know, those experiences. They shape us so much and give us sort of courage being able to, you know, allow us to take risks and know that we’re learning something every step along the way.

Shelley Irwin: Nice. All right and that mom hat. Did the kids turn out OK?

Meghan Distel: Well, I think so. Yeah, they're all very great kids and honestly being a mom has actually taught me more than probably most things in life because every child, I have three and a dog, I don’t want to forget the dog You know, they all require something different. You know, they're not cookie cutter. You know, I'm really a different mom to each of them and what they need and that was some good advice I was given a long time ago is that you know what your son might need is going to be vastly different than what your daughter, you know, trying to listen learn, what is it that they need from you and that it also just they're going a million different directions. So being able to learn from just that experience has helped me I think be a better leader even with our team at Broadway and knowing that each of the team members need something a little different from me.

Shelley Irwin: What makes you laugh?

Meghan Distel: Well, you know, I'm kind of actually a serious person. It's funny. I mean, I do laugh, but-

Shelley Irwin: That’s why I asked the question.

Meghan Distel: I know. So you can tell but, no, I am actually a bit of an introvert, but it’s people that make me laugh, right and you know, just like like art or theater different things mean a humor, you know, makes I mean, we all have to find different things humorous but, it’s my sister. I mean, she makes me laugh like no one and my close friends and I think it's because when you have a shared history, you have your shared inside jokes. That's where I start the belly laugh and my sister is extremely witty and just a razor sharp, quick wit and I love nothing more than being with her and laughing and that, yeah, I'd say it's the people and that's because when they when they know you, when you know someone intimately, they you know, they get you.

Shelley Irwin: Yeah. Well, obviously you have a new season, a long way away but, do you have a dream show as the president and CEO Broadway Grand Rapids you could bring in for us?

Meghan Distel: Well, I think, you know, that's changing all the time because creatives are working all the time and developing new show and before we had Wicked, it was we're going to have Wicked here and before we had Hamilton, it was we're going to bring Hamilton and you know, I think we've really built this program and when you build it, they will come out just like the field of dreams. It's been amazing to see that we're now having the ability to fill Devos Performance Hall for three weeks, you know, with these shows and So, you know, there's always going to another show that we want to bring here. A new one that's out or that's coming out. I hope that we can have some plays. I'd love to see to Kill a Mockingbird, I'd love to see just critically acclaimed shows. I'm always going to be looking for a mix because I know Grand Rapids is our community not one show is going to appeal to everybody. So when we look at our seasons, we want to always have something that's for families and something that's critically acclaimed and something that's brand new from Broadway that's, you know, Tony award-winning and that's funny. We open with Tootsie and Tootsie is a comedy. It is absolutely, you know, just a really fun and funny show and it's done really well on stage and so just having a mix to entertain and to inspire.

Shelley Irwin: Great. Why support the arts here in West Michigan?

Meghan Distel: You know, the arts without art, I think our lives would be so, so boring in some ways. I mean, you know, the arts teach us about humanity. They inspire, they teach, they educate and I think the change lives and supporting the arts enriches our community it’s an economic impact, it also brings people here and it really to me just supporting the arts improves quality of life.

Shelley Irwin: We should go out in song but, we won't. Broadway Grand Rapids, you President and CEO Meghan Distel, thank you. You are a Powerful Woman, Let’s Talk.

Meghan Distel: Thank you so much, I appreciate you having me.

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>> Produced by women about women. These powerful podcasts focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more Powerful Women, Let's Talk? Get additional interviews at WGVU.ORG or wherever you get your podcasts. Please rate and subscribe. Powerful Women, Let’s Talk is produced by WGVU at the Meijer Public Broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University. The views and opinions expressed on this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU, its underwriters or Grand Valley State University.

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Shelley Irwin is the host and producer for The WGVU Morning Show, a newsmagazine talk-show format on the local NPR affiliate Monday through Friday. The show, broadcast from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. features a wide variety of local and national newsmakers, plus special features.
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