DEI Advisors Podcast

Antonia Sisti_ President & Executive Producer_ GO Productions

July 09, 2024 David Kong
Antonia Sisti_ President & Executive Producer_ GO Productions
DEI Advisors Podcast
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DEI Advisors Podcast
Antonia Sisti_ President & Executive Producer_ GO Productions
Jul 09, 2024
David Kong

Antonia Sisti, the founder, owner, and president of Go Productions, shares her journey of building her company and offers valuable advice to aspiring entrepreneurs. In our conversation, she emphasizes the importance of taking risks and details her approach to overcoming challenges, drawing strength and resilience to prevail over setbacks.

Antonia provides her thoughts on Imposter Syndrome and offers advice on achieving work-life harmony. She also shares her insights on the most admired leadership qualities and how she cultivated a strong and loyal team.

Don't miss her perspective on finding creative inspiration and her advice on self-empowerment.

Show Notes Transcript

Antonia Sisti, the founder, owner, and president of Go Productions, shares her journey of building her company and offers valuable advice to aspiring entrepreneurs. In our conversation, she emphasizes the importance of taking risks and details her approach to overcoming challenges, drawing strength and resilience to prevail over setbacks.

Antonia provides her thoughts on Imposter Syndrome and offers advice on achieving work-life harmony. She also shares her insights on the most admired leadership qualities and how she cultivated a strong and loyal team.

Don't miss her perspective on finding creative inspiration and her advice on self-empowerment.

David Kong:

Greetings. I'm David Kong, the founder and principal of DEI Advisors. Today, I'm delighted to welcome my good friend and also the founder, owner, and president of GO Productions, Antonia Sisti. Antonia, it's great to have you on our show.

Antonia Sisti:

Thank you, David. I'm truly honored that you asked me to participate, so thank you.

David Kong:

It's wonderful to have you. Now, Antonia, you founded GO Productions in 2006, right? You have produced the Best Western convention ever since. And you've also helped lots of very well known companies like GE, Brookfield, Morgan Stanley and others do their events. Can you tell us your journey in building Go productions?

Antonia Sisti:

I would be happy to. I started in film and television, from high school. I had an interest in those fields and then it carried over to college where I studied, film and TV. And I majored in communications at Adelphi University on Long Island. My father was a professor there, so we went for free. So we had no choice. So that's where I was going. Out of college, I worked as a freelance, what we call PA, which is a production assistant, the lowest position possible, but I was thrilled to be able to get work on any production. in and around the New York City area. I grew up out on Long Island. I currently live in New York City. And I worked on the production side as well as the acting side as well. But I have to say production will really test you. Long hours, Really low pay especially starting out. Expectations are very high, even for the smallest task that a production assistant would be doing. So it taught me a very strong work ethic. And also for any production, big or small, it taught me that every person was valuable on that project. It didn't matter what you were doing. You had to be at your best to make that a success. So there was a real sense of teamwork and community in the production world. Then I had a college friend who was working for a company that worked in corporate theater is what we called it. Back then and asked if I was available for, particular project. I can't remember exactly what it was, but he said, Oh, the pay, the PA pay was 125 per day. I was probably making about 75 a day on a TV and film. For 16, 18 hours a day. And I thought, Oh my gosh, 125. That's amazing. I'm in. So that's how I made my way into corporate theater from then on. I worked as a freelancer for all the big production companies in New York city, moving up the ladder from PA to coordinator, associate producer, executive producer. And at one of the companies I had a long standing client that I was working for And they just were tired of dealing with a big production company and they said, can we hire you directly? But the company I was working for at the time they taught me a lot They honed my skills So I approached one of the owners and I told them what the client had asked because you don't want to steal a client Certainly, so I basically, got his blessing. He said go for it. So I was basically forced to start my company because having to, wanting to work directly with the client, I had to. Form a company, get insurance. So I had to learn that business aspect very quickly. So I'd say after 20 years, I'm still learning the business aspect of all of it.

David Kong:

No, you do an outstanding job. I don't know what are you still learning? You probably teach this line of work. You're amazing at what you do. Very impressed with all the work that you've done for us at Best Western over the years. Now let's talk about the Challenges that you faced over the years. No doubt, especially as an entrepreneur, you face many challenges. What is your general approach?

