The Magnificent Seven: The Industry's Most Valuable Players for 2006

From basketball to O.J.'s defense lawyers, the idea of a "dream team" is universal. Now, Successful Meetings has put one together for the meetings industry.

We went to the meetings associations and other industry resources to find out their picks for the best planners and suppliers of 2006. And so, without further ado, we proudly introduce this year's All-Star Meetings Team.

Philip Caparell
Hotel Convention Services Manager

Sushi for 600? Check. Cordless mic? Check. Swimming pool filled with whipped cream? Check.

Hardly your everyday banquet event order—but then again, Phil Caparell of the Boston Marriott Copley Place is hardly your everyday CSM. He was the 2005 recipient of the Hotel CSM of the Year Award, presented by Successful Meetings and the Association of Convention Operations Management (ACOM).

When Michele Yebba, meeting planning specialist for the Bose Corporation in Framingham, MA, arrived for a site inspection with a dozen sound engineers who proceeded to test the acoustics of every meeting room by clapping their hands, stomping their feet, and putting their ears to the walls, Caparell lasted the entire four hours, with no complaints. When she told him 200 attendees would be arriving simultaneously for the first day of the meeting, he worked with front-desk personnel to check in all 200 in just 15 minutes. And when she told him she needed a kiddie pool filled with whipped cream for her directors to jump into during her opening general session, he didn't bat an eye.

"I'm very much into building a relationship with my client," says Caparell, who was recently promoted to director of event planning, overseeing a staff of eight. "It really excites me, working with other departments and outside vendors to make sure we have a successful event."

For Yebba's opening, er, splash, Caparell had to coordinate with catering, housekeeping, and facilities to order enough heavy cream, whip it, fill the pool, and get it to the meeting room just in time so it didn't melt. (One contingency he didn't foresee, he admits, was the trail of whipped-cream footprints the gentlemen left in the hallway on the way back to their rooms—which necessitated their being followed by cleaning staff.)

Another time, Caparell helped the entire hotel come together to devise an action plan for a meeting of deaf seniors: "Every area was thinking about how they would interact with a large group of deaf guests." Thus waiters carried pads of paper so diners could write down their orders, housekeeping put stickers on deaf attendees' doors so room service would know that occupants couldn't hear them knocking, and Caparell arranged for an interpreter to teach staffers the basics of sign language.

"To be an outstanding CSM," Caparell sums up, "you need organizational skills, attention to detail, and an incredible amount of energy." Not to mention at least 36 gallons of heavy cream from time to time.

Lucy Eisele
Incentive Planner

About a month before Lucy Eisele of Creative Memories, a scrapbooking company, won a SITE Crystal Award for the incentive program she'd designed for her top salespeople, she did the unthinkable: She quit.

Eisele had just been designated a Certified Incentive Travel Executive (CITE), thanks in part to a thesis she'd written on incorporating community giving into incentive programs. "I thought, 'What good is this [certification] to anyone but me?' " recalls the Big Lake, MN-based planner. "I knew I wouldn't get a raise or a promotion. I didn't want to be just another incentive planner, so I decided community giving would be my point of difference." And voila—she hung out a shingle as Lucy in the Sky.

"Often clients think you can just tack on community service to an incentive," Eisele says. "But you have to promote it throughout the program, so participants really feel special. That's where I think I will lend the difference." If her past history is any indication, she will: A 2004 Creative Memories incentive she designed around a top-to-bottom renovation of an impoverished Mexican school won three industry awards, including a Successful Meetings Super Six Award as well as top honors from the Professional Convention Management Association and IMEX.

Eisele's creativity further differentiates her. Like a Nancy Drew of incentive planners, she likes to "snoop around" a destination: "I visit old cotton fields or whatever, and think, 'What could I do with this?' " That's precisely how she landed her latest Crystal Award. While in Austria planning her program, she visited the salt mines outside Salzburg—and decided to hold her awards ceremony there.

"Creative Memories is a direct-selling company, so recognition is the most important thing," explains Eisele. "But our participants had no idea when they went down into the mine that it was for a recognition ceremony—they're so used to doing that in a ballroom." The theme? "Salt of the Earth," with honorees receiving silver necklaces containing special "chambers" filled with salt from the actual mine.

