Bill Geist, Zeitgeist Consulting

IB Wisconsin's Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet the state's professionals. This week features Bill Geist, President, Zeitgeist Consulting

Business Address: Box 92, Sun Prairie, WI 53590
Phone: 608-318-1245
Birthplace: Honolulu, Hawaii
Organizations: Destination Marketing Association International, U.S. Travel Association, Wisconsin Professional Speakers Association, Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau
Education: MBA, UW-Madison; B.S. in political science, Kenyon College

Why did you go off on your own to launch a business, Bill?
I launched Zeitgeist 17 years ago after serving as the CEO of the Greater Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau. My role is that of driving change and excellence in the destination marketing field through strategic planning and development consulting. Zeitgeist Consulting works primarily in the destination marketing field, assisting convention and visitors bureaus, state and provincial tourism offices, and private sector tourism attractions and facilities in the areas of marketing, e-commerce, board governance, and political advocacy.

Who would you say most influenced that decision, and in what way?
It was probably former UW Business School professor Bob Pricer. During the final semester of the Executive MBA program (the first class to graduate, by the way), he encouraged us all to one day start our own companies. There was that certain twinkle in his eye that told me it was time for me to do just that.

Tourism trends change so quickly. How do you stay current?
I read voraciously. I follow over 30 bloggers and use news alerts to keep current and identify emerging trends in both my industry and the world at large.

You’ve been at this for awhile; what’s the personal high point so far?
On one hand, I’d have to say it is yet to occur. On the other, it would be that, after 17 years, I’m still standing. Greatest community honor: that George Nelson asked me to be one of a handful to cut the ribbon at the grand opening of Monona Terrace in Madison. Greatest state honor: being awarded the Wisconsin Tourism Trailblazer Award for Lifetime Achievement.

What’s a goal fitting of a trailblazer honoree?
Helping my peers to finally articulate that the visitor industry is vital to our local economy … and that marketing to prospective visitors should be one of the last things that government cuts when times are tough. If government is looking for new tax revenues and job creation, the visitor industry is the fastest path to that goal.

What was an early career goal, and did you hit it?
I wanted to be a political reporter/author. I discovered radio in college and took the path of least resistance (easier to say it than write it). Ultimately, I did write a book … and a lot of what I do entails being intimately involved in politics around the country. So, I guess I was close.

What was your first job? Remember that first real paycheck?
Paperboy and lifeguard. I think the latter paid $1.25 an hour.

Why did you first come to Wisconsin? What was the lure?
The opportunity to come to Madison and lead the GMCVB, though I had vacationed in Wisconsin every summer since I was 8 years old.

What do you do “beyond the office” that brings you happiness or relaxation?
Music is my passion. I love experiencing music (especially local artists) in clubs and finding great, independent, unsigned artists online.

What about travel, since you’ve done so much of it professionally?
I’m really more about new experience, so once I’ve been to a destination, it’s a rarity that I’ll return (except on business).

You said you love to read. When it isn’t work related, can you name a flavor of how your taste runs in books?
I’m a sucker for the espionage and anti-terrorism genre. Vince Flynn, Ted Bell, Brad Thor, Lee Child, etc.

This is the hard question we ask every Professional of the Week: Can you describe yourself using only three words?
You’d have to ask my friends and clients, but I would hope it was that I was “a good guy.”

What special career advice do you have for someone who is looking for meaningful work in this economic climate?
Don’t be too proud to believe that you don’t have to improve every single day. Don’t think you are owed anything by anyone. And never stop working to enhance your public persona. It isn’t fair and it isn’t right, but the people that will be important down the road judge you on the most superficial of aspects. You might be the smartest person in the room, but it means nothing if you can’t communicate effectively, build killer networks among industry and community peers, and have a reputation as being a genuinely good person.

Look around your community. While there may be a few @$$holes who have found some success, trust me, that success will be short-lived. The truly successful people are those who are well-liked because they have a moral compass, are selfless in their volunteer time, and treat everyone they meet and work alongside with respect. And, as Warren Zevon said, “Enjoy Every Sandwich.”

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