Queen's University

How number crunching got her to Paradise

When Donna Lowery, MBA’91, became an accountant, she never dreamed she’d end up as an event producer at Atlantis Paradise Island, a Caribbean getaway that’s one of the world’s poshest resorts. 

Donna ensures that huge shows, such as the Miss Teen USA beauty pageant run smoothly, checks details so entertainment “A-listers” such as Katy Perry and Bruno Mars are well cared for, and keeps careful watch on production costs so that everything gets done on time and on budget. Just your average number cruncher’s day job, right? Well, not exactly.

[photo of Donna Lowery with Jimmy Fallon] Donna Lowery with comedian Jimmy Fallon

“I do have a cool job, but it’s basically crazy every day around here,” admits Donna.

Growing up in Winnipeg, she didn’t have a clear vision for her future. “I studied business because it seemed like the right thing to do.”

After getting her undergraduate degree from the University of Manitoba, she traveled throughout Australia and New Zealand for 18 months. She then returned to Canada and enroled at Queen’s for her MBA.

Donna joined an accounting firm in Toronto and earned her Chartered Accountant designation in 1993, but by 1995 was ready for a major change: a job as an audit supervisor on the tropical island of St. Maarten.

“The people were fabulous, and the island is gorgeous. I was at the beach every weekend,” she recalls. “But after a while, the novelty wears off and you start saying things like, ‘I’m not going to the beach today – there’s too much sand’.”

Her cure was to move to an accounting job at Kerzner International, which owns resort properties in the Bahamas and around the world. “People were shooting movies and TV shows and staging huge events at the resorts, and by 2003, Kerzner’s marketing department needed a production accountant to keep track of everything that fell outside their day-to-day accounting operations,” says Donna. Learning on the job and loving every minute of it, she took on more responsibility with each event, moving to the Bahamas permanently in 2006. When the company launched a new concert series in 2007, she was once again part of the action.

“The first show we did was Duran Duran. I remember having no idea what needed doing to get ready,” she recalls. “It was like, ‘OK, let’s turn the ballroom into a theatre; we need to drop the seats and figure out how to number them.’” Since then, Donna’s team has produced dozens of concerts, featuring such stars as Sheryl Crow, Taylor Swift, and Justin Bieber.

“Justin came in January 2010 to shoot a video; nobody knew who he was yet,” says Donna. “We could barely get people to come see him in our 400-seat theatre. He came back in June, and we sold out 3,500 seats instantly.”

Taking care of superstars is more grueling than glamorous, she insists. “I know where our performers are at every moment, from when their plane lands to when they’re checking out,” she explains. “If I’m not there to greet them, I know who is. I know where they’re having dinner, and make sure their parties are set. We have to pre-empt anything that could possibly go wrong.”

Does she get any odd requests from performers? One singer demanded white calla lilies delivered fresh each day; another insisted on having four bottles of peroxide in the dressing room at all times.

Donna routinely puts in 12-hour days, working 20-hour ones, if needed, during events.“There’s no margin for error, especially when events are being televised,” she says. “One of the expressions within Kerzner is, ‘Good enough never is.’ We live and breathe by that. The reward for good work is more work.”

In the end, Donna’s decision to study accounting was an excellent one. “At Queen’s I chose to focus on finance and accounting because I knew they’d travel well, and that decision has allowed me to get here. Still, when I’m standing in the pouring rain at three in the morning while they’re shooting videos outside, and everything’s falling apart, I’m wondering, ‘Oh my God, this is my life! What am I doing?’ But you know what? I really like it.”

Queen's Alumni Review, 2013 Issue #2Queen's Alumni Review
2013 Issue #2
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