Antonia Sisti:

I'm not sure if it's like in every field, but again, going back to what I learned in production, particularly you have to prepare for the worst case scenario on every aspect, not just a plan B, but a plan C, a plan D, et cetera. Particularly when it comes to live events, timing on everything is critical. If the equipment truck doesn't show up on time, what's the move? If a crew member gets sick, what's the next move? You get the idea. I certainly didn't want to go to you and say, David, I have no equipment. Can you move the show by four days? That's, that is not an option. And also, we did some events in Hawaii and remote locations. So in that case, it makes it even more difficult. So you have to have that. Plan B, C, D, E, and my, my father taught me chess when I was young and we used to play a lot. So I think that actually helped me with the thought process. Always trying to figure out a few steps ahead. So that's always a few steps ahead.

David Kong:

I remember quite a few times where there were contingencies and you always had a plan for them. Kudos to you. That's great. I had to. I had no choice. Desperation is a good motivator, David. I don't mean desperation in a bad way, in sports, I know that they're the desperate team. You got to watch out for them, right? That is a motivation. Yeah. Let's talk the setbacks and disappointments we've all encountered. How do you generally find strength and resilience to prevail? I hate to be cliche, but. You get knocked down, you get back up again. And as I said, a moment ago, you just, you have no choice. And I asked this of my team too. If I say I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it. When I give my word or make a promise, whether it's to myself or to a client, For me, there's no choice but to stick to it and get it done no matter what. So the strength obviously comes from within. The support system I think is so key, whether it's family, friends, colleagues. Whomever I would say they, they really give me the most strength in challenging times. No doubt. You said two very important things. One is to believe in yourself because when you get knocked down, how do you get back up? And that's, you believe in yourself. That's really important. And then secondly, having a strong team behind you to support you. That's also important. Now you alluded to this earlier, you became an entrepreneur because you had a client who wanted you to produce the show for them. But you must have thought about wanting to be an entrepreneur and you eventually became an entrepreneur. Tell us how you chose to become an entrepreneur. I always think I know better than everyone else. So I guess it was natural for me to be in charge, I never had a staff job. I was always freelance. I guess that's a natural progression anyway, when you're freelance, to me, that is an entrepreneur in a way, even though it's not a full on business structure, you're still, the business is you at that point. So having since college always had that freelance mentality. I think I had that mindset to begin with. I'd say, and of course, the client and I thank them from the bottom of my heart said here, if you do this, we believe in you, you do it. And it just happened. I never sat back and thought I want to own my own business one day. That's why I think it's also important for your audience too. It doesn't matter what field you're in, it could turn into that opportunity to start your own business. Even if you don't have a business degree, I didn't have a business degree. I, majored in liberal arts, so you just never know where it's going to take you. And I've been quite fortunate. And again, I thank that client for forcing me to do that. It's definitely a risky endeavor to start your own business, but for me, it was definitely the right thing. Decision. I did feel like I needed to be in charge now. You've been an entrepreneur for almost 20 years now. So what are some of the important ingredients to being successful? You really have to, Love or have a passion for what you're doing and then everything follows from there, you know There's certainly challenges, but if you love what you're doing, that's important. I have this conversation With my nephew a lot. He's he just turned 30. He has a very good job here in the city, but he keeps asking me for ideas on what kind of business he should start. And I say this, I say it should start with something you have an interest in and a passion for and you have to put in the time. I feel like a little bit, I don't mean to sound like the old lady here, but a little bit with the younger generation, it, everything is so instantaneous now. They want that instantaneous gratification that you're starting a business, and I think he's heard those rare stories where someone starts a business at 20 and then in a week, they're, a millionaire, but it doesn't work like that. I don't want to be the downer to your audience, but you really, you have to have a passion for what you're doing. You have to put in the time and you have to soak it all in. You have to gain the experience too. I think it's very important in whatever field it is. That's good advice. Look at David, you started, I remember you started one of my, the best stories, which inspired me. You started as a busboy, immigrant from Hong Kong, and look at you, the work ethic is key also. Yeah, no, no doubt. The work ethic plays a huge part in becoming successful. But all the things that you said having a good support network and having the right opportunity. All those things are also important. Yes, luck. Luck is in there. luck