Welcome to the latest installment of “Leading Questions: Wisdom from the Corner Office,” in which IBJ sits down with central Indiana’s top bosses to talk shop about the latest developments in their industries and the habits that lead to success.
Cindy Hoye, 54, grew up on Indianapolis’ north side and within about 10 minutes of the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Despite her utterly suburban surroundings, she developed a keen interest in agriculture, bolstered by visits to an uncle's 90-acre farm on the southeast side.
“I think I was one of five kids at North Central High School that was in 4-H,” Hoye said. “There weren’t many of us.”
As a youngster, she raised rabbits in her family’s garage and spent many summers participating in the Indiana State Fair as a 4-H member. Today, she is the executive director of the Indiana State Fair Commission, which oversees the annual fair as well as the infrastructure and all year-round activities on the sprawling grounds.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand that this is a $25 million business,” said Hoye, who served as the fairgrounds’ marketing director before being appointed the commission's executive director in 2004. “We’re talking about almost a million people during the fair, but then there’s another million people year-round. We never close our gates.
“Twenty-five percent of our revenue comes from the state, and 75 percent we earn ourselves and we have to look at all of the opportunities that either come knocking on the door to us or that we knock on doors to open up.”
For now, the focus is on the fair, the 17-day celebration of livestock, produce, midway games and deep-fried concessions that will run this year from Aug. 5-21. In 2010, the event generated $11.9 in revenue for the commission and attracted 952,000 visitors.
The current incarnation of the fair bears marks of Hoye’s influence. She pushed for expanding the fair from 12 to 17 days, which took effect in 2009 in what was originally planned as a three-year trial. Attendance jumped to 973,902 that year, a 13-percent increase from 859,621 in 2008.
Fair officials have since scheduled the 2012 event as a 17-day fair as well. “Most of the people within the fair family like the 17-day format, and so the nod right now is that we’ll keep the format,” Hoye said. “But each year we’ll take a look at it and ask, ‘How did it work this year?’”
Hoye also has reemphasized the fairgrounds’ mission of agricultural education. Her initiatives have included instituting a program that spotlights a different Indiana commodity during the fair each year. The 2011 theme is “Year of Soybeans.”
In the video at top, Hoye discusses her suburban roots in 4-H and on the fairgrounds, the creative-thinking skills needed to excel at her current position, and how her role shifts during the fair to that of the event’s unofficial “mayor,” managing the needs of a makeshift nation of visitors and exhibitors. She also reveals a lesson learned when she tried to institute the organization’s first official business plan without significant input from the departments and parties involved.
In the video below, Hoye addresses several issues directly related to the fair, including keeping it relevant for modern audiences increasingly alienated from agriculture, maintaining the 17-day format, and decompressing after the cows go home and the gates finally close.