For 10 days out of the year, Calgary transforms into an Old West extravaganza. Not only do more than a million people flood through the gates at the Stampede Grounds for a rodeo, exhibition and festival, but across the city, there are hundreds of free pancake breakfasts, windows painted with Western insignia and Calgarians from corporate environments decked out in cowboy boots and denim. You’ll find Dustin Westling, managing partner of OneWest Event Design and Logistics, right in the heart of it.
OneWest is an event-management and design company with offices in Calgary and Burnaby. They design, plan and execute hundreds of events a year for some of the most recognizable brands in Western Canada, including WestJet, Stantec and the Calgary Stampede.
“I love the Stampede,” Westling says. “There’s no shortage of people in blue jeans and cowboy hats that are tapping their toes to the country music. For 10 days you feel an immense sense of pride for the city—it’s not just about the midway and the rodeo, it’s about a city showing off what we do best.”
Alberta-born and raised, Westling has a special connection with the Calgary Stampede, as it was the site of his first hospitality job and is now one of his biggest clients. He worked as a server for the venue’s year-round events, which include everything from graduation celebrations to Christmas parties. He moved on to work in hotels, convention centres and other public attractions, never straying from the hospitality industry: “Every day is a new adventure—whether it’s the guests you’re taking care of or employees—there’s always new and interesting people around you.”
His background was the right fit for running OneWest.
“One of the things you really learn in hospitality is service,” Westling says. “That’s something I know we’ve been really successful in—always providing a hospitality-level service with our clients and our guests.”
He was always drawn to the hustle of the industry, which fits into the 34-year-old’s view of himself as a “senior millennial.”
“In a lot of ways I think like a millennial,” he says. “I love the fast pace of business. I love things to be instant. I can identify with the traditional millennial, but I’m also very focused and strategic.”
Pair that with a lifelong fascination with business, a strength for building relationships and a thirst for growth, and Westling has long possessed the characteristics required to be an entrepreneur—whether
he was comfortable with that label or not. Nine years ago, through his connections in hospitality, Westling had the opportunity to buy a small company that would become OneWest.
“For the first few years I refused to call myself an entrepreneur,” he explains. “I didn’t set out to be an entrepreneur. I bought the business because I thought it’d be a great a side-hustle. It took me years to finally accept that feeling you get about your business, and that die-hard loyalty to clients and employees, is really what an entrepreneur is.”
In the beginning, Westling felt out of place in meetings, even as a leader of the company: “I felt I was working around people who were smarter or more experienced than me. I was lucky to work with really, really successful companies, and I would sit there and go, ‘I hope I can be helpful!’ And over time I realized I can do this. I don’t have to be afraid to speak up—I’ve earned a seat at the table. That changed my business. Fear as a business owner and entrepreneur will get you every time.”
When asked what he considers the definitive key to his success, Westling doesn’t hesitate: “My team. There’s no question.” He found it difficult to stay motivated in the early days of OneWest when it was
just himself and one part-time support person.
“What I found as my business got bigger and I had the opportunity to lead a team, I really started to enjoy this,” Westling says. “So much of my efforts now go into creating opportunities for my team to be successful. At the end of the day that really drives me. I’m so lucky to have such smart, hard-working, loyal, fierce, dedicated people that work for me. Watching them grow and take the opportunities
provided, there’s nothing better in the world. Nothing.”
Renée Pittet, director of business development for OneWest, has worked with Westling for almost six years. They often collaborate on landing larger clients and creative brainstorming. She describes him as quick to lend a hand—the first person to jump on-site when needed and the last to leave.
“His energy and passion for what we not only inspires me and the team, but the entire event industry,” Pittet says. “He is truly interested in our values and goals both within OneWest and our personal lives—encouraging balance between the two and allowing for professional development regularly through
conferences, speaking opportunities and sitting on boards. Leadership starts from the top and he himself is a risk taker, pushing us to dig deep into our own creativity.”
Westling oversees the project management team and still hires all of their employees. To find the best person for the job, he does interviews a little differently. He takes candidates through Calgary’s Plus 15 pedestrian skywalk system for an hour to make sure they can think on their feet while also keeping up
with Westling’s brisk pace.
“I’m 6’3″—if you can keep up with me and I haven’t killed you, you have the stamina required to do this,” he says.
For those who want to join the industry, he adds it’s important to be persistent: “Nothing is handed to you in this industry. Nothing. You will work for every single thing you want. If you’re willing to work for it and put in the time, anyone can be successful.”
He recommends investing your time in a non-profit organization like the International Live Events Association (ILEA), which he says gives event professionals the opportunity to collaborate and advocate for their industry.
This year Westling, along with fellow ILEA member Lisa Marks, won the J. Robert Graves Award for
individuals who have made a significant contribution to ILEA, and the ILEA Canada team earned international recognition as Affiliate of the Year.
He also recommends getting an education in public relations and marketing—key skills to possess in the industry, and building relationships with vendors, who are critical to a company’s success.
“Make sure you’re open to every opportunity to make a name for yourself—and that name has to be something that’s genuine and honest and passionate,” he says. “If you can figure out how to do that, you’ll get a seat at the table and this industry will be really good to you.”
From the Fall 2018 Alberta Meeting & Event Guide