Marian Bossard – Maintaining a Playful Spirit of Adventure

July 25, 2012

The Face2Face Series is sponsored by MarketArt.

Ride alongside Marian Bossard on her commute to work at the Toy Industry Association and you might catch her humming a few bars of one of her favorite songs, Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road.”

That’s because other than trade shows, music is one of Bossard’s biggest passions, from classical cello and Broadway show tunes to folk music and classic rock.

In fact, if you happen to be anywhere near Bossard while she’s gearing up for Toy Fair, the massive toy industry trade show she oversees at the Jacob K. Javitz Convention Center in New York City each February, you might hear your fair share of rock n’ roll playing in the background.

“I like to play my favorite Queen song, ‘Under Pressure,’ during the late nights leading up to the show,” Bossard said. “I like Lady Gaga, James Taylor, Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez, Barry Manilow – yup, I’m a Fanilow, too! I absolutely love and treasure music.”

But what also inspires TIA’s vice president of meetings and events is her appreciation and admiration for the industry her show represents – the business of play.

“Play is a natural human instinct and desire,” Bossard said. “To be part of an industry that responds to the need for fun and games from cradle to grave is very inspiring and satisfying.”

She added, “The creativity and passion of people in the toy industry is very inspiring and Toy Fair gives you the chance to go along for the ride. It’s seriously business-oriented but the inner child and human capacity for playfulness is evident on every aisle and in every booth.”    

Long before the New Jersey native was managing trade shows, Bossard was a plucky student at Rutgers University trying to figure out her career identity.

“At the time, I thought I wanted to be a hospital dietician and studied food and nutrition,” Bossard said. “I also wanted to be an archaeologist, a poet, a flight attendant and a circus clown. Suffice to say, I was still finding myself but by the end of college I wanted nothing more than to see the world.”

After backpacking around Europe for a year post graduation to help satisfy her travel bug, Bossard landed a job at Delta Air Lines, where she remained for 16 years working her way up the ranks until she made the decision to switch career paths.

“Just shy of my 40th birthday I decided to leave,” Bossard said. “The airline industry was changing dramatically and I guess, so was I. I knew there was more – more adventure, more challenge, more opportunity. People thought I was nuts … nobody quit. It was a great place to work, and I was very happy but to me, that was the perfect time to leave.”

After spending six months working at a temp agency trying out different jobs and weighing her career options, Bossard took a job at an exhibit design company, where a whole new universe opened up for her: the world of trade shows.

Determined to work her way into show management, Bossard spent more than a year learning everything she could about the industry, landing operations manager positions at Miller Freeman and later, at Toy Fair.

After 13 years at TIA, Bossard says that running events has been the perfect fit for her.

“I loved every job I ever had where understanding customer needs and working toward satisfying those needs gave you a good shot at success,” Bossard said. “What I enjoy most right now is helping companies explore new business opportunities outside the U.S. Combining travel with a passion to help them grown their businesses is a pretty good fit.”   

Although running a trade show in February in New York City has its stresses, including surviving the 2009 blizzard that dropped 26 inches of snow, few things keep Bossard from sleeping soundly.

What preoccupies her mind is what gets her out of bed in the morning: finding new ways to build business.

“These are the questions I ask myself every day: What else can we do? What aren’t we seeing? Do we know enough about this or that to make intelligent decisions?” Bossard said.

And like many professional women with families, Bossard has also had to pay special attention to maintaining a solid work/life balance, sometimes forgoing opportunities for advancement in the course of her career. 

“I always knew when (the balance) was off and got comfortable adjusting and adapting along the way,” Bossard said. “I’ve never let my family take a backseat to my job and I’ve never expected my employer to do with less and make exceptions because I had children at home.”

She added, “It can be done. You just have to know what you want and when you should go for it.”      

So where does Bossard see herself in the next decade or so? Working as long as her career remains fulfilling, spending time with her grown children and traveling more with her husband, Rich, who spoils her nightly with delicious home-cooked meals.

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