Perseverance pays off for young alumna
Jenna Ricupero ’09 was recognized recently by the International Association of Venue Managers by being named to the 30 Under 30 Class of 2016.
The International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM)’s program was created to engage “the best and brightest young professionals in the venue management industry by recognizing emerging leaders – and their talents – which help to accelerate the industry and carry it into the future.”
In order to be selected, each candidate is nominated by another industry professional and is then required to submit a video application that is reviewed and scored by select industry leaders and trustees.
Ricupero currently serves as director of catering sales for the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland and Global Center for Health Innovation/Levy Restaurants.
She was nominated for 30 Under 30 by the Levy restaurants division president.
“I think the reason I was nominated is because I was selected as a top sales performer last year. We had a record year,” Ricupero said.
The 30 Under 30 Class of 2016 convened for the first time at VenueConnect, IAVM’s annual conference and trade show held July 23-26 in Minneapolis.
“Once you are in the industry and land the first job, you are fine,” she said. “But our industry is tough. There is a lot you can’t learn from a textbook and that is why the field experiences are so important.”
Ricupero said her journey to Bowling Green State University followed a family tradition.
“My siblings chose BGSU,” she said. “We are a very close family — I’m number four of five.”
She attended the University with two of her siblings, and even roomed with her sister after dorm life.
While at BGSU, Ricupero attended an event planner expo. She took a resume, wore a suit and handed resumes to the attendees, not the exhibitors. She was told that she didn’t have any of the required experience but that didn’t stop her from pursuing her dream.
Ricupero said that the practicums and internships pushed her toward the real world and made her a more attractive candidate for the entry-level positions.
“I took advantage of the summers and worked at different venues for different companies, volunteering and getting paid,” she said.
Ricupero collected business cards and called everyone she had met at the expo. As a follow-up, she sent shoes to potential interviewers in a box with a note that said “now that I have my foot in the door.”
“I bought plain white Keds and laced my cover letter with shoe imagery,” she said. “I boxed them up and sent them out.”
In response to her bold move, she even received a call for an interview at one company even though they didn’t have an opening.
“One lady from the CVB [Convention and Visitors Bureau] contacted me and let me know about a great job opening and that is how I got my first job,” Ricupero said.
After graduating in May 2009 with a degree in tourism, leisure and event planning, Ricupero began working for a local catering company. She dedicated four years to the company before it suddenly closed, and she was out of a job. Despite the abrupt change, she had built a strong professional network during her four years at the caterer.
While working her first job, Ricupero often passed the construction site for a multimillion-dollar convention center that opened in 2013. She reached out to the satellite office multiple times asking about job opportunities because she knew she wanted to work there. When applying for the job, she contacted her previous employer who contacted her current boss and suggested giving her an interview.
“Losing the first job was a blessing in disguise because I was able to land my dream job,” Ricupero said.
She manages the food and beverage component of all events that occur in the two buildings. She works directly with the organization or convention that comes in with a budget and an overview of their program to talk about concerns. Menus are curated to reflect the convention theme; the culinary team creates specialty meals and healthy options for people to stay fueled all day.
“I get to experience a lot of cool events and talk about food all day,” Ricupero said.
One of the most important events she is currently involved with is the planning of her own wedding to Falcon Flame Russ Sinkewich ’09, who played hockey while attending BGSU.
She also notes the qualities needed to be successful in the industry: being flexible, progressive and self-driven.
“Especially when you are leading a department, being detail oriented is important, especially with events, because one small miscommunication can create a huge mistake,” she said.
Being recognized by the IAVM and her boss, who also graduated from BGSU, means a lot to Ricupero.
“Levy is a massive, global company and even to be recognized by a division president, then to be among the finalists at IAVM (industry wide) is a huge honor,” she said. “I was so surprised I was selected. The competition is fierce.”
Ricupero shared some advice for future professionals in the industry.
“Don’t be discouraged by not having a traditional major,” she said. “I received discouraging comments by some people that didn’t understand the TLEP major. It doesn’t mean we aren’t getting a quality education; they are just uninformed about the industry. Don’t let that be a decision maker. Follow your passion.”