Tamara Kennedy
CVB Salesperson

Here's how we know Tamara Kennedy is a superb saleswoman: Vicki Storey, vice president of Connections Corp., a conference-planning firm in Chesapeake, VA, not only avoids convention & visitors bureaus (she prefers to work directly with hotels), but was strongly favoring San Diego for her upcoming meeting. Yet Kennedy called her, talked her into coming out to Portland for a familiarization trip, and Storey's been singing the Pacific Northwest town's praises ever since. And it was on the strength of Storey's recommendation that SM and ACOM awarded Kennedy the CSM of the Year Award in 2005 for best bureau CSM.

Says Storey, "Tamara really convinced me how much the city could help my client," a national not-for-profit association of municipal government employees. That's no surprise, considering that Kennedy prides herself on being a resource for her clients, by volunteering her time on planning committees for the local branches of the Society of Government Meeting Professionals and other relevant associations. When the U.S. Green Building Council met recently in Portland, Kennedy even volunteered to work the welcome desk, just to make sure her group's needs were met while on site.

"The more you work in a vertical market, the more you learn about the connections among groups," says Kennedy, whose own vertical markets include organizations in public administration, natural science, and the environment. "I try to be as responsive to my clients' needs as I can by sharing resources—like [mentioning] if I know someone who could be a guest speaker [for a group] or serve on a host committee."

To further prove she's not one to just pay lip service to customers' needs, Kennedy launched a "green team" at her bureau last December. "The more I learned from the environmental associations I worked with, the more impassioned I became," she explains. Going beyond training in recycling and other operational practices, the team—which consists of representatives from every department—also brainstorms community-outreach ideas, such as having staff volunteer for a children's bicycling activity. Says Kennedy, "I wanted to make sure we're walking the talk."

Bruce McKinney
Convention Center CSM

A few years ago, Bruce McKinney, senior event manager at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, was working on a wood-products-industry trade show whose manager was terrified would be disrupted by environmentalists. "Every day, she'd ask us if we heard anything about demonstrations," he recalls. "In the end, we got about six people holding a banner."

McKinney decided to have some fun at her expense. He wrote up a phony invoice charging the client $75,000 for keeping police on standby in case of rioting, with fake charges for helicopters and rubber bullets and a forged logo and signature from Portland's police chief. "I handed it to her during our appreciation luncheon," McKinney says. She nearly burst into tears—but they quickly turned to laughter when he 'fessed up.

Humor is a key reason McKinney was named 2005's best CSM at a convention center by SM and ACOM. "He lightens the atmosphere," says Geoff Horning, show manager for the Oregon Association of Nurseries, in Wilsonville. "He's always relaxed, and comes with a smile or a joke."

But never too relaxed. When Horning had just seven hours to get more than 2,000 barrels of mulch removed from the building, McKinney found an excavation crew. When local volunteers coordinating Intel ISEF, an international science fair, handed him stacks of paperwork involving thousands of last-minute changes, McKinney and his team put in the hours needed to update the documentation and rework the floor plans. "That show was probably the biggest challenge I've ever faced," he admits. "We practically rewrote the book on it, but in the end it came off flawlessly."

McKinney prides himself on his time-management skills, attention to detail, and follow-through. "I ask clients a series of questions to make sure their expectations match what we can provide, so that there are no surprises." But in the end, it's that sense of humor that helps him get by: "I figure, if it's not brain surgery and nobody's gonna die, why be Mr. Serious all the time?"

Oh, and by the way—that $75,000 invoice McKinney forged is now framed and hanging on the show manager's office wall.

Glenn Reighart
Association Planner

Several years ago, during his annual convention in Chicago, Glenn Reighart experienced a planner's worst nightmare: While riding an escalator, he suddenly blacked out, fell down, and ended up spending the rest of the meeting in the hospital.

"We spend so much time planning contingencies for when people around us get physically injured," says Reighart. "When it happens to you, and you're running your organization's most important event, it's truly frightening."

The fact that the convention went off without a hitch despite Reighart's unexpected absence is testament to his professionalism and preparedness, say his colleagues. "Glenn is an accomplished visionary and strategic event professional," declares Gary Boyler, director of brand management at the Project Management Institute in Newtown Square, PA, and a member of the Meeting Professionals International awards committee that selected Reighart last year as the winner of the organization's most prestigious honor: Planner of the Year. "He consistently delivers value to his stakeholders through his innovation and creativity. He doesn't think outside the box—he rebuilds the box."