for sure. For sure. Luck is in there. Also be open. I think to those around you who have more experience, when you're first starting out, or listen to what they have to say. Watch what they're doing. how they work, whether you agree or disagree with the style or what they're saying, you learn a lot from that too. And that's how you develop your own style as well. So for sure. Yeah, for sure. You learn what to do and what not to do. The latter is probably more important. You said earlier the importance of taking risk. And I'm reminded of the saying you can't get anywhere in life without taking risk. What is your perspective? And tell us about some of the risks that you've taken. I do think that's true. I think you do have to take risks and definitely being an entrepreneur is a risky endeavor. When I made that move I knew if it didn't work out, my chance of getting hired again at any of the production companies that I had been working for was going to be very low because now I was the competition. And rightfully so people would be leery. To hire me. It had to work or I was going to be in trouble. So that was, that was definitely risky, but I had confidence. Or maybe I was naive or a little bit of both. And starting your own business is one of those things where whatever you think is going to happen, rarely does. So it's a constant learning process all along the way. But the risk was worth it. I'm thrilled I did it, but it does take a certain personality to want to do that, too. Yeah, many of the leaders that we've interviewed had talked about importance of taking risks. Basically, their points were, number one, it broadens your horizon. And number two, you always learn. Even if it was a failure, you learn from it, you become a better person. Exactly. Exactly. There's a funny story. My husband was also an entrepreneur. He and his brother started a media design firm a few years before I had my company. So again, watching what others do and learning from them that was important. So that gave me a lot of insight watching what they went through. But we had this funny story when they first started He, he came to me with this spreadsheet. He said, look, we created this spreadsheet for the new business and look how much money I'll make. And I don't have to work as much, as many hours as I normally do. So needless to say, that spreadsheet was very wrong. He spent weekends. Full days, didn't get any sleep, holidays, making that business work. So we still laugh about that. I think we have that spreadsheet somewhere in the house and we're going to have it framed at some point. So whatever you think is going to happen rarely does. And that's a good thing. I don't mean it as a scary thing. It's a good thing because you learn how to pivot. You learn how to, okay, how do I roll with this? What's, what do I do here? What's my next move, as I said earlier. That's right. Now, Antonia, a compliment to you is you always make the best Western conventions fresh and relevant, and I don't even know how you came up with all these ideas over the years. Conventions are never the same. Always exciting. Always fresh. I'm just curious. How do you find the inspiration to be so creative all the time? Corporate production, It's a very different world than theater, film, advertising, even, where creative teams have a little more leeway. Many corporate clients, they'll say, Oh, we want something different. We want something out of the box. We want to be creative. But in the end, they really don't, and they want to take the safe route. With Best Western it was not typical and you allowed us to be creative. I think I told you that many times. And I credit you for inspiring me and my team each year. So again, I go back to that team effort even in creativity. It's truly rare in my industry that we get to work with a visionary such as yourself. And I thank you for that truly. So for me and my process to be creative and come up with new ideas, it's Completely collaborative effort and not just between me and my team. Cause there are some terribly creative people on my team, but it's also between us and the end client. So that's very important. They have to be open and receptive to it. which Best Western was and is and you certainly were. So I was very fortunate that you were open to our ideas and you're also a creative person. So if you remember, we bounced ideas back and forth and that, that gives the inspiration. And even just in general, in my daily life, I'm always looking at, you know, Things around me, my environment, whether it's somebody on the street juggling or watching TV or just watching people go by, I think, Oh, that was pretty neat what they did. And you brought, you jotted down and you learn how to spin it to tailor it to the needs of your client too. So for me, that's. That's the fun part. But it does take an open client. Trust me. I imagine some of the most sdodgy clients probably would frown about things being too different, but for me, I really welcomed it because it was stimulating I was just so excited to work with you and your team Always coming up with fresh ideas, of course Antonia. You were always right in every argument. So You are recording this, right Talk about imposter syndrome, it's you know, this is a Problem that many of us in the underrepresented groups face, the negative self talk and thinking that we're not good enough, especially when we don't see the diversity around the table as a female entrepreneur. You probably face a fair amount of that negative self talk. How do you handle that? And what are some of the constructive things that