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Running The Show, With People As The Key

May 29, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

Ben Seidel smiles a lot and blushes a little when he recalls how he played solo trumpet in "The Star-Spangled Banner" before Game Six of the 1980 World Series.

That was back when George Brett was at third base for the Kansas City Royals, back when Seidel was a senior education major with the West Chester University Golden Rams marching band. And even though he had already started biking in his suit to a part-time desk clerk job at the West Chester Hotel - the university in Pennsylvania wouldn't allow cars on campus - he was still at heart a future music teacher.

"When I graduated, I was definitely a schoolteacher and I was just taking a part-time job in the industry," said Seidel, who would later teach high school band and coach sports for almost five years.

But that part-time job as a desk clerk was the first in what would be a career lasting more than two decades beginning in the hotel business, moving into the convention business, and, finally, the job as executive director of the Connecticut Convention Center.

"Running a convention center like this, a catalyst, an icon, a hub in a community - you've got to know the financial side, you've got to know the sales and marketing side, you've got to know what makes sense operationally and what doesn't - but the key to this is just people."

Seidel, 45, moved to Hartford in 2001 for the center's groundbreaking. He is a fast-talking, high-energy, industry-wonk-speaking manager who fidgets in his chair and spins his wedding ring on his finger when he gets excited. From his office window he can see the center's entire exhibit floor, when it isn't divided up. He is the kind of manager who says his success is the success of his team, that the team is only as good as its people, and that he's got good people.

"If you've got the right work ethic, it's fun," he said, before beginning one of his frequent run-on sentences. "If you don't like working long hours and overnights and that drive to see it come together and the staff work together and see that bride in tears [of joy] ... or a convention that leaves town and you've signed its contract for that next year - that's what it's all about."

In the run-up to the convention center's opening this week, Seidel looks out of his office window onto the sprawling exhibit floor and sees not just the product of his work, but the product of input of consultants and designers and meeting planners who know what works best, he said.

As a result, for instance, there's no halogen lighting - it's all fluorescent.

"Same light output, no heat," he said.

They've got incandescent lights so they can be dimmed - saving meeting planners the expense of bringing in temporary lighting. They've got decorative walls and columns that can be utilized instead of being covered up with pipe and drape - an additional meeting cost, he said.

But more than a well-designed building, the convention center is a catalyst for tourism and investment in the city's heart, Seidel said. And even though most people think "tourism" and see suntan lotion, kids, waves and rides, Seidel thinks "tourism" and sees Hartford.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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