Deborah Sexton, who has served for more than 12 years as president and chief executive officer of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), will hand the baton over to current PCMA chief operating officer Sherrif Karamat after the annual Convening Leaders event in Nashville in January.
Although the move took many in the industry by surprise, it has been in the works since September, when Sexton shared her decision with PCMA's board of directors. The board then voted unanimously to approve Karamat as the new CEO, effective Jan. 19, 2018. A Toronto resident, Karamat will relocate to Chicago for the new role.
After a successful 2017 Convening Leaders in Austin, TX, Sexton started to think about her exit. With the fact that PCMA's new strategic plan looks at least 10 years into the future, the timing was perfect, she said.
"I sat back and realized I was not willing to give ten years, and possibly not even five, so why would I stand in the way of this new initiative? It was time for me to get out of the way and let a new person lead the organization into the future. I think this is what a good leader should do," explained Sexton. "When I came in, I undertook a complete reorg, a complete revisioning, and I have spent more than 12 years driving that vision."
Add to that the fact that the organization has never been in a better financial position, and the stage was set for her exit. "You don't think about the future when you are down. You do that when you are up," she said.
Karamat is a natural successor, Sexton said.
"Sherrif and I have worked side by side for a long time and he has been a major part of the process. There is no need to bring someone up to speed as he has been in the trenches all along and will do a phenomenal job," she said. "Successful organizations create solid succession plans and then execute them. That's what we have done."
Asked to list her proudest accomplishment during her tenure with PCMA, Sexton focused the spotlight on her team.
"They are the ones who do the majority of the work. It's the team that's here that has allowed PCMA to become the progressive innovative organization it is."
Another accomplishment she cited is restoring financial success to the organization as well as the partnership program she created.
Karamat plans to bring a global perspective to his new role, and to focus on PCMA's social agenda.
"I believe business events can play a bigger role in society to help bring economic prosperity to communities across the world," Karamat said.
Sexton will remain in a strategic advisory role with PCMA through March. She plans to launch DLS and Associates, a Chicago-based consultancy to share her experience with others. Not only is DLS her initials, but it is also the tagline of her new venture: "Designing Lasting Solutions."
David Peckinpaugh, president of Maritz Global Events and PCMA Education Foundation's incoming chair for 2018, weighed in on the leadership change.
"It's wonderful to see an organization go through a well-thought-out and orderly succession plan like this. If you look at Deborah's almost 13 years at the helm and the amount of time Deborah and Sherrif have worked together and have been involved in PCMA's new strategic plan it makes sense for everyone involved."
The organization's new strategic plan requires at least a ten-year commitment, said Peckinpaugh, so it made logical sense for Sexton to relinquish the role of CEO to Karamat after 2018's Convening Leaders.
"This is an ideal solution to long term leadership for PCMA. It's good for the organization, it's good for Sherrif, and it's good for Deborah," said Peckinpaugh.