you do? It's such a complex question but first off, I never felt like I didn't belong or didn't earn a seat at the table. And I always loved the Shirley Chisholm quote. If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair. But had that attitude to start, even in a room full of men. I never felt intimidated or out of place or I didn't belong. And I don't mean that in an arrogant way. I believe that attitude actually stems from my upbringing. You're probably going to think, I'm going to say I had a very strong mother, but I had a wonderful mother, but it actually came from my father's influence. He had a very commanding presence, very confident. And early on, he instilled in me that I should be independent. I don't want it to sound crass, but not take any bull. Probably because he knew it would be harder for me, but he never said it. Um, but he instilled that attitude in me. So that's why I felt like it doesn't matter that I'm a woman. We're all the same here. I think he just tried to make sure that I had the skillset to navigate that world. I came from a very traditional upbringing. My father was the breadwinner. My mother was the housewife. But he never made me think that because I was a girl, I couldn't achieve something. I thought that was very important from the beginning So now all that being said i'm not delusional and I realize, the underrepresented groups, Is a very real thing and a disturbing issue in many cases And along the way i've certainly been in situations where I had to work That much harder because I'm a woman. Thankfully my industry also has a lot of diversity. And I'll tell you a quick story. It was actually during a production for Best Western when we were in our production office and my art director, Y, turned to me and she said, look around this room. She said, I never really thought about it before, but she said, it is just wonderfully diverse in this room. There's white, black, Latino, Asian, young, old, gay, straight, all in one room. And she said, you hire such a diverse group. But actually, I think the interesting thing about that story is I never really noticed it before. And I think that was a great thing about it, that it was just, I just hired this mix of. incredibly talented, wonderful people. And isn't that what it should be? People should not be judged by the color of their skin, or gender, or sexual orientation, but by the content of their character. A great man said that. As far as what steps we can keep taking your organization, what the work you're doing with DEI advisors is crucial. The advice and access to advice that you give to underrepresented groups is pivotal in creating a path to success. And businesses should want to be diverse. I don't understand why you wouldn't want to be diverse. Isn't it just good business sense to have all these different cultures, points of view stories of life in a room. That would make your business better. It's just good business sense too. And also I live in New York city, one of the most, if not the most diverse cities in the world. So if you're not comfortable around a diverse group, you're not going to last here very long. And. Quite frankly, I think that's why New York City is so great because it's so diverse and you're exposed to so many different things. That's well said. And if I may offer an observation as to why you don't feel the imposter syndrome as much as other people, it's because you've already learned to embrace your unique self. You're a very unique person and you've learned to embrace it and be proud of it. And that is the constructive thing that we can all do to overcome the imposter syndrome. Yeah. Just embrace yourself. It's, that's what you're bringing to the table better than anyone else is yourself. Okay. Having a strong network is vitally important, especially in your line of work in selling trust and confidence and building a strong relationship, crucially important. Tell us what are some of the secrets that you have in building a strong network? It's not really a secret. Okay. I would think it was pretty obvious. I am, you have to be, and I am honest, sincere and ethical. So that's appealing to the people that I'm going to hire. I hire only the best of the best who are willing to give a hundred percent. So I would say my standards are high and given the nature of production, we have to trust one another or the project will not be successful. So building that. sense of trust within the network that I've established. I've been around a long time, so I know the people to hire. I get the best for my clients and they give the best and I give the best. So that's part of it. Experience is part of it and having a reputation. People know they can trust me. Same with the client relationship. We have to trust each other and I do everything possible to gain the client's trust. When a client trusts me, I take that personally. And I just, I can't let them down. So I also, Value that sense of trust with my network and my team. Okay. Let's talk about work life harmony. You have a very demanding job and you travel the world. How do you manage the demands at home? I'm laughing. That's a tough one. If I'm answering honestly, which I think you want me to do when you're an entrepreneur and have your own business. It's very difficult to achieve that work life balance. Everybody talks about I don't think I've ever put an out of office reply on my email. I'm pretty sure I've never done that. When a client emails me, I email them back no matter what vacation I'm trying to take. Because I also knew that would differentiate myself and help form my