Meetings Strategies

25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry

June 25, 2012

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The 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry

Each week we'll highlight one member from our list of the 25 most influential people in the meetings industry, with the full list going live in July. Check back each week for new installments, or sign up for our weekly newsletter to get an early look at each winner.
Reggie Aggarwal, founder, Cvent. 2011 was a great year for Aggarwal—especially July when the founder of the event management, venue selection, and web survey software raised $136 million in funding, the largest investment in history for the meetings and event technology industry. Cvent plans to use its investment for "substantial technology developments, continued global expansion, and potential acquisitions so the meetings industry will be feeling the impact of this for years to come. For more about why Reggie Aggarwal is on the list, click here

Corbin Ball, Founder, Corbin Ball Associates. It seems like Ball (CSP, CMP, MS) has been around forever. But if he didn't exist, surely the meetings industry would have to invent him. He is the foremost authority on all things tech when it comes to the meetings industry. At a time when the pace of technological development is lightning fast, the industry has a crying need for more people like him, who can provide organizations with perspective on how to use this dizzying array of technology to improve meetings management. For more on what makes Ball stand out, click here
Ray Bloom Small
Ray Bloom, Chairman, IMEX Group.  It could be argued that no one did more for revitalizing the meetings industry in 2011 than Bloom. IMEX America (along with AIBTM) firmly established the European hosted-buyer MICE show concept, which Bloom pioneered, in the US. According to post show surveys, IMEX America will generate a total of $2.2 billion in business with IMEX America exhibitors.Click here to find out why Bloom made the list.

Eduardo Chaillo, executive director of meetings for the Mexico Tourism Board. He's got one of the hardest jobs in the meetings business right now—selling Mexico— and he's doing a first-rate job. So good, that the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC) just gave him its Profile and Power Award. The award, which recognizes individuals and organizations that have made "significant contributions" to advancing the awareness and influence of the meetings industry in their respective communities, was bestowed upon Chaillo because of his leadership in conducting a comprehensive economic impact study of Mexico's meetings industry. Learn more.

Bed Bug Small
Cimex lectularius (The Bed Bug). Though not actually a person, (or even a mammal for that matter) the number of reported bedbug incidents in 2011 shattered 2010 totals by more than 660 percent, according to travel website Overall, the number of individual hotels with bedbugs rose by 250 percent, making these parasites the most prolific event crashers in the history of the meetings industry. Click here to see why bedbugs made the list.

Roger Dow (Small)
Roger Dow, President, CEO, U.S. Travel Association. Under Dow's leadership, the meetings industry successfully lead the fight against the AIG Effect, and brought the meetings and events industry together for its first truly effective lobbying effort. From demonstrating the value of the business and it's impact on the U.S. economy to advocating visa reform to bring more international meetings to the U.S., Dow has been tireless—and quite possibly the most effective advocate the industry has ever had. Learn more about Dow's exceptional leadership.

Jack Dorsey Small
Jack Dorsey, creator of Twitter. In 2011, tweeting played a major role in bringing down dictatorships, organizing protests like Occupy Wall Street, and in general changing the way information is disseminated. You’d be hard pressed to find a conference, sales meeting, or tradeshow that doesn’t have a tweeting component as part of it’s pre- and onsite promotional strategy. It has also transformed attendees into brand ambassadors (or brand assassins in some cases). Find out more about the impact of Twitter on meetings.

Abdalla Salem El-Badri_Small
Abdalla Salem El-Badri, Secretary General of OPEC. The price of oil affects everything from airfares to the cost of F&B. In 2011, the wildly fluctuating oil prices made it tough for everyone in the meetings industry to take positions when negotiating. As the public face of the most important cartel in the oil industry, Abdalla Salem El-Badri can alter the price of all goods and services simply by issuing a statement. Learn more about OPEC's influence on meetings.

Jim Evans Small
Jim Evans, CEO, Brand USA. Created by the Travel Promotion Act in 2011, Brand USA is America's first-ever global consumer brand. So overdue, it's actually pathetic, Evans has the gargantuan task of aligning a brand and corporate messaging strategy for a country that offers a range of destinations and experiences that are unparalleled in the world market. His level of success (or failure) at that task will have a profound effect on the meetings industry. Find out more about Brand USA.

