Newsmaker Q + A: Terri Breining gives back to her favorite industry

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of her independent planning company, Concepts Worldwide, this month, company founder and president Terri Breining is more focused than ever on giving back to the industry.

Her efforts have come with rewards-she's racking up accolades left and right-but her motivation is more about altruism, along with a good dose of business savvy. MeetingNews took time out to find out what makes this independent woman tick.

Q In conjunction with San Diego State University (SDSU)—where you've taught for many years—you are marking your company's two decades of service by launching an internship for 20 college students studying meeting planning at hospitality schools nationwide. The recipients will work at corporations to gain real-world meeting planning experience.

This comes after you started a scholarship for students in SDSU's Hospitality and Tourism Management program several years ago.

Why did you create these programs, instead of basking in the glow of your accomplishments?

A As someone who's enjoyed satisfaction and success, it's my responsibility to give back to the industry. And what's kept me teaching, for about 18 years, is the joy that comes with seeing the lights come on for people when they discover that meeting planning is a possibility for them.
There's great satisfaction in helping someone find his or her career path.

Q You have a long history of serving the industry too, having chaired Meeting Professionals International in 2003-2004 and, since early 2007, you've been Commissioner of the Accepted Practices Exchange Commission. What does that work bring you?

A Again, it's about corporate social responsibility. Plus, the more I'm out there learning, teaching, and volunteering, the more I learn. I became a better meeting planner, and then a better business owner, through volunteer leadership. It has driven my professional development.

Also, without a doubt, one of the benefits of this work is that I get business.

Q All members of your executive team have, or are going for, a Certificate in Meeting Management while the same is true of your operations staff and the Certified Meeting Professional designation.

Why is that?

A Certification and continuing education is a priority for us so we support that [financially, and time-wise] for our people. It's been a great addition to their education process.

Q Concepts was recently certified as a Women's Business Enterprise by the
Women's Business Enterprise National Council.

Why did you apply for this national certification?

A We've received many different women-owned business certifications over the years but some were just because they said so; there wasn't much to them.
But this particular one has a very rigorous application and audit process. You have to be implementing good practices to qualify, and you have to reapply for certification every year.

So now, for companies that have a mandate to work with minority- and women-owned businesses and who keep a list of such entities, we're on the list. It gives us an edge.

Q Do you think all independent planners need to be so out and about?

APeople looking to start a business just need to do what they love and they'll be fine. The worst thing for anyone is to have a job that sucks that they do for 20, 30, or 40 years.

Q EIBTM International bestowed its first "personality of the year" award on you this past December. What does that mean to you?

AI was completely stunned! It feels wonderful because I have a great deal of respect for Paul Kennedy [an executive with the show organizer who spearheaded the award committee], having worked with him at MPI, and I know this was done from his heart.

If people do their work for awards and acknowledgements, it's the wrong reason; if it's the primary goal, there'll never be enough acknowledgement.

But if the motivation is to give back to an industry that's fed us and because it's the right thing to do, then these acknowledgments are wonderful gifts.

Q Concepts employees submitted an application for the company to be named one of the "Best Companies to Work for in San Diego," by a local paper, and the company got that designation.

How do you foster that type of environment?

A I respect and like them, which is a good start.

Also, we do community service events that allow employees to give back.We have opportunities for people to express their opinion, such as the annual retreat, which every employee attends. And we listen to what they have to say;we're implementing several changes that were suggested last year.

Also, when I'm in town, I'm available all the time if anyone needs to speak with me. They don't have to make an appointment or go through someone else. We have a lot of laughter: If I hear people laughing, I don't go out to them and bark that they need to get back to work. In addition, there's acknowledgement of hard work and if people make mistakes, they're not fired or belittled. Sure, if they make the same mistake 10 times, there's a problem, but if it happens once, they know not to do it again.

It comes down to courtesy and respect.

Q What drives you?

AThe opportunity to do work that I love, with people I enjoy working with. And I get paid for that! It's a very cool deal.

Contact Rayna Katz at [email protected]

Originally published January 07, 2008