successful business and build that trust with the client. They knew they could count on me whenever, wherever. But that being said, I certainly have moments when I have more downtime and less busy than others. So I do try to take advantage of that. And it's not just an entrepreneur. You can certainly speak to this, David. When you have those kinds of demands it's very hard to get that balance, you know, in the work life. That being said, I love my work, so I feel like I do have harmony. But I heard one of your interviewee, One of your podcasts say that it was not so much about achieving a balance, but rather being 100 percent present in whatever moment that she was in. So whether it was with family or in a business meeting whatever it was, she gave a hundred percent of her attention at that moment. So that put her in the moment so she could enjoy it and not thinking about, tomorrow or the next meeting four hours later. So I thought that was really great advice. I'm going to try to do that. So see, I'm learning from DEI advisors. I thought that was a great piece of advice she had. That was brilliant. And I remember that comment. And when I heard that I thought about you cause you always gave everything your a hundred percent. Whether it's at work or other hobbies, you always give it a hundred percent. You're living it already. No wonder you have such good harmony. Now you work with many leaders up close and personal, and you've had a chance to observe them. What are some of the qualities that you most admire? I have actually been very fortunate to work with some very impressive leaders. Certainly you being one of them, David you've had more impact on me than I think. I think you truly realize, but I think the best leaders lead through example, they walk the talk. They just don't tell people what to do. They actually have the same high work ethic that they expect from from their team. And they also work harder than anyone else. I noticed that with you as well. And you were always so calm and meticulous with your thought process. You never need your one answer. I'm a little guilty of that. So I always try to remember that. Take a step back, just Be thoughtful. So thoughtfulness, I think, is another quality that's impressive. And also great leaders inspire. So that's certainly a quality that I admire very much. And you inspired me as well. Oh gosh, you're just way too kind. It's true. I'm not kind. David, you know I'm not kind. It's true. No, thank you. I appreciate that. Now, you have also built a very strong and loyal team. They are very dedicated to you and their work ethic is just incredible. And, obviously you inspire all that because I've seen you at work, you're up, all hours of the day and night. What are some of the other things that you do to cultivate such a strong and loyal team? David, I really try to make sure that the team feels appreciated for the work they do. Cause they're also giving their time and their lives to the work on a project for me and my team has made up a lot of freelancers who are the best in the industry and they could, they had the pick and choose of whatever project they want to work on. When they rearrange their schedules to work on something for me. I'm really appreciative of that. And I don't mean that from just a monetary sense. Because I think a genuine thank you goes a long way. So I always try to take time after a project, during a project to say thank you as a group or individually or both to the team. And my team also knows that I have their back and they have mine. So again, that trust. As I said before, I think leading by example is crucial. when we're all on a project together, I'll jump in wherever, whatever. I have no ego with that. We're all just trying to get the job done and the team sees that. So they do the same. And I used to love it when you said the best Western convention was like a family reunion. A lot of us on that team, we don't work together often throughout the year. So we feel the same way. So when we come to that show, it's like a big family reunion. And for me, it's that sense of family again, that going back to family, teamwork, community that's really important. And that's the approach I try to take that we're, one big family together. That's well said. You created that feeling that they're all in it together, and it's one big family that's loyal and supportive of one another. You've done a marvelous job. Antonia, you've come a long way. And looking back, when you first started in the business, what's the advice that you offer to your younger self? Don't sweat the little things. I think ultimately the little things don't matter. You're so right. Yeah, I try to remember that too. Some of us are perfectionists, right? But it's the little things when you're younger that seems so big. Ultimately won't have that much of an impact. And also don't be afraid to experiment and try new things. You've got time to figure it out, right? Okay. We're coming to the end of the show and I want to ask you one last question. Our show is about self empowerment. What's your final advice on self empowerment? Stand up for yourself. Earn respect and then demand it. Stand up for yourself, earn respect, and demand it. Such great advice. I love that. I absolutely love that. What a great way to end the show. Thank you so much, Antonia. Appreciate having you on the show. I can't thank you enough, to the audience, if you enjoyed this show, I hope you'll join us on our website, deiadvisors. org. We hope to see you there. Thanks again, Antonia. Thank you, David. Always a pleasure to see you. Same here.