Michael D Gehrisch - Small
Michael D. Gehrisch, President and CEO, Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI). In 2011, DMAI partnered with the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) to complete a new study of convention destinations. The study, "Destination 2020," will include a comprehensive review of the operational issues affecting major convention destinations, as well as industry best practices, performance benchmarking guidelines, and a forecast of the impact of current convention center marketing issues and trends. The organization has also debuted its Event Impact Calculator under Gehrisch's watch. This unique tool measures the economic value of an event and calculates its return on investment to local taxes. Armed with this information, DMOs are better prepared to make the case to policymakers for the ongoing development and growth of the meetings sector. Learn more about DMAI.

Richard Harper Small
Richard Harper, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, MGM Resorts International. As executive vice president of sales and marketing for MGM Resorts, Harper has executive oversight for company sales strategies; regional sales efforts in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.; diversity sales; industry relations; MGM Resorts Events; the Corporate Audio Visual department; and the Corporate Contact Center. In addition, he offers strategic oversight for the company's regional and vertical sales efforts, manages and enhances the strategy for all national sales office relationships, and develops and executes a companywide sales strategy for top destination accounts. All this makes him one of the most influential sales professionals in the meeting and trade show industries. Read more about Harper, who recently accepted a new position at HelmsBriscoe.

G.J. Hart Small
G.J. Hart, CEO, California Pizza Kitchen. Few CEOs have defended meetings as strongly as G.J. Hart, who earned the appreciation of the meetings industry in April 2009 when he went on NBC News to advocate the value of incentive events and conferences at a time when most organizations were cancelling meetings in the wake of the AIG Scandal. Then the CEO of Texas Roadhouse, he made the case for the company’s five-day incentive event for its restaurant managers, stressing its business value and contribution to the satisfaction and success of the company’s front-line managers. The straight-talking executive has since moved west, taking over as California Pizza Kitchen’s CEO last August, but his stance on the importance of meetings has not budged—nor has his strategy towards dealing with media inquiries about them. He still speaks to the consumer press about the value of meetings and has also keynoted at meetings industry trade shows and conferences. In a landscape where few CEOs are willing to talk publicly about their meetings strategies (or are even aware that a meetings industry even exists) Hart is rarity — and a role model for all C-suite executives. Hear what Hart had to say about the recent "Muffingate" meeting controversy.


Roger Helms Small
Roger Helms, CEO, HelmsBriscoe. With $800 million in revenue booked with an estimated meeting spend of more than $1 billion, there's no player bigger than HelmsBriscoe. Put another way, HB associates booked 4.5 million group room nights last year for 30,000 different meeting programs. That's a lot of influence. Find out how HelmsBriscoe is growing.

Reid Hoffman Small
Reid G. Hoffman, Co-Founder, LinkedIn. The social network used primarily for business connections and job searching, LinkedIn is also morphing into the de facto tool for professional networking among meeting attendees. The number of trade shows and conferences creating LinkedIn groups to promote and distribute information about the event to attendees has grown rapidly. Learn why event planners love LinkedIn.

Steve Jobs Small
The late Steve Jobs, co-founder, former CEO of Apple. No CEO ever used the annual meeting more masterfully than Jobs. Part showman, part revival meeting preacher, Jobs annual meetings are the template for anyone looking to make a connection with employees and investors that will bring them onboard with the vision of an organization. He was also a brilliant marketer whose product launches created the kind of buzz and excitement generally reserved for blockbuster movies or rock concerts.

Steve Knight, Event Director, Centaur Exhibitions. In 2011, as the project director of AIBTM, Knight helped establish the European hosted-buyer MICE show concept in the U.S. The success of the show has also made a major contribution to the continuing rebound of the meetings industry. Just this month, he jumped back across the pond to join Centaur Exhibitions, where he'll be working on the launch of a major hosted buyer show for the U.K. meetings industry. Read Successful Meetings' interview with Knight.

Dawn Penfold Small
Dawn Penfold, CMP, President, The Meeting Candidate Network, The Meeting Temp Job Network and In an economy that's struggling to keep the workforce gainfully employed, no one has done more to keep professionals in the meetings industry working that Penfold. She also plays a big part in helping planners advance their careers. She has been in the hospitality industry for over 25 years and was president of the board of the Greater New York chapter of MPI in addition to serving on the board of the New York chapter of PCMA. Learn more about Penfold by reading some of her advice.

