Liz Reitman

5 min | Leadership & Management Musings

Founders in Focus with Cheryl Gentry

A Conversation between Liz Reitman and Cheryl Gentry, Founder & CEO of Glow Global Events

Watch the Video

This month’s Founders in Focus series features Cheryl Gentry, founder and CEO of Glow Global Events. From celebrity galas to worthy nonprofits, Cheryl shares how she cultivated a multi-award-winning events company. They discuss female entrepreneurship as well as Cheryl’s unique experiences as a Black business woman. We learn her insights on Black History Month and the pride she enjoys from her own success at building a legacy.

Liz Reitman: Hi, everyone. This is Liz from REIT Design. I’m really excited as part of our founders in Focus series to introduce the impressive Cheryl Gentry, who is the founder and CEO of Glow Global Events. What makes me excited about this conversation is not only are we friends, but I think we met like 15 years.

Cheryl Gentry: I feel like it was longer than that.

Liz Reitman: We were a part of a different networking group; then, our paths crossed again. And Cheryl has since joined EO, entrepreneur organization, which I’ve talked a lot about. I’ve watched the trajectory of your business and actually got to go to your 25th anniversary party, which was beyond impressive, and it just filled my soul. So, thank you for being here.

Cheryl: Thank you for having me.

Cheryl: And you know what? It doesn’t feel like it’s even been 25 years. When you do something that you love, it really feels like I just founded the organization last year and I have a really great team to make sure that we get to the next 25 years. But event management, luckily, is fun. I’m passionate about it, but also [about] being a leader. And I’m an advocate for entrepreneurship.

Liz: Wow. That’s very inspiring. Having had REIT for 27 years, I’d say, I felt the 27 years. So, I love that perspective. And I think for me, what’s been challenging is how much I’ve had to pivot over the years in terms of—I’m such a dinosaur [in] that I came from the world of before there were computers, when email was emerging.

Tell me about what you've seen in your industry and how you pivoted, because there has to have been similar experiences.

Cheryl: Absolutely. When we started, it was Glow Media and Marketing, which you mentioned earlier before we started talking. Then, we did PR and media relations and marketing. It was perfect timing because I was talking to a friend and I was just getting frustrated with PR. She attended this conference, which was the World Diversity Leadership Summit, and she said, you have to plan this event.

Cheryl: We always had a level of events under our belt. And she was like, I went to this conference, it was awful. You need to plan it. She introduced me to the CEO. He was like, I love it. You have to come plan our event. And we planned that event. We did his events for years, won several awards doing those events. That kind of catapulted us into conference management, which I really loved. And then there were a lot of his sponsors that were doing galas, and they had recipients of some nonprofit organizations. And, so, we started doing galas for a lot of nonprofit organizations.

Cheryl: We used to do research about what actors or actresses had projects that were coming out. Now, everybody wants an influencer at their event. And so, just having the resiliency to understand the market. I’ve always been the type of person, and expect my team, to stay in the trenches and read publications about industry trends and be part of trade organizations and conversations where you could see the change and the pivot and what’s new.

Cheryl: Last year, we decided to change our project management platform because a few of our clients [were] ready to retool. And that keeps you in the forefront and it keeps you lasting. We are always ready to retool and make sure we are listening to our clients and what they need—and coming back bigger and better, even 25 years later. We’re never stuck in our ways. I’m going to listen to my team. And I think that’s what kept me resilient and successful all these years.

That's amazing because that's hard for some people. They get very stuck, “Well, this is working,” or, “This is the way.” And I'm thinking the biggest retooling or reevaluation had to have been the impact of COVID on your industry.

Cheryl: Yeah, it was so interesting. I’ve always been an advocate for entrepreneurship. I think New York went on pause, like March 20. The 21st, I woke up and got emotional about COVID because I did lose a few people, but that ended up being the best time for us. I sent an email out through a couple of Facebook groups and said, let’s just jump on a call with a bunch of event planners. I was like, how can we help each other? I was able to pull together this community. 

Cheryl: We always produced live stream events anyway, so we had the technology to do that. But I got off of that Zoom call, and people were like, I don’t do this. Do you want to talk to my client? I’m ready to retire. I don’t want to do this anymore. I probably walked away with six new pieces of business. That gave me the confidence to go to all my clients, especially the nonprofit organizations, and say, we need to continue to engage your donors, and you should have a virtual event, and here is how it looks.

Cheryl: We talked to all the tech teams and said, this is what we’re looking for. This is what we want to do. And doing those virtual events was really like producing a TV show.

