Scott Falk’s path to executive at the country’s largest religious meeting planning company, Arrowhead Conferences and Events, has been, quite literally, a journey. It combined a passion for ministry, which he studied at college, with a profession, meeting planning, that he happened upon somewhat by chance. And it took a 365-day trek around the world to bring it all together.
How did you get started in meetings?
I went to Concordia University in Chicago to study theology and education to become a director of Christian education in the Lutheran Church. I was paying my own way, so I started working at the conference center on campus. During that time, the vice president of the university promoted me to the director of the entire building.
I went to school full-time and worked full-time, overseeing the 70,000-square-foot facility at the age of 22. We had a staff of 25 people. I really had good time doing it. In fact, when I graduated, my counselor wanted me to take a call as a youth pastor, but I had reservations since I was having so much fun. I stayed for about two years and finally did take a call because I wanted to try what I went to school for. So I moved to Santa Monica, Calif., where I served as a director of Christian education at a church for about three years.
I loved doing it, but I wasn’t sure that just being in one congregation was what I wanted to do, so I spent a year backpacking around the world.
What made you decide to travel the world?
I was at one of those crossroads where I wasn’t passionate about continuing at the particular church that I was working in, but didn’t know what to do otherwise. I consulted with a very good friend and asked him, “If you were my age, what would you do?” He said, “I’d travel around the world.” I thought he was joking at first, but I was single, I hadn’t started a significant career yet, and I had always wanted to see the world. So, I kid you not, I got a globe and started spinning it as I looked at different places around the world I wanted to visit. I flew out of L.A. to North Africa and the rest of the trip I traveled by boat, train, additional flights, and sometimes bus. I visited about 17 countries and I came back exactly one year after I left because my ticket expired.
How did you re-acclimate yourself?
I came back with $300 in my bank account and no place to live, so I lived with a friend for about nine months to get back on my feet. I did a bunch of part-time work, anything to get money. One of those part-time positions was at Arrowhead Conferences and Events. A friend of mine who worked for Marriott said he had the perfect job for me—one that combined the two things I have done in my life; running conferences and working with ministries. I did part-time work for about three months, and then in 1996 Arrowhead hired me full-time. I took over a team that was running housing for their biggest account at the time—the Promise Keepers, which got anywhere from 40,000 to 90,000 attendees.
After I got married in 1998, I took an 11-week sabbatical with my wife before we had kids and we traveled around South America.
What does your job entail now?
I oversee business development, letting other ministries know who we are, what we do, and how we can help. I also oversee technology advancement and new product development. Plus, I run meetings for some clients, which gives me a good idea of what’s happening in the industry.
What trends are you seeing?
There has been a lot of downsizing and restructuring, and ministries are looking at meeting budgets much more carefully. They are leaning on us a lot more to consult with them on how to save money. Whereas before they came to us for one thing, say site selection or booking hotels, now more are looking at the meeting more holistically. If there are going to be significant savings, you have to look at the entire meeting and leverage it as whole.
What new initiatives have you been working on?
We’ve had an online registration platform for almost a decade, but we are coming out with an enhanced platform where registration and housing are on the same platform. People can register, book housing, and get transportation all on one database so you can easily tell who’s outside of the block.
The most exciting thing that’s happening this year is a mobile app that’s going to run on all mobile devices, not just the iPhone. I think it will be a huge game changer this year for ministries to have access to this technology. To have a conference app that allows you to download all of your files, pdfs, spreadsheets, video, and pictures will eliminate a lot of unnecessary paper and mailings. It will help ministries engage their audience and update them on a regular basis, and allow attendees to start engaging with each other long before the meeting even starts.
How do you juggle career and family?
I have 6 kids. The oldest is 9 and the youngest was born on July 8. It’s fantastic. We have a great time together. We love to do family walks together. We are only a mile from the beach in southern California so we love to go to the beach. We have reading time in the evening and we love to travel.
When it comes to juggling work and family, I prioritize and then draw a line in the sand. You have only so many hours in a day so you carve out non-negotiable time periods. Dinner from the time my kids go to bed, I don’t work—same thing with mornings. Now after they go to bed or before they wake up, those times are open. You just have to prioritize and allow everything else to drop off.
One of the biggest challenges for pretty much anybody in the workplace today is information overload. We have so many channels for communicating and receiving information that if you tried to read everything that came in it would be a full-time job.
The critical thing is to sort through what’s important and push out the rest. Set expectations so you can really focus on what you are doing without hundreds of interruptions on a daily basis.
What do you like most about your job?
What I love most about this job is the people in the ministries we serve. I became a youth pastor to make a change in this world and I’m passionately engaged in advancing that cause. I’m doing it through helping other organizations save money and grow the attendance of their events to be able to reach more people. And our staff members are equally passionate about it.