Here's just one example. Reighart has been director of meetings and conventions at the Alexandria, VA-based National Community Pharmacists Association only since last April. Yet in just his first six months on the job, he revamped both the legislative conference and the annual convention. Of the latter, "We reworked the whole thing so it wasn't the typical format of a general assembly followed by breakouts," says Reighart. "Attendance increased, and the attendee evaluations were overwhelmingly positive."

One of the first planners to receive a CMM designation, Reighart is a highly sought-after CMP instructor. He also believes in lifelong learning: "Among the best planners are people with a hotel, catering, or convention sales background," he says. "Many people in the industry have switched from one side to the other, whereas I haven't, so I'm always learning from those around me, even if I'm teaching the course."

Pat Schaumann
DMC Professional

Winner of the Destination Management Professional of the Year Award from the Association of Destination Management Executives. Named one of MeetingNews' 25 most influential people in the meetings industry for the second year in a row. Published The Guide to Successful Destination Management, already used in 157 colleges and universities. And that's just a sampling of what Pat Schaumann accomplished in 2005.

But she considers her greatest feat to be the rapid growth in DMC certification, an innovation she spearheaded three years ago when her company, St. Louis-based MAC Meetings & Events, administered the first DMCP exam. Today, nearly 90 DMCs are certified globally and the test was administered for the sixth time just a few weeks ago. "I'm an educator—that's my passion," says Schaumann, who is an adjunct professor of hospitality at four universities as well as a holder of CMP, CSEP, and DMCP designations, "so I'm proudest of that."

Schaumann thinks in capital letters. Ask what else she accomplished in 2005 and she replies promptly, "Single sourcing." Again, it's a concept she created, whereby a large corporation uses MAC for all its DMC needs globally, and MAC is responsible for ensuring that all DMC suppliers comply with corporate regulations. "As far as I know we're the only company that's ever done this," says Schaumann, who just signed her second single-sourcing contract.

Schaumann is a visionary. After 9/11, as travel withered and she watched her DMC colleagues fold one by one, she decided to diversify. Since then, she's launched five new divisions—mobile marketing, a temporary meeting-planning agency, promotional products, media and communications, and sports and entertainment; all are thriving.

Oh—and there's one more thing she managed to do last year: "We bought a football team: the [indoor football league's] RiverCity Rage," Schaumann says. "That's been very exciting!"

Lisa Stanford
Corporate Planner

In 2003, when Lisa Stanford first took over as meetings manager for Houston-based energy giant ConocoPhillips, senior meeting planner Lisa Treece admits she had "reservations." Stanford had come in as the result of a corporate merger, replacing Treece's boss of 17 years.

My, what a difference three years make. "Lisa's done wonders for this department," says Treece today. "She's brought in so many processes to help us with our jobs. Before she started, for instance, we had no way of tracking how much money we're saving the company."

But Stanford's main innovation, which won her a 2005 Best Practitioner Award from Successful Meetings' sister publication, Business Travel News, was a simple Excel spreadsheet known as a RACI chart. An acronym for "responsible," "accountable," "consult," and "inform," the RACI chart delineates the roles of all meeting stakeholders in 34 different meeting activities. For example, in "negotiating a meeting location contract," the planner is assigned an "R" for responsible (meaning he or she does the actual work), whereas the department executive gets an "A" for accountable (meaning he or she has the final authority). For "determining a meeting budget," the department executive gets an "R," while the meeting planner gets a "C" for consult.

"Administrative assistants were duplicating our work and it was becoming confusing," explains Stanford. "We held one-on-one meetings with key stakeholders where we literally went over every line [in the spreadsheet] and said, 'This is your role; this is our role.' "

RACI charts have long been used in corporate America to outline roles and responsibilities, but as far as Stanford knows, she's the first to apply the concept to meetings. Some admins were initially reluctant to let go of certain tasks, she admits, until Stanford explained that the point was not to take away their involvement in planning, but "to do right by the company with strategic sourcing and contracting. That goes to Sarbanes-Oxley, which I think is one of the best things to happen to meeting planning departments."