Newsmaker Q + A: A planner's star shines brightly following good deeds

Later this month, the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) will tap Sandy Lish, cofounder of the Castle Group, an event management and public relations firm, as a Women's Business Enterprise Star. That accomplishment is impressive even in a vacuum, but it becomes more notable when one considers that a Boston business publication has also named Lish a rising star and the Castle Group as one of the city's best places to work.

What makes Lish so special? In short, it's the phrase that seems to be her guiding mantra: Do the right thing.

Q What does the WBENC honor mean to you?

A For a really long time, we have just kept our heads down and focused on our business in order to make an impact on our clients. So this award is a great validation of the work we have done.

Q What activities do you participate in that
earned you this recognition?

A We're very close to the Center for Women and Enterprise (CWE), which helps women from all walks of life start and grow businesses. We provide pro bono event and public relations counsel. I'm on the board, and I work on the annual gala. Also, I work on CWE's supplier diversity council, advising women-owned businesses on how to make themselves available to large corporations with supplier diversity initiatives.

Q Why are you so involved with CWE?

A It was started shortly before I started the Castle Group, and the founder happened to be a friend from school with whom I had lost touch. At first, we became involved because it was helpful to the business in terms of networking, finding lawyers, and things like that. But since then, it's made sense because, while we are meeting people to do business with, it also provides us the opportunity to give back to an organization with a mission that we support.

Q And that's important to you?

A We have a responsibility to help organizations that need our help. That's part of being a good corporate citizen. One good way to do that is to find groups for which you have a passion. For example, I'm on the March of Dimes board because I was born prematurely with a twin who died after three days. I add value to that organization because of my event planning background. It's fun and challenging to make a difference, especially for such a volunteer driven organization.

Q Castle Group has been named a few times as one of Boston's best places to work. How does that make your company more valuable to customers?

A Having a great work environment means that we have employees focusing on their work, instead of issues or problems. Also, it means that employees stay longer, giving clients consistent teams. That leads to increased client satisfaction.

Q Your co-founder, Wendy Spivack, has said that you "recognize the importance of making connections with lasting value, for ourselves and for our clients." Similarly, WBENC said Castle Group works toward creating synergies and connections, which keeps clients coming back. Can you elaborate on that?

A We have been fortunate to build a great network of people in our industry and area. It's our responsibility to use that network for our clients because at the end of the day, our work isn't just about our clients' events, it's about helping them accomplish their bottom-line goals. This belief drives our approach to client service as well as our philanthropic efforts.

Q You've also been described as an inspiration. Why do you think that term has been used about you?

A We started out as two women who'd never taken a business course. But because of our passion for what we do, and our conviction to do things right and be good corporate citizens, we've been able to grow. Plus, we've never sacrificed our ethics. We're very honest, and we do what we say we will. We set a good example for others, as well as those who work with us.

Q How does event planning allow you to make enough of a difference to qualify for the WBENC award?

A We've shown that you can set your goals high and achieve them while doing the right things: getting involved in the community, mentoring, and continuing to grow without a lot of fanfare. Also, we've demonstrated that we offer a better alternative to other companies by working hard, being creative, and truly partnering with clients.

Event planning may not be curing cancer, but it can help people who do; we actually work with an organization involved in that.

Q What's the message in this for women in business, especially those who own independent meeting or event planning firms?

A Things don't just happen spontaneously; you have to do the right things to make them happen. I truly believe that what goes around comes around. I didn't even know about this award until I was told I'd won it, and it's because we try to make a difference everyday for our clients, our team, and ourselves. This shows that we are doing that. Maybe it can take a long time, but ultimately, the right things happen.

Contact Rayna Katz at [email protected]

Originally published March 10, 2008