The 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry 2017: The Trailblazers

25 Most Influential People 2017 opener

It takes a special kind of creativity to be a trailblazer. It requires the ability to understand the world as it is, while also being able to see the world as it could be. The individuals on this list have all bridged the gap between these two realities and the meetings industry if far better because of it.

View the full "25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry for 2017" here.

David Jefferys, president and CEO of the Altus Agency; founder and executive director of the LGBT Meeting Professionals Association
In the past year, Jefferys established the LGBT Meeting Professionals Association (LGBT MPA) and in that short period of time it has already grown to 500 members and is having its first annual conference at the end of the year. Jefferys and his team have created a new voice in the industry that will only increase the importance of diversity throughout the meetings industry. The organization also offers a space where groups that are still marginalized, such as the transgender community, can participate in the industry.

"When I started the LGBT MPA there was no place where like-minded individuals could exchange experiences common to each other. There was no course material or conference symposiums dedicated to the learning and development of the LGBT meeting and event planning industry. There was no data on the growth or economic impact that LGBT individuals or organizations have on meetings and events. We have begun that process," says Jefferys. Diversity and inclusion goals will become the new normal for all meetings and events.

Bradford Rand, president and CEO at TECHEXPO, Cyber Security Summit
For over a decade, Rand specialized in events focused on luxury goods as well as hiring events for intelligence/defense industry professionals. He still does those things, but has recently expanded into a series of cyber security summits, which connects C-level executives with cyber experts to help them address security challenges. He has tripled the number of annual summits and secured some of the biggest experts from around the world to help the executives in attendance get up to speed about the latest cybersecurity threats, as well as the cutting-edge solutions available to combat them.

As cybersecurity threats for companies and those hosting events have grown more urgent in the aftermath of large-scale hacks, Rand demonstrates how conferences can help educate and protect the corporate world. From an event-planning standpoint, the lean organization of his events also provide a model. As Rand puts it, "We have created a truly successful formula that can literally save their company millions of dollars from cyber sabotage."

Steve Goodling, president and CEO of Long Beach Area CVB
Goodling continues to pioneer new ways to meet planners' needs with the ever-evolving Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, demonstrating how a vibrant meetings/conventions market can boost the economic health of an entire city. Under his leadership, Long Beach has been at the forefront of a lot of experiential trends and has served as a model for destinations throughout the country. For example, Long Beach was one of the first to remake the public areas of its convention center into a series of conversation hubs and have flexible configurations that transformed not only the dimensions of its large event spaces, but the ambience of them as well.

Taking inspiration from the TED Conference (which Long Beach hosted for five years) the destination has adopted the "Three C's" of meetings: Connection, Collaboration, and Community as it's undergone a total of $60 million in renovations. "We wanted to remodel our Center so we could offer that unique ambience to all of our clients by creating turnkey event spaces at an affordable price, so that everyone could enjoy a 'TED-like' party," says Goodling.

It's an approach many others have been following. And with this month seeing the opening of another turnkey event space,"The Cove," as well as the Seaside Way pedestrian bridge, Goodling is also demonstrating another lesson for destination leaders: Never stop improving.

Annalisa Ponchia Baccara, CMP, CMM, CEO, European Society for Organ Transplantation (ESOT)
As CEO of ESOT, Baccara must see the big picture, but she is still hands-on in charge of the organization's big meetings. More than 30 years of experience in the event management field helps her to juggle those two perspectives.

She is managing a fully independent core structure she founded for ESOT 10 years ago and leading the way in using innovative technology to drive delegate engagement at meetings. The organization's strategy is based on analysis of attendee content preferences. "There are lots of 'if you found this session interesting, you'll love this content' type of analysis as well as advisory tools that use custom-designed algorithms, designed to expose delegates to material outside their specializations," says Martin Sirk, CEO of ICCA. "And it's working for them."

Baccara is also proactive in sharing best practices from ESOT events. As chairperson, Education Activities for AC Forum (the club for all the leading European-based international healthcare associations), she's making sure that everything she learns from a constant stream of experimentation is made available to the meetings community.

Marsha L. Flanagan, M.Ed., vice president of learning experiences, International Association of Exhibitions & Events (IAEE)
Flanagan has been an enthusiastic supporter of the meetings industry through her development of new career pathways for members and support of industry professionals. She has overseen the development of IAEE's standalone leadership program focused specifically on women's needs, including the Women's Leadership Forum and launch of the Woman of Achievement Award.

She has helped ensure that social giving remains a key part of IAEE's in-person events and maintains that "through education and networking activities for women, we can support and assist in getting more women in leadership roles to help close the gender pay gap."

Flanagan also applauds and supports the growing respect paid to the meetings industry, notably recognition from the U.S. Department of Labor as a standalone business sector, distinct from lodging and tourism. "We have shifted the view to be less logistical and more strategic by valuing what meetings, events, and exhibitions create for stakeholders, sponsors and attendees," Flanagan says.