Cheryl: We jumped up very quickly and were able to offer that technology to our clients. Over the COVID year and a half, we produced 200 virtual events. All our clients jumped on board. We were picking up clients because everybody wanted to engage virtually, and so every event looked different. We did so well, we were [one of] Inc.’s Fastest Growing Companies in America.

Liz: What I always find interesting is this idea of not talking to people in your industry and having this need to be competitive. There’s enough work out there that I learn the most from people who do what I do. I like to share my information. So, I love the fact that you leaned into your community and then, in the end, you got business from it. I also know, being female, people sometimes feel like women don’t support women or we get this stereotypical reputation of cattiness. Talk to me about just being a female entrepreneur and what your experience has been in that respect.

Cheryl: I haven’t felt any of that cattiness. Luckily, I have had women mentors over the years. I mentor young women by being on the board of Nifty. I’m sure somewhere along the way there was some cattiness, but I’m also very positive. I do forget the trials and tribulations very easily.

Were there other challenges you think you experienced just because you are female?

Cheryl: No, I don’t think so. Like I said, I don’t remember the wounds. It was when Judge Ketanji Brown was nominated, and she was talking about her experience. That’s what I went through as a Black woman. And I identified so much with what she said that it was kind of like an aha moment. Like, you fight through, you grind through, and you overcome, and you keep moving. But it wasn’t until she articulated, and I saw how she was treated at that hearing, that I was just like, sometimes people don’t take my advice. You hire me, and then I have to battle you with what a best practice is.

It's Black History Month in February. I'm wondering, is there any relevance [to you]? Does this holiday or this month mean something different to you?

Cheryl: It’s really identified as a celebration of the milestones that we have pushed past since this country was a different country years ago. I am really proud of that. We are still fighting through people’s mentality who don’t want to see me as a Black woman walking down the street or any Black person to be successful. And we still have opposition to that. So, when you think about a celebration, it’s not necessarily for anyone else but us to celebrate each other.

Cheryl: It’s to really understand the contributions we’ve made in this country. The street layout in Washington, DC. Like, that was a Black man and Madam C. J. Walker, who was the first Black woman millionaire. It’s sad because I do work with a lot of young kids, and they don’t know a lot of Black history. They’re not learning that. There’s so much history that is just being forgotten.

Cheryl: I do think you have to know where you come from, who you come from, and stand and be proud in that we are working with a great organization. Carnegie Hall is in support of Black History Month. We’re doing a big event at Carnegie Hall with Governor Wes Moore. And Robert Smith is on a panel. And there are some performances. And we are on the stage of Carnegie Hall [which] means so much. And so Black History Month is a celebration for me.

Do you think there are other changes you'd like to see in your industry to help promote more inclusivity and equity?

Cheryl: Sometimes when I respond to RFPs, people are like, we didn’t know a Black agency did events this big. And I’m like, well, I actually probably need to promote more, but I still hear that even today.

Cheryl: A friend invited me to a megachurch last year. I was sitting there, but the stage production and the music, I kept turning around, looking at the teleprompter and the mics that they had on. And I was like, who’s doing the production? It was a big thing. I’m going to start reaching out to the Black churches to help with our production so I can bring in some of the talent because this was run like a well-oiled machine.

Cheryl: And so really onboarding more people in that technical space to be able to produce some of these shows, I think. I was just nominated for Smart Woman of the Year, which is [through] Smart Meetings magazine. They do a whole big conference. So, you do see a lot of industry experts like myself who are stepping up and having a voice in the industry.

Cheryl: I feel like sometimes I need to do more, but event management is a lot, in managing my team and my staff. And I still love showing up at every event.

Liz: Well, you’re only one person, so you can only be in so many places.

Cheryl: I’m also an adjunct professor at NYU and I teach an event course. We work with a lot of young talent as well because it is important for me to help and train and teach people how to do a great event. [At Glow] we like to say there’s no better way to influence the way people think, act, or feel than through an event. You have this opportunity to evoke emotions. You have an opportunity for people to have memories, for people to meet.

We have a responsibility to affect people's emotions. It's important for me to make sure young people understand it's not just an event. We're not just going to get celebrities there. How are we going to make everybody else in that room feel like a VIP?

Liz: That’s what I’ve leaned into in my business, too. When I look at branding, marketing, it’s not about design in my opinion. You’re saying yours is more about this experience, these memories. I’ve always looked at it like my business is really trying to understand people and customer service.

Liz: I think a lot of young people or new people in the industry may miss the idea that it’s not necessarily what you think we’re actually doing.

Cheryl: Right, exactly.

