Why Team Leaders Should Empower Their People, First


To Tavar James, putting people first means more than catering to the needs of key contacts, sponsors, and event attendees. The Global Head of Events and Sponsorships at e-commerce fraud and risk management platform Riskified also takes it to mean that his team members are put in a position to thrive. 

Describing his leadership style, he paraphrases a saying favored by his former employers at Marriott International:

“Take care of your employees, your employees will take care of your guests, and your guests will keep coming back.” 

James credits his “hospitality DNA” with having shaped his career, beginning from the time when he worked as a front desk night auditor at a select service hotel. Impressed by his rapport with guests, the hotel’s general manager and its director of sales and marketing offered him a position on their team as a sales and marketing coordinator. 

Early on, he recalls thinking to himself:

“I’m good at this, and I actually have a passion for it.” In particular, he relished the challenge of “bringing a space from zero to something”

and of seeing firsthand how an event could transform a venue into a moment in time.

James’ career took flight, taking him to Marriott International and, eventually, New York, where he planned high-profile engagements like American Idol auditions and press conferences for the Brooklyn Nets.

“That’s one of the great things about working events in hospitality,” he offers. “Because there are so many different groups that come through your property, you have the opportunity to work on all sorts of programs.”

At his next and last role in hospitality at the Ritz–Carlton, James began to contemplate a pivot to marketing. A position at life insurance provider Equitable caught his eye, though it initially seemed like a longshot. As it turned out:

“They wanted someone with a hospitality background…who could bring a set of fresh eyes,”

he says, noting that it’s much more common for people who work on the corporate side to transition to hospitality. 

Shifting his mindset to that of a customer rather than a service provider was an adjustment for James. But his employer’s instincts proved to be correct—not to mention mutually beneficial. He acknowledges that learning how to become

“a true advocate for the company” was a challenge, but a rewarding one. “One of the things I most enjoy about corporate event planning is that you become an expert on your company and its needs,” he explains. 

After a “great run”—over five years—at Equitable, James once again felt the urge to try something new. When a recruiter contacted him on behalf of Riskified, he jumped at the chance to work for a company whose products, founders, and mission he admired. The startup environment and the prospect of bringing his “regular self” to the office was another draw. 

James’ service-oriented “hospitality DNA” is an intrinsic trait that makes him a natural fit for events. For his reports it’s also what makes him a good leader.

“I empower my team to just do what they’re good at…and also to make mistakes,” he says. Counting himself among them, he continues: “At our core, events people are creative…you have to let us fly.” 

James’ career in events took off when a person in charge recognized his talent and gave him the opportunity to spread his wings. More than paying it forward, James’ leadership style epitomizes another quote that’s become a personal mantra, by Steve Jobs: 

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

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