Kimberly Ritter Small
Kimberly Ritter, Nix Conference & Meeting Management. A few years ago Ritter, a meeting planner who organizes conferences around the world, noticed that it was possible to identify many hotel chains by the room décor in the background of the photos in escort service ads. Sometimes it's even possible to identify specific properties. She been using that knowledge to fight international sex trafficking by encouraging the management of the mainstream middle-end and high-end hotels in her network to fight sex trafficking at their properties. Read more about Ritter's efforts.

Mickey Shaefer Small
Mickey Schaefer, Mickey Schaefer & Associates. A veteran of the meetings industry for over 30 years, Schaefer has a long list of accomplishments over that period, not least of which was the instrumental role she played in the development of APEX, one of the first industry attempts to standardize practices in the meetings industry. But her inclusion on this list isn't for what she's done in the past — it's for what she's doing right now. Specifically, the Certified Tourism Ambassador Program she heads. It is a certification program that trains front-line hospitality employees and volunteers to work together to improve the visitor experience at destinations. To date, over 100 CVBs and DMOs have adopted the program and thousands of hospitality employees have been certified. See what Schaefer accomplished as chair of the Convention Industry Council's APEX Commission.

Deborah Sexton Small
Deborah Sexton, President and CEO, Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). In addition to being a key player in the Economic Significance Study for the U.S. Meetings Industry — which was conducted with PricewaterhouseCoopers and released in 2011 — under Sexton, the PCMA annual meeting continues to be an incubator for cutting-edge ideas that further the advancement of the meetings industry. The 2011 meeting alone drew record numbers of virtual attendees, underscoring the importance of virtual meetings by co-locating with the Virtual Edge Summit. Learn more about Sexton's recent achievements as PCMA president and CEO.

Christine Shimasaki Small
Christine "Shimo" Shimasaki, Managing Director, Under the banner of DMAI, Shimasaki has been the driving force behind, a web portal that aggregates information from destination marketing organizations. Last year, unveiled a destination profile section to further aid planners in site selection. The website added enhanced mapping functionality, destination-services checklists, contact information for local experts and destination news, all designed to facilitate site research and help planners and suppliers get to faced-to-face negotiations faster. Learn more about

Angela Smith Small
Angela Smith, Communications Solution Architect, InVision Communications. Two years ago as the manager-global sales experience, global sales operations at Cisco Systems, Smith was responsible for organizing CiscoLive, a 100 percent virtual event that engaged 14,000 sales people. This turned out to be a groundbreaking virtual event that demonstrated to the meetings industry not only the value of virtual to enhance a physical event, but also how virtual events can be an integral part of an organization's event marketing strategy. Smith has continued her work at INXPO and InVision coming up with innovative ways to transform the web from an archive of pages and files into a destination for meetings and events where attendees go to meet, learn and do business. Read more about Smith's groundbreaking CiscoLive event.

Spatrisano and Zavada
Amy Spatrisano & Nancy J. Zavada, CMP, Principals of MeetGreen and Co-Founders of the Green Meetings Industry Council (GMIC). Spatrisano and Zavada work tirelessly to spread the word about the importance of sustainability in the meetings industry. Their company and the association they founded have given them a level of influence that has a global reach. The efforts of this dynamic duo on behalf of the green movement touches all the bases of effective advocacy: research, standards, education, and practice. Find out what the GMIC's been up to.
Kirsten Strand Small

Kirsten Strand, Creator and Co-Founder, Strand, (BSc, CITE, CMM), had a vision of making it easy for planners to instantly find apps relevant to the meeting industry. In August 2011, her online app directory reached its 2,500th app. As this new tool continues to develop it's obvious that people like Strand will be crucial in pointing users in the right direction for using it. Read the industry's latest piece of app news.

Shawna Suckow Small
Shawna Suckow, Founder and President, Senior Planners Industry Network (SPIN). Spin is the largest network of senior-level meeting, event and exhibition planners. All members must have over 10 years of full-time meeting planning experience. Suckow started the organization as a social media site for senior-level planners to network that has since evolved to include 40 live events a year. If there's a better think tank for ideas for improving the meetings industry, we haven't seen it. Learn more about SPIN.
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