The 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry for 2016: The Strategists

top 25 people in meetings industry 2016

Strategy. You can't run a business without it -- or an industry. The strategists on the list this year are implementing game plans in their organizations that are having far-reaching effects on everything: how meeting destinations are selected, the procurement of hotel rooms, measuring the effectiveness of meetings, and much more. (View the full "25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry for 2016" here.)

The Marriott and Starwood sales teams, led by Alison Taylor, senior vice president of global sales for Starwood Hotels & Resorts; and Brian King, global sales officer and global brand officer of Marriott Signature Brands

It is appropriate to list our next two honorees together as they will both be working to ensure that arguably the biggest development of 2016 will be a success. The competitive landscape of the hospitality industry has been rocked by some huge mergers in the last 12 months, but the most prominent move is Marriott International's agreement to purchase Starwood Hotels and Resorts, creating an entity with a combined 1.1 million-plus rooms in more than 5,500 hotels under 30 brands around the world.

Clearly this is the merger that will have the greatest impact on how planners will procure and plan meetings. That is why the sales staffs of both organizations will be extremely influential for the foreseeable future, as will the two people who head up those teams.

For the past two years, Alison Taylor has been responsible for setting Starwood's global business-to-business sales strategy, including expanding programming like SPG Pro, the industry's first comprehensive B2B loyalty program. Among his many duties, Brian King is responsible for providing strategic leadership and management to Marriott's global sales team, which includes building strategic, business-to-business relationships with multinational corporations, national associations, and third-party travel intermediaries.

Assuming a successful merger, King says, "We expect the combined company to offer guests and planners the broadest portfolio of brands, combining Starwood's leading lifestyle brands and international footprint with Marriott's strong presence in the luxury and select-service tiers, as well as the convention and resort segment."

Mike McIlwain, president and CEO of PSAV

Special events and general sessions at meetings and conferences have grown in complexity and become much more elaborate in recent years. For many events, even a simple keynote speaker presentation requires production values worthy of a pop star on tour. That's why hotels, convention centers, conference facilities, and other venues have been increasingly outsourcing event technology services to third-party providers. 

Mike McIlwain heads up the largest of these third-party providers, PSAV, which has more than 8,200 team members around the globe providing technical services and support to 4,000 meetings a day and 1.5 million every year. So chances are very good that if you are planning a meeting, your A/V technician comes from PSAV. Under McIlwain's leadership, the company is an innovator in the adoption of virtual and digital technology that enhances all meetings and events. "The bar for delivering content has definitely been raised in the last few years," says McIlwain. "The need to leverage technology to deliver information that enables content to come alive at the event and have a shelf life after it is over is becoming a necessity."

Keegan Hooks, senior director of events for SAP Marketing

Overseeing the global events budget for SAP Marketing, Keegan Hooks is also the business owner of SAPPHIRE NOW, the software giant's largest marketing event. Hooks and her staff of more than 30 brought over 20,000 attendees to Orlando for this year's SAPPHIRE NOW event. The gathering debuted a redesigned show floor, anchored by a Live Business Experience messaging system. The show extended online, where it received more than 70,500 mentions from 12,900 distinct users, offering feeds from keynotes and strategic sessions. Hooks will be using the remainder of 2016 to focus on upcoming signature programs in the marketing portfolio and to take time for team development. "As SAP continues its mission to help businesses attack complexity and drive digital transformation, the events team also needs to continue to learn while embracing change," says Hooks. "We need to continue to grow and expand beyond traditional industry boundaries, and with SAP behind us we are able to be creative and agile in our approach to the events."

Isabel Bardinet
, CEO of the European Cardiology Society

Isabel Bardinet's association organizes a number of medical gatherings each year, including the hugely successful ESC Congress -- the largest medical conference in all of Europe, drawing some 32,000 cardiologists and other participants from dozens of countries in 2015. 

But of perhaps greater importance to the industry is the groundbreaking research the organization has done, analyzing the full, "beyond-tourism" impact of their organizations' meetings by studying the effect that its content is having on developing better solutions in the treatment and prevention of heart disease. The concept of impact measurement can be an essential tool in the effort to advocate for the importance of the meetings industry, and Bardinet is pioneering its use. 

Richard Harper
, executive vice president of HelmsBriscoe; co-chair of the Meetings Mean Business Coalition (MMBC)


Richard Harper has dedicated the last two years investing in HelmsBriscoe's infrastructure and raising the bar in its meetings procurement offerings to ensure it is providing best-in-class support for its associates. Harper has helped to grow the company's brand across the globe -- hitting and exceeding the $1 billion mark in room revenue in a single year -- a first in the industry. "When we booked $1.003 billion in 2014, and then exceeded our record again in 2015 with $1.075 billion, it was certainly a highlight for us," says Harper. "We have a pure, authentic, and consistent business model that works, and we are always welcoming new associates and clients who want to be part of something very special." Harper has also strengthened the industry through his work as co-chair of the Meetings Mean Business Coalition, helping spearhead the first annual Global Meetings Industry Day this year, and plans to continue the group's work in promoting face-to-face meetings.

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This article appears in the July 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.