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2023 BizBash 40 Under 40: Melanie Zelnick

Melanie Zelnick, 33, is the owner and CEO of Glow Events.

2023 BizBash 40 Under 40: Melanie Zelnick

Melanie Zelnick is the 33-year-old owner and CEO of boutique event planning firm Glow Events. She’s based in San Francisco.

My career journey:
I have loved planning and hosting events from the time I was a child, so it was a very natural decision to study hospitality management when I was in college. I got my first event planning job in my college town, running special events for the city. Once I graduated, I landed my first agency job at Access, a large DMC based in Dallas, where I planned more than 100 events each year; I always refer to this as my “event planning bootcamp.”

In 2015, I moved to San Francisco and started my next career journey at Glow Events, the company I currently run today. When I joined Glow, we were a well-known boutique wedding planning company with a focus on event design. After I joined, we quickly started pivoting more of our business to corporate with the same design approach we gave to our social clients, and it took off like wildfire. Within a few years, we had grown the team to eight planners and were working with some really amazing clients, like Salesforce, Google, and Netflix.

It's no secret that 2020 was a challenging year for our industry. It also happened to coincide with our founder starting to focus her efforts on other business endeavors, which led to me ultimately purchasing Glow. I’m happy to say that since the purchase three years ago, we’ve seen tremendous growth, more than doubling sales from pre-pandemic years and, most importantly, have built a company culture that I’m incredibly proud of.

My most memorable event:
In May of 2021, we hosted our first major event since the onset of the pandemic. Everything from the flowers, menus, and rentals were curated to reflect our client’s personality. The weekend was focused on food and wine; we collaborated with two and three Michelin-starred restaurants throughout the Bay Area, as well as a host of master sommeliers. For the final night, we wanted to put together something extra special, so we brought together the San Francisco Ballet and Ballet Orchestra for a performance in a beautiful ballroom of a private estate (almost all venues were still closed at this point due to COVID restrictions). It was the first time the ballet had performed in front of a live audience in over a year, the first time many guests had seen each other in person over the same period, and one of the first in-person events for our team and vendors in a long, long time, which made this event particularly memorable.

My greatest career accomplishment:
Taking over as owner and CEO of Glow Events, and navigating my company through a global pandemic. Many people would have advised against purchasing an event firm in May of 2020, when in-person events were essentially nonexistent. I’m incredibly proud that we not only kept our team employed during this hectic period, but also have emerged a better company than before.

2023 BizBash 40 Under 40: Melanie ZelnickZelnick told BizBash that her greatest career accomplishment was purchasing Glow Events in May 2020 and becoming its owner and CEO. "I’m incredibly proud that we not only kept our team employed during this hectic period, but also have emerged a better company than before," she said.Photo: @myleenhollerophotoMy leadership style:
I manage a team of 12, and I’m a very goal-driven person who enjoys setting goals that push our entire team, including myself, to keep excelling. At Glow, we set company-level goals and professional development goals for our team of “GlowGetters.” In addition to fun, creative, meaningful work, it’s also important to me that our team feels tied to the company’s success, so we’ve set up incentives to that effect (including a recent trip to Disneyland!).

In the day-to-day, I avoid micromanaging and instead empower my team to take full ownership of their events, though I’m always there to lend a helping hand. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing my team hit their personal career goals. I don’t think there should ever be an end to someone’s growth, and I love pushing my team to get to the next level.

What inspires me:
One of my biggest inspirations is travel. Whether it’s a pop-up in New York, an out-of-this-world food and wine pairing in Paris, or an art installation in the middle of West Texas, I find a lot of inspiration in new sights and experiences across the globe that I love pulling into our events.

The advice I would give my younger self:
My first piece of advice is to get as much experience as possible, and learn from every success or failure. Everyone in our industry has to start somewhere, and many times those entry-level positions require late nights, less than interesting work, and difficult managers. If you can learn from your mistakes and take notes on your successes, you will quickly develop into a capable planner.

My second piece of advice is to focus on the company you want to work for and less on the job title. Great companies promote from within and create more opportunities for you in the long run.

2023 BizBash 40 Under 40: Melanie ZelnickZelnick is inspired by travel—whether that means attending a pop-up in New York, getting wined and dined in Paris, or attending an art show in Texas. "I find a lot of inspiration in new sights and experiences across the globe that I love pulling into our events," she said.Photo: @melanieduerkoppA time I averted a complete event disaster:
A few years ago, we were hosting a small conference at the Parker in Palm Springs. Everything had been going perfectly when on the final evening, we suddenly experienced a major desert windstorm. The cocktail hour and dinner were already set up outdoors, and we only had 45 minutes until kickoff. Luckily, we always have a plan A, B, and C, especially when hosting events outdoors. 

Earlier that morning, we had already discussed with our client what plan B would look like and got a sign-off to move in that direction if the winds got too strong. We also aligned with the venue’s team in advance on a time to make the final call, resulting in a smooth transition from outdoors to indoors. From the guests’ perspective, no one had any idea about the last-minute change, and the evening ended up incredibly memorable. Our team definitely felt the pressure, but were reassured the entire time knowing we had backup plans in advance.

What’s next for me:
I love what I do, so it’s hard for me to slow down! We’re expecting to double sales again this year and are growing our team so we can maintain our boutique, high-touch approach that draws our clients to Glow.

We’re also hard at work piloting a new service we’re calling “Glow at Home,” which will allow us to scale our design services to a much wider audience. This will give clients a taste of the Glow process along with some tools to execute beautifully designed events all on their own. Be on the lookout for its launch in spring/summer 2023!

My ideal day OOO:
Sipping an Aperol spritz on a warm summer day in Provence (when I can step away from my laptop for a minute)!

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BizBash's 2023 40 Under 40 list is sponsored by VDA, a Massachusetts-based experiential marketing and event design agency that specializes in custom live, hybrid, and virtual experiences designed to drive business growth through client collaboration and creative thinking.