When Shannon Struzik looks at her career, she often thinks of a quote by the poet Rumi: “Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.”
That message has played out in her career path in different ways and has always helped guide her next step.
“I was very fortunate to come upon opportunities that it almost seemed like careerwise life was rigged in my favor,” Struzik says. “Because every opportunity that I opened myself up to allowed me to explore and hone different skillsets.
Today Struzik is the associate vice president of special events at Dixon Schwabl Inc.
Struzik is a native of Syracuse but feels like a Rochestarian as she moved to Rochester by age 5, she said. Growing up, she got involved as much as she could in school.
“Even starting in high school—leadership, planning, organizing, building relationships between people—everything from captain of the cheerleading squad to yearbook to Student Council; I really embraced that at an early age,” Struzik says.
She went to the State University of New York at Geneseo, earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1999. While there she talked herself into an internship at the Rochester Broadway Theater League during college and was hired after graduating.
“I knew that I wanted to do something that involved some sort of planning or project management because I know my skillset lies in that area,” Struzik says. “But I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I thought that it would give me the tools I needed to do an internship and really test the waters.”
At RBTL she honed her skill set in events running the Rochester MusicFest at Genesee Valley Park and spent over a decade there maturing in her career path as event operations manager.
“I was so excited and I loved planning every detail,” she says. “I thrived in the situation; my mentors and myself said, ‘OK, if you can thrive in the situation and not be a nervous wreck or overwhelmed, this is the job for you.’”
Struzik has had an open mindset from the start. A career is fluid and there has to be a balance between planning and accepting what comes your ways, she said.
“I think one of the key things is to be open to every opportunity and experience that you can,” she says. “Not to go in and just do the job that’s expected of you and go home. (The) opportunities to be able to cross train especially at an early age and find out what you love it may be something you hadn’t even considered in the first place.”
By 2009 Struzik was ready to pursue another opportunity as director of community engagement and development at the Ad Council of Rochester—now known as Causewave Community Partners.
After two years in that role, Struzik seized a chance to combine her events and nonprofit background as special events supervisor at Dixon Schwabl in April 2012, just as the division of the company was in its inaugural stages.
“It was the absolute perfect marriage for me of taking the event production knowledge I had gained at RBTL and the newfound passion I had for nonprofits and fundraising and strategy and bring them together in the events position at Dixon Schwabl,” Struzik says.
She was promoted to associate vice president of special events for Dixon Schwabl in 2014. This year she became a certified Myers-Briggs administrator. Culture continues to captivate her.
“I had heard so much about Dixon Schwabl and even with all this information I still didn’t quite understand what people meant by culture and that really sparked an interest in me,” Struzik says. “When I was hired at Dixon Schwabl there was a feeling that I loved and I loved the people and I loved the positivity and I knew it was the right place for me.”
This month she will help lead a division within the company that aims to help other companies create great workplace cultures based on a “Companies Are People Too” program. The program is named “Companies Are People Too” based on a book with the same title that was written by Sandra Fekete.
Her skills as a Myers-Briggs administrator have helped Struzik understand the dynamics of multiple workplace situations in new ways.
“I can anticipate a lot of issues before they come up and provide solutions,” she says. “The trust starts to build when you respect their personality differences. I don’t think people realize as much how really playing to people’s personality types and really allowing them an atmosphere and an environment to function that way leads to a phenomenal product.”
Currently Dixon Schwabl is the only national facilitator licensed to use the program. Fekete is not involved in the program Dixon Schwabl is offering. Struzik and team members will start the program internally before expanding it more broadly.
As part of a dedicated events team at Dixon Schwabl, Struzik has pushed her eye for event planning and her creativity in new ways.
“My favorite part is the challenge that each event brings,” Struzik says. “Not only is it the challenge of raising funds for the clients but also making an event that will stand out among a sea of events in a very saturated gala community. I love being able to bring an experience to life for the guests that starts from the minute they receive their invitation to the moment they get back in their car at the end of the night and have a valet gift on their seat.”
Each event is a chance to help attendees become engaged in the event’s purpose.
“The trend in events is really moving away from just bringing people in and entertaining them,” Struzik says. “Guests want to be a part of the evening and it’s coming up with interesting and engaging ways to make them feel like they are part of the event.”
At points when the career path was not as clear, Struzik continued to seek out new experiences.
“When I have felt at times where I was struggling or I needed a refresh or something new that really is what helped me was being open to everything around me so that I was ready to accept new opportunities that were a perfect fit with open arms,” she says. “Never say no to an opportunity at least without some exploration.”
Today between events and being a culture champion for Dixon Schwabl, Struzik continues to evolve.
“I’m at an exciting crossroads in my career right now where I’m able to keep building on what I love but also infuse my passion for culture in there as well,” she says. “I love people, I love relationships and I love solving problems and that’s been since childhood. It all goes back to really being open to different opportunities and blasting through that comfort zone.
“To me the core of a positive company culture is listening to what your employees say; the key is empowering your employees,” she adds.
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