Michelle Newson is a busy and successful event planner based in New York City, but her arrival wasn’t without ups, downs and a surprising number of multi-state moves. The journey even included guiding safari tours at Walt Disney World. This risk taker wasn’t sure where her experiences and moves might be leading her, but at 30 she’s settled down to run Onederland Events.
Originally from Chicago, Newson enrolled in Illinois State, but completed just one semester before being recruited by Disney. The sunshine state was too much to pass up. The program put college students to work in various roles around the park while also training them in academic seminars. At the end of the course students presented a project and earned a “ductorate”.
“I did safaris every day, pretending we were in Africa and sharing animal facts while driving a big bus,” Newson said. ”At the end of the program I realized I didn’t want to leave. One semester turned into six years.”
After working in safaris, Newson moved to Disney’s hotel, and later, wedding divisions, where she got her first real taste of event planning.
“I’d planned homecoming and prom in high school, but that was extracurricular. I saw this was a service people wanted and needed and they were spending huge amounts of money,” she said. ”I got my foot in there, learned how to treat people and [figured out] the ins and outs of Disney weddings.”
During this career-shaping experience Newson studied advertising and public relations at the University of Central Florida. By the time all of the weddings Newson had helped plan were ready to go live it was time for her to do an internship. She moved to New York for the summer to work with Saatchi & Saatchi.
“It was a great start to launching my business. I learned how a brand was supposed to work,” she said.
Newson returned to Florida, but Orlando was no match for life in the city. She got an offer to work at JWT and was on the next plane back to New York, where she picked up valuable project management skills. Florida, however, wasn’t done with Newson and soon enough her old employer called offering her a job in the marketing department on the corporate side of the company. She accepted, making her fifth move in as many years.
“I loved the job [and] getting hands-on. It taught me how to manage multiple projects, taught me about egos, personalities and dealing with difficult things as they come up,” she said. “But I realized Orlando wasn’t the best fit for me and there isn’t much of a ladder at Disney since people rarely leave their jobs.”
A self-described risk taker, Newson decided to quit her job and at 25 headed back to Chicago and moved in with her parents.
“I wanted to be in control of my happiness,” she said. ”I was on a great path corporate-wise, but it didn’t matter. I wanted to put my own stamp on the world.”