Few people in Santa Barbara know that the Guru of Event Design lives here on our doorstep. He was dubbed so some 28 years ago by Special Events magazine. He didn’t get the title just because of his creative talent, but because of the thousands of peers he taught and with whom he shared all his secrets. His name alone at events conventions packs a ballroom. According to Carol McKibben, founding publisher of Special Events magazine, “When he teaches, other professionals just want to sit at his feet and hang on his every word. He embodies innovation and creativity.”

His name is John Daly, and he moved to Santa Barbara some 20 years ago. But, what’s so amazing is that many people who know him don’t really know the depth of his background. Why? Because he is more about other people than he is himself.

Originally from Upstate New York, Daly and his brother were raised by a single mother who experienced financial ups and downs. Happily overcoming their problems, the family moved to Los Angeles when Daly was 13. Deciding not to go to college despite graduating high school in the top third of his class, he began working in the event industry before it was formalized as it is today. Having experienced a life of poverty in his childhood, he was highly motivated to start his own business and be in control!

Working a minimum of 15-hour days, Daly launched his business after falling in love with the world of events, and grew it into a very successful international company.
He and his company, John Daly Inc. International, traveled the world, designing and implementing creative, cutting-edge temporary environments for a variety of events. In addition to his design background, Daly owned and operated PRA Santa Barbara and Las Vegas destination management companies, along with Montecito Home Staging.

For a number of years, Daly ran six different companies simultaneously and hired and managed hundreds of people. 

Over the years, he has worked with Hollywood’s elite, including Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Victoria and David Beckham, Jada and Will Smith and Oprah Winfrey. He has created event designs for Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, as well as the State Department and the Smithsonian Institute.

When Pope John Paul II made his North American tour, Daly was called upon to design the altar decor for the ceremonies held at the Los Angeles Coliseum and Dodger Stadium. Most of the Top 50 Fortune 100 companies have been Daly’s ongoing clients for many years. A few include American Express, MasterCard, Citicorp, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, CBS, Paramount, DreamWorks, Johnson & Johnson and most of the major car companies.

While sitting in Daly’s small, open office, overlooking a beautiful garden, one can’t help but notice the numerous prestigious awards, including many special events galas and the distinguished Gala Award of Excellence, rarely bestowed, that line his office walls. More questions reveal that Daly was inducted into Event Solutions’ Industry Hall of Fame in 2002.  He is a founding member and past president of the International Special Events Society and a founding member and past chairman of the SEARCH Foundation, which assists in obtaining health services for event professionals. And he was among the very first in the event industry to earn his Certified Special Event Professional designation in 1993. But, not content to rest on his accomplishments, Daly has taught other event professionals at workshops and conferences since 1987.

What does Daly attribute to his great success? Hard work and dedication.

“I have always treated anyone in business with the greatest respect and have worked with a very high code of ethics,” he said. “Always considering the comfort of others and using the correct business manners brought me full circle to a life of which I am proud.”

Dasly isn’t comfortable talking about his accomplishments. He’d rather talk about how we can all help other people. And, he hasn’t just had an impact on the world of events. He’s been “paying it forward” in special ways since landing in Santa Barbara. First, as a mentor, and now sharing his knowledge in a unique way.

See Part 2 in this series to discover how John Daly is changing the lives of other people these days.

Click here for a new weekly column by John Daly.

— Maria Long represents The Key Class.