Cheryl, you're such an inspiration to me. On the Inc. 5000 list, you were nominated on Biz Bash's top list of 1000 people in the U.S. for the event industry. You were featured in their Big Idea for New York City Women Entrepreneurs. You're one of the top influential Women in Meetings according to Smart Meetings. I'm wondering, does that influence you, being recognized?

Cheryl: I realize I can do more. I still love what I do. It’s great to be recognized by these organizations and industry peers and other business owners, but I just keep moving through. It’s like, what next? What more can I do? How else can I contribute? How else can I show up? I am honored.

Cheryl: I talk about Glow all day long; but still, 25 years later, I am filled with such passion that the awards are great but it’s like, what else can I do? How can I affect this industry and affect young people as an entrepreneur?

Liz: That’s really beautiful. I love this concept of giving back. I’m a big believer in that as well.

Cheryl: I think it comes with responsibilities. I looked at our finances and we were just a little bit short last year. I was like, I don’t want to let people go. I have a staff. I have responsibility. People in my organization have bought homes. They’ve had babies.

Cheryl: One of the women in my office had a baby. I was like, bring the stroller in. Just bring the baby. And she would go in the nursery and she would take a nap with the baby, and then she’d come back and work. You really have to be able to afford and understand people’s other life as well. Event management is time-consuming. You want to be able to afford your team the flexibility and time to live their lives.

Liz: That’s another example of pivoting, and feeding off of listening to what’s happening or what your team is asking for. I’ve done some designs for trade shows and private conferences. I definitely had the experience of how long events could be and also how stressful. I used to work with Barnes & Noble College for almost 20 years on their private sales conference—and working with union people and overseeing the build and having things on time.

What do you do to have that self-care? We're always, as entrepreneurs, thinking about business. So not only are you in it, trying to build it. Then, you also have the stress of the actual events. What do you do for yourself?

Cheryl: I meditate about three times a day. I wake up. I do not put my feet on the ground until I pray and meditate. That starts my day off very grateful. Then, about 2:00 p.m., I have a gong and I bang the gong. Everybody in my office, either you get up, go for a walk, [or] just have to step away. Because event management is stressful.

Cheryl: Understanding how to step away, get some fresh air [is important]. I walk everywhere. I walk around New York. Not that New York is [filled with] nature. But it’s being outside, feeling the cold on your face, right? In the evening, [I use what] everybody calls a gratitude journal; I call it, what were the magic moments in my life today? And it could be the simplest thing. Like, I saw a little boy laughing on the elevator. It was just so cute.

Cheryl: I go to retreats. I think that’s one of the reasons why I love EO so much. And remember, the EO is one day a month [when I] step away from everything else and work on me as an entrepreneur. That time in our forum at EO is when you could talk to other likeminded entrepreneurs, that you could share what’s going on. That’s another commitment to my self-care that I’m really happy for.

Cheryl: I’m grateful that I have this space that I could step away and reflect and listen and learn. And maybe there’s another way to do something or maybe there’s another way to tackle this problem. And so that’s self-care to me, too.

Liz: I love hearing that it’s more than once a day that you’re meditating. I actually just recently went to this therapeutic retreat where we meditated. My eyes have become open to the many different ways and different times [to meditate]. Like you say, to just walk in New York City and get away. And, I absolutely love your magical moments.

Liz: Sometimes I’m like, [gratitude] is a hard one for me today. So, the flipping and calling it “magical moments,” I feel like you have got to trademark that.

Cheryl: To your point— Yes, I’m grateful. I’m humble. But, is that something I can own every day? Because that is heavy to me, having to think through those moments. But when you think about it, it’s little magical things that happen that make you grateful.

Liz: I love that. Cheryl, thank you so much. We could go on. Maybe we’ll do a part two because I have, like, 8 million other questions for you. I feel like I got so much out of hearing from you and learning more. And, honestly, you really inspire me. I feel grateful for our friendship.

Cheryl: Thank you so much. And thank you for introducing me to EO. It’s always great catching up with you.

Glow Global Events has over two decades of experience, their full-service event management agency specializes in crafting dynamic, purpose-driven events tailored to their clients’ unique visions and objectives. Whether the event is an intimate gathering or a grand gala, they serve as trusted partners every step of the way. From conceptualization to execution, they work closely with their clients to ensure that every detail is meticulously planned and flawlessly executed. With a global reach and an extensive network of partners, they have the expertise to bring events to life anywhere in the world. Clients can rely on them to prioritize their goals while staying within their budget, providing peace of mind and confidence in the success of their event.