Machuta Makes Numbers Sing


    GRAND RAPIDS — Like many finance directors, you can usually find Chris Machuta at least waist deep in numbers on most days.

    Current revenue and expense figures for

    DeVos Place

    and Van Andel Arena occupy much of his time. And then there are the annual fiscal projections he puts together for both buildings that fill in the rest of his days.

    “It’s the normal financial statements. Pay the bills. Budgeting. Do a little bit of long-range planning. A lot of what I do is analyze events before we book them. I also deal with a lot of our third-party contractors,” said Machuta, who has analyzed those events and dealt with contractors for nearly seven years now.

    But unlike most finance directors, Machuta often has to account for some highly unusual factors when he crunches his numbers. Things like blinding snowstorms and oppressive heat waves.

    “I never thought I’d be in a position as an accountant where I’d constantly be looking at the weather to see if that’s going to affect walk-up sales,” he said.

    While the arena turns 10 years old this fall, Machuta just passed his 10-year mark with SMG. Craig Liston, the first SMG general manager here, hired Machuta to work in the accounting department a few months before the arena opened. Three years later, he was promoted to director of finance under current SMG General Manager Rich MacKeigan.

    “He has been around since the arena opened, so his historical knowledge has been a great resource to me. Over and above that, he is a great numbers guy. But he also understands this industry, and his rapport and relationship with promoters and agents is exceptional. His feel for what works in this market is very, very strong,” said MacKeigan.

    “There are only a couple of people I will go to inquire how they think a show will go, and Chris is one of those go-to guys. He could be running his own building elsewhere, but he has a commitment to West Michigan,” added MacKeigan.

    Machuta earned his accounting degree from GrandValleyStateUniversity and then went to work for a local phone company before he joined SMG. At his current post, he said his toughest duty is to come up with accurate fiscal forecasts for an industry that is full of surprises.

    “At the convention center, at least we have the base. We know that we’re going to have certain conventions throughout the year. The Showspan shows will all be here and the arts groups will all be in the theater. At the arena, we’ve got the Griffins and the Rampage, so we’ve got a base there,” he said.

    “We hope that we’re always going to continue with the 20-some concerts a year [at the arena] that we’ve been able to maintain. There is always that chance that maybe this coming year will be finally the year that we don’t do it. But we hope that doesn’t happen. At the convention center, it’s a lot of short-term stuff.”

    The tougher of the two for Machuta to budget each year is

    DeVos Place

    , because the center has only been fully open for a year and hasn’t established much of a track record.

    “The convention center has been hard because we kind of had to throw history out the window. We had the history of the old GrandCenter and we could base things on that. So not having that history for

    DeVos Place

    does make it difficult right now. But hopefully in two or three years, we’ll have a little bit of history to look back on and be able to forecast a little bit more accurately,” he said.

    What Machuta likes best about being SMG director of finance is that very few days are the same for him, a claim that many in the accounting field likely can’t make — including one of his buddies in the business.

    “A friend of mine that I went to college with went the public accounting route. A few years ago in early April, working tough hours doing taxes, he called me and asked what I was doing. I told him I was working a concert. Everybody has to work late at times. But he is sitting there in a quiet office doing tax returns and I’ve got a national artist singing in my office building,” he said with a smile.

    Machuta was born in Wurzburg, West Germany, about 17 years before the Berlin Wall fell and the two countries were reunited into a single nation. He was born overseas because his father was drafted into the Army — while he was on his honeymoon, by the way. But instead of being sent to Vietnam, he was assigned to a base in Wurzburg, a city of 130,000 in the northern Franconian region of Germany.

    “Mom joined him there and I came about a year-and-a-half later. I was only actually there for about three-and-a-half months before mom came back and dad got discharged.”

    Machuta was raised in Wyoming and now lives in Grandville with his wife Becky and their two children: 4-year-old Kateyln and 2-year-old Joshua. In his spare time, Machuta likes to play golf and read. But now he spends most of his free days trying to keep up with Joshua and Katelyn. And when she isn’t taking care of the kids, Becky is an occupational therapist at Grandville Public Schools.

    Outside of work, Machuta serves as treasurer for the Kent County Parks Foundation, a seven-year-old nonprofit organization that supports the county park system. He is also active in the International Association of Assembly Managers, a worldwide group of professionals who operate arenas, convention centers and auditoriums.

    As for his immediate future, Machuta sees himself continuing to try to keep pace with his children, and at the same time, staying in stride with all the events coming into the arena and the convention center.

    “Personally, it’s enjoying the kids,” he quickly said of his personal goal.

    “Professionally, I still feel like I’m learning all the time. I’m just trying to get my hands around all the things going on at the convention center, and that’s what I do every day. I certainly don’t feel like I’ve conquered my job yet, so I still have got plenty to try to accomplish with what I’m trying to do right now.”     

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