Dynamic couple making their mark in event planning
“Twenty-four-hour party people” is not only a great movie title, but it turns out to be a rewarding career, too, especially for married couple Rakshitha “Rax” Suresh and her partner, Sagar Irakal. They both completed Centennial’s Event Management program and parlayed their knowledge into their own business that’s making its mark.
Born in India, Suresh pursued a triple major in media studies, psychology and literature in a university in Bangalore. Her intense studies earned her an internship at J. Walter Thompson, one of India’s top advertising agencies.
“They gave me the assignment of organizing a global investors conference, which drew 60,000 participants! Imagine planning for that many guests,” she smiles. It was her first introduction to event management and Suresh was hooked. After graduating, Suresh joined a small event-planning firm in Bangalore, where she was asked to coordinate international events for A-list firms such as Porsche and Seagram.
While she had learned a lot about event planning on the job, she wanted a proper credential and she wanted to earn it outside of India. Her plans to study in England were dashed when the U.K. government suddenly banned foreign students from working, so she set her sights on Canada.
In Toronto, Suresh found Centennial’s post-graduate program in Event Management - Festival and Conference intriguing. The highly focused program prepares students for careers in the rapidly growing event industry, whose festivals and conferences are proven catalysts for high-value tourism and economic activity worldwide.
The program would do more than educate Suresh and her partner, though. The connections they’d make at college would lead directly to their own business, which they called Decor and Decibel. Here’s how Centennial set them up for independent success.
Even though the couple had garnered invaluable work experience in India, they were surprised by Centennial’s emphasis on risk management; that is, the contingencies that have to be planned in case things go wrong – such as a fierce thunderstorm interrupting an outdoor event.
“Risk management is so important in Canada; event organizers plan for every emergency and eventuality. In India, it is not really part of our planning,” says Suresh. Equally important were the career connections Centennial’s program would provide the pair facilitated by professors such as program coordinator Bob Dallas.
“Bob’s been a very good support for us because he introduced us to the best companies in the industry,” Irakal says. “I went on to one of the best audio-visual companies, Rax went on to one of the best decor companies.”
“Bob takes time to learn more about you, to give you individual assistance, know what your needs are and cater to them,” Suresh adds. “Because we’d already had experience in the industry and we could skip a step and move up, he started introducing us to people.” Dallas wasn’t the only one. Almost every Centennial lecturer they met would provide a connection, including Penni Holdham.
“Penni had a company of her own called The Display Connection Inc.,” Suresh explains. “She took us to her warehouse one day as part of the course and she asked if I’d work with her. I decided to work with her because of the knowledge she had.”
After graduating from Centennial in 2013, Suresh worked with Penni, picking up additional skills on the job. It wasn’t long before an exciting opportunity presented itself.
“Penni wanted to retire out of her business, and she was looking for a buyer,” Irakal explains. “Rax was helping Penni look for that buyer. One day while we were talking, we said, why don’t we buy it, because she’s already working there and she has knowledge of all the inventory.”
The pair decided to collaborate on the business with their different, but complementary, skills. “Rax is already good at decor and visualizing creative things, and my technical and practical skills are strong,” Irakal says. “You can create beautiful things when AV and decor go together, so that’s why we started Decor and Decibel.”
After returning to India to get married, the couple sorted out their permanent residency in Canada and registered their business in August 2015. Their new venture attracted plenty of clients, due to the reputation Suresh had built up while working at The Display Connection.
“That was very surprising and very nice. Once the industry knows you and what you are capable of, they’ll let you do your thing,” says Suresh. Decor and Decibel specializes in themed events, although they’re also starting to see a lot of individual requests for birthday parties and smaller events.
“It’s very important to not have pre-conceived notions,” Suresh says of her career. “The more open-minded and accepting you are, the more accepting the industry is. You need to network, be open, talk and mingle.”
“Students should look for opportunities, because opportunities are all around you,” Irakal adds, “and you need to understand when you’ve got to grab it.”
“Don’t run behind the money,” Suresh advises, “run behind the opportunity! Because if one job is paying you $25 and one is paying you $13, but you can learn from it, you should go that way first to gain your experience. Once you have that experience and knowledge, your value will automatically go up.”