LEADING QUESTIONS: Debriefing with Super Bowl chief

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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 habits that lead to success.

At roughly 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, as a booted pigskin first flew over the field of Lucas Oil Stadium to kickstart Super Bowl XLVI, Allison Melangton finally felt years of pressure-packed expectations and 16-hour work days lift from her shoulders.

As CEO of the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee, Melangton had been immersed in both the minutiae and ambitious scope of the city’s big-game programs and festivities since Oct. 1, 2008.

“Over the last four years, I’ve lived with an anticipation and a little bit of anxiety about how the end is going to be,” she said, sitting in the temporary, canary-yellow office she has occupied as chief of the host committee.

“It’s like you’re in this movie for all these years, and you want to know what the end is, and you really don’t know what it is until you get there. So, I’m here, and I am relieved.”

The details of Indy’s successful stint as host promise to become near-mythic lore in the city: perfect weather, smooth operations, humongous crowds, and a great game. One wonders if Melangton ever dared to imagine an outcome—with so many things that could go wrong—where the most pressing questions from the media would include whether she was interested in running for office.

For her part, Melangton, 50, promises to stay in central Indiana and likely continue her career in sports management. A native of Maine, she moved to Indianapolis in 1983 as the city was beginning to implement its sports tourism strategy. For 12 years, she worked with USA Gymnastics, directing some 100 national and international events.

She later worked for the Indiana Sports Corp. as senior vice president of events. Her responsibilities included bidding on, planning and directing events including Olympic trials, various world championships, NCAA basketball championships and Big 10 tournaments. She also worked on the city’s bids for both the 2011 and 2012 Super Bowls, before being tapped to run the 2012 host committee.

With the game over and mostly administrative and reporting tasks left to complete, Melangton sat down with IBJ for an extensive interview this week about her experience as host committee CEO and how she approached what was likely the most demanding and high-stakes job in the city’s sports-tourism history.

In the three videos here, Melangton first discusses the personal lessons she learned while working on the Super Bowl bid and then bringing the plan to life (see video at top). They include sticking to your guns and doubling down on commitment, even when others pushed back against new ideas. And as a former Sports Corp. executive told her, “Don’t ever let logistics stand in the way of a great idea.”

Overseeing a staff of 30-plus and 60 volunteer committees, Melangton in great part relied on a management style of affection and encouragement (see first video below). When staffers threatened to succumb to pressure and an intense workload, she encouraged honest communication about shifting responsibilities, drawing the line on new ideas and respecting deadlines. And when the situation merited getting tough (including discussions about marketing strategy with the NFL), she put her foot down.

In Part III of the interview (see second video below), Melangton discusses how she managed her own time and workload, including finding time to pray while driving to work in early mornings. Now a convert to digital planners, she reveals that she is working with her third BlackBerry since taking the job. She burned through the first two with excessive use.

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