KNOWLEDGE IS POWER: Richard Andersen conducts a training session. He and Russ Simons launched VSG Advantage Training five years ago as a wing of Venue Solutions Group, which Simons founded with Mike Wooley and Tom Williams. (Courtesy VSG Advantage Training)

Andersen, Simons Bring Decades of Experience To The Training Table

It’s been five years since Richard Andersen and Russ Simons launched VSG Advantage Training, an addition to Simons’ Venues Solutions Group consultancy.

Given the accelerated exits of some of the industry’s most experienced hands and the unique challenges of running facilities and staging events in an ever-changing environment, the need for what they’re offering may have never been greater.

“I had been dabbling in training and development since the early ‘90s,” Andersen said. “I went through a lot of corporations’ certification programs at companies I was working for at different times. Russ and I just thought for years about the void of cutting-edge training in the sports and entertainment industry, particularly around culture, organizational development, individual development and supervised training which is done for event staff.”

Andersen’s title is chief illuminations officer. Andersen and Simons have consulted on SoFi Stadium, among other big league projects. They’ve known each other for 30 years.

TRAINING PARTNERS: Russ Simons, left, and Richard Andersen have known one another for over 30 years. (Courtesy VSG Advantage Training)

Andersen, whose wife is OCVibe! Vice President and General Manager Kim Bedier, was a confidante of former Marlins and Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga and served as president of Joe Robbie (now Hard Rock) Stadium in Miami.

He later ran ballparks for the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres and The Northlands in Edmonton, Alberta.

With VSG Advantage Training, Andersen develops and facilitates training programs tailored to a specific client’s needs, be it a venue, team or allied operation.

VenuesNow: How long have you been offering training?

Richard Andersen: We started VSG Advantage Training as a wing of (Russ Simons’) VSG, and developed a line of training products that have become sought after and well respected. Our advantage is that we come from the industry and we’re able to understand what people running venues and sports organizations or hospitality and entertainment venues are up against. We don’t have consistent hours so retaining staff is more challenging. Because of that, it’s more difficult to get people up to speed to understand some of the core responsibilities, focuses and skill sets that are required for a great and safe guest experience. That’s how it got going, and it took off.

Are you and Russ the only instructors?

No. Russ facilitates some. He’s super busy on the operational side. Most of the facilitation is done by myself and four or five contract folks that I work with, some from the industry, some professional trainers.

Why is a service like VSG Advantage Training especially important for people in the venues industry right now?

There’s never been, in my opinion, a more critical time for organizations to have a backstop around their professional development and training. The reason is we’ve never had the void of available workforce, particularly frontline but even full-time. What most organizations are doing is determining that they need to pay more to people to fill those voids. Our belief is, OK, that’s partially correct, but here’s the kicker: I would say people don’t quit organizations, they quit bosses. Science says that. We know it firsthand, so where we stepped in is by helping organizations create programs that inspire people to want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

This is about significance. “I work here, even as a frontline employee, I make a difference in people’s experiences, things that they will appreciate and enjoy and remember years later.” That inspirational aspect creates a desire to want to be a part of something bigger than yourself and we see it scientifically; retention improves, the guest experience improves and that’s on one side of what we do.

What is another side?

There’s never been a more important time in terms of people understanding the value and importance around duty of care and situational awareness. What to do. You and I heard this as kids growing up trying to play sports. Sooner or later, the ball’s going to come to you. You’ve got to know what to do with it. Most people are hired in a position and get placed in a venue and there’s so much turnover that it’s difficult to prepare them. So, when something bad does happen, and it can be a trip hazard — I’m not talking about a terrorist, I was in San Francisco when the (1989 Loma Prieta) earthquake struck — you want your staff to be confident that they know what to do. It’s those sorts of reasons behind retention, employee satisfaction, situational awareness. We’ve just never been in a time like that and that’s why Russ and I feel the void we’re filling is exciting and we really feel like we’re making a difference.

Is your training for experienced industry hands, new hires or does it cross the gamut?

We hit both. A number of our clients are trying to be clear on why they exist, the mission and the mission values. Almost every organization misses this. One of our core, early-on programs, called “Culture Matters,” is a focus to get the organization to rally around an inspirational message. “This is why we do what we do. We don’t just make widgets. Our widgets change the world.” We do organizational development for the bigger pieces. We do team building within organizations both on the executive and senior management level. We do professional development around people understanding their own unique styles and that other people have other styles.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned and I discovered it early on: not everybody’s like me. But most of us can’t check our egos and so we get frustrated with people that appear to be polar opposites when in fact they’re the very people that can make our organization significantly more successful.