John Doyle: The Man Behind the Curtain

John DoyleJohn Doyle is a modest man whose career in the audiovisual industry once let him see Ginger Rogers give a dance lesson to a few Washington D.C. news correspondents. He’s worked with everyone from major insurance companies to John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson. He’s the man behind the curtain who makes sure events and conferences go so smoothly, no one ever has to ask, “Why did that just happen?” We think it’s fair to say his work blazed a trail for the audiovisual industry in Chicago. How did he do it? What has it been like? What’s his favorite song? Does he remember any of Ginger’s moves?

We had all those questions and more, and luckily had the honor to sit down and chat with John. We got to hear about his early days as a “stringer” (don’t worry if you don’t know what that is, we didn’t either), the first time he merged film and presentation capabilities, and his eventual journey to Complete Crewing.

John knew what he wanted to do early on in life. He graduated in 1975 from Penn State University with a degree in Speech Communications and Broadcasting, ready to take on the world. He left Philadelphia, taking his accent with him, for the Washington D.C. area and pursued an opportunity with a stagehand union. It didn’t pan out, but John didn’t give up. With online job boards not yet invented, he scoured the newspapers and answered an ad to become a “stringer,” or a freelancer, for Visual Aids Electronics (VAE).

He started out as a part-timer, but within a week was moved to full-time. His days were filled with delivering audiovisual equipment to VAE’s different customers, with his first assignment putting him on the account of a regional manager for IBM. This brought with it a lot of travel and John must have made an impression because after a year he was promoted to an account manager at a hotel property. As he said, he learned the rental business “all the way through,” and those skills would help him throughout the rest of his career.

After a few years, a then-national audiovisual company, Bauer Audio Video, reached out and offered John a position as a Branch Office Manager in the city of Boston. Of course John took the opportunity, but he wasn’t in Boston long. After three months, Bauer offered him a transfer to Chicago, which was the leading city in the country for meetings and conventions. He says that as an East Coast boy, he had to look on a map to find Chicago, but he readily accepted the offer. After throwing his possessions in a truck, he drove across the country and arrived in Chicago in the dead of winter.

Luckily, that didn’t scare him away.

As Branch Manager, John ran the Chicago office and served as the liaison and coordinator for any account executives who were traveling through Chicago and needed local labor or rental equipment. For those of you who know us, that might sound similar to the work of Complete Crewing but, according to John, the industry was very different then. “Nowhere near as sophisticated,” he describes. If you’re wondering what that means, think slide projectors.

Within a year, John had developed friendships with people in the various unions in Chicago. One of those friends introduced him to a local company, Sound and Stagecraft, that was looking to increase business. John accepted a position. Soon after, Microsoft developed PowerPoint.

“Then,” John says, “the real fun began.”

PowerPoint accelerated growth in the audiovisual industry like nothing else before it. Everything went from film to an electronic medium. Suddenly, presentations could be changed on site – no more looking for an open lab to edit slides (can you even imagine?). Lighting requirements and possibilities changed. Rock ‘n’ Roll concert technology found its way over to the industry. Everything was merging and shifting.

John thrived in this arena, and the Sound and Stagecraft team flourished right alongside him. After a few years of exceptional growth (in-house audiovisual accounts in every major hotel in Chicago and creation of the Events Staging Division), the company’s expertise was desired by others. Eventually, Sound and Stagecraft was acquired by AVHQ. “The only way we can get a foothold in Chicago is to buy you,” the company confided. Quite an honor.

A few months after the transition, wanting to spend more time with his family, John moved to local broadcast and events crewing company Program Productions. John helped the company grow adding a video systems rental business and that expanded their work into the special events and entertainment arena. Once his children entered college, John felt it was time for a change.

Enter – once again – the newspaper ad. But not just any newspaper ad, the newspaper ad that brought John to Complete Crewing.

With Complete Crewing, John merged his knowledge of the inner workings of hotels, with his relationships with local unions, with his ability to put accurate labor plans and budgets together. In his opinion, it was really a natural merging.

“Logistics is my thing,” he shares. “Every plan has logistical challenges. Logistics effect time which ultimately effect budget. I like to take those challenges and suggest efficiencies.”

He’s been able to do just that at Complete Crewing for the last thirteen years. In his words, “The ability to put it all together – having the experience to create and execute a labor plan that works with all of Chicago’s different unions and design the necessary budget requirement – that’s what sets us apart.”

John has helped his team with big projects and small – everything from a young company’s first event to mapping projections across entire buildings like the Museum of Science and Industry. He remembers the last hurrah of old-school live events: a major insurance company putting on the equivalent of a Broadway show (complete with original music, choreographers, dancers, and custom sets and stage; John spent 33 days onsite making sure it all came together); and recounts building video walls 30 feet tall and 200 feet wide.

“The scale of events has grown,” he says, “but that just means the opportunities have as well. It’s a merging of technologies and skill sets: theatrical, concert touring and broadcasting. The technology has gotten so fun.”

He’s been in the industry, in some capacity or another, for 45 years. Does he think he’s seen it all? Not a chance. “There’s always something new,” John smiles. “That’s the most exciting thing. When you start to think you’ve seen it all, or know it all, some new creation pops up, or a visiting stagehand shows you a new way to do something. Keep your eyes open.”

He’s certainly kept his eyes open, and we all appreciate his advice. As a mentor, John offers advice that is both poignant and applicable to a wide range of circumstances.

“Everybody has doubts, everybody has mistakes and failures, but you learn from them – number one is be reliable, contribute to the team, be a problem solver not a problem maker. If you do those things consistently, things will work out and will grow for you.”

He’s a man who believes in himself and believes in those around him. Upon viewing a picture of John with his first Chicago team, people will laugh and incredulously ask, “Is there anyone in this town who hasn’t worked with you or for you?” Many of those early employees are now populating the audiovisual industry as leaders – and they still call John for advice.

“They’re my greatest contribution. I’m so proud that they were able to grow in the industry, to do better. It’s what I want for everyone I work with.”

We are lucky to have someone who values people above all else.

Going forward, John will put this to good use as he continues to be a mentor for our team and build upon our internal training development program. He is also expanding our safety programs for both our internal team and our union partners. Safety and training are the foundation that all amazing events are built on, and no one lives this as much as John.

No answer as to the dance moves, but his favorite song? “Comes A Time” by Neil Young.