25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry: Up Close and Personal


Five years ago, Successful Meetings' sister brand, MeetingNews, ended its annual tradition of choosing 25 people who had the greatest impact in the meetings industry. This year, we've revived the practice as a joint Successful Meetings/MeetingNews effort.

Each week between January and July we profiled one person on the list. With the full list revealed, we'll now revisit one of the 25 each week through the end of the year, offering an up-close-and-personal look at some of the industry's most significant influencers, innovators and newsmakers. Check back here each week for a new installment. 

This Week's Featured Influencer:

Reggie Aggarwal, Founder, Cvent

Reggie Aggarwal, the founder of Cvent has been getting even more digital of late. His company acquired not one but two developers of mobile apps over the summer.

"Cvent's success is predicated on delivering best-of-breed technology solutions to our event industry clients and partners," Aggarwal said in the wake of the purchases. "This acquisition is an important step to ensuring we continue to lead the industry in the adoption of mobile technologies."

Dec. 10, 2012:

Eduardo Chaillo, Executive Director, Mexico Tourism Board


Eduardo Chaillo, executive director of meetings for the Mexico Tourism Board, has one of the hardest jobs in the meetings business right now—selling Mexico to the U.S.

At the Successful Meetings International Roundtable, held in March in New York City, Chaillo said, "Of course we have problems, but the problems are blown out of proportion and presented out of context when you see them depicted in the media. So our strategy has been changing a little bit from traditional advertising to a communications strategy.

"First of all, we are being very honest and open about what's really happening in Mexico — where the problems are — and we're pushing out a lot of maps and statistics that educate potential clients on how far the danger spots are from our meetings destinations."

Dec. 3, 2012:

Corbin Ball, Founder, Corbin Ball Associates

Because he's a technology expert — and the Digital Age is certainly and undeniably upon us — Corbin Ball is one of the most important meetings-industry influencers out there. Whether it's virtual events, apps or social media, he has something to say about it.

"[You can] engage attendees before, during, and after the event [using technology]," Ball recently told Successful Meetings' Agatha Gilmore. "And [you] have the ability to collaborate on meeting design as well. It's increasing opportunities for everyone to have their say about what they want to see and hear during events."

Learn more about the impact of technology on meetings by reading the National Conference Center's 2012 white paper, "Technology's Secret Potential to Empower Participants and Make Meetings Better," which features an interview with Ball.
Nov. 26, 2012:

Ray Bloom, Chairman, IMEX Group
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Ray Bloom, chairman of the IMEX Group, is the mover and shaker behind IMEX America, gets a lot of credit within the industry for establishing the European hosted-buyer MICE show concept in the United States. 

But why take our word for it? Check out what Bloom had to say on the inaugural IMEX America:

Nov. 19, 2012:

Rogers Dow, President and CEO, U.S. Travel Association

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Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, is quick to point out how many jobs the travel industry has created in the United States. During Travel and Tourism Week in April, Dow said, "Travel is a force that can drive our nation's economic recovery. It is one of the healthiest sectors of our economy in terms of job creation and hiring, employing one out of every nine Americans. During this election season, we are galvanizing support and asking Americans to 'Vote Travel' and showcase the power of our industry and its impact on our economy."

He also pointed out that travel and tourism supports 14.4 million jobs across the nation — a truly staggering number.

Nov. 12, 2012:
Jack Dorsey, Creator, Twitter

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Twitter has had a big impact on the meetings and events industry, which is why Jack Dorsey, the creator of Twitter, made our list. Whether you're pushing attendees to interact or simply seeking the zeitgeist of your event, Twitter can give you instant insight.

In May 2009, Dorsey launched Square, a mobile payment startup with both an app and a piece of hardware that allows the iPhone to accept credit card payments. Dorsey isn't only comfortable behind a desk — he's a popular speaker at conferences and events.

 Nov. 5, 2012:
Abdalla Salem El-Badri, Secretary General, OPEC
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As the public face of the most important cartel in the oil industry, Abdalla Salem El-Badri can alter the price of a barrel simply by issuing a statement. 

The price of a barrel of crude oil affects every aspect of meeting from beginning to end. Last year, wildly fluctuating oil prices made it tough for everyone in the meetings industry to take positions when negotiating, and 2012 has been much the same. 

Want to add a little method to the madness? Try this calculator, which helps you calculate the price of a gallon of gas based on the price of crude oil.

Oct. 29, 2012:

Jim Evans, Founding CEO, Brand USA

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Jim Evans, founding CEO of Brand USA accomplished a lot in his short tenure. Formerly known as the Corporation for Travel Promotion, Brand USA was launched in November as America's first-ever global consumer brand, charged with marketing the United States to international travelers via a public-private partnership. 

In April the organization launched a large-scale marketing campaign. "Our goal is nothing short of rekindling the world’s love affair with the USA – the place, the spirit and the dream," Evans said at a press conference at International Pow Wow, the largest U.S. travel trade show. "We want to spread America's message of welcome around the world and invite travelers to experience the limitless possibilities the United States has to offer."

Oct. 22, 2012:

Michael D. Gehrisch, President and CEO, Destination Marketing Association International
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As president and CEO of Destination Marketing Association International, Michael D. Gehrisch is in a unique position to weigh in on the meetings and events industry. In March, he spoke to Successful Meetings about the need for a national tourism strategy. 

"The developing of a national strategy is an extremely important step for the United States," he said. "A comprehensive plan, encouraging collaboration between federal agencies, Brand USA, destination marketing organizations of all sizes and our national trade associations, will better promote the U.S. travel market, ultimately creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. DMAI applauds the collaborative approach of this process and commends our federal agencies for seeking input."

Oct. 15, 2012:

Richard Harper, Executive Vice President, HelmsBriscoe

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Richard Harper, former MGM Resorts International sales and marketing executive and a highly popular figure in the meetings industry, has left his post as executive vice president of sales and marketing to join meetings procurement and management firm HelmsBriscoe as an executive vice president. 

"I had a good conversation with the MGM Resorts leadership. I've been doing this for 30 years, so it's time to wind it down," Harper told Successful Meetings in an exclusive. "Roger Helms [HelmsBriscoe founder and CEO] was able to offer a really exciting chance for me to refocus, reset, and rebalance while still be engaged in the meetings industry."
Oct. 8, 2012:

G.J. Hart, CEO, California Pizza Kitchen

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G.J. Hart, the CEO of California Pizza Kitchen went on NBC News in 2009 to advocate the value of incentive events and conferences at a time when most organizations were canceling meetings in the wake of the AIG scandal. Then the CEO of Texas Roadhouse, he made the case for his company's five-day incentive event for restaurant managers, stressing its business value and contribution to the satisfaction and success of the company's front-line managers. 

"My opinion [on the necessity of meetings] hasn't changed one iota," Hart told Successful Meetings in January, in regards to the Muffingate scandal. "I believe it's as important now as it was back then. The workforce is the largest single asset an organization has, and if you don't invest in it, then how do you ever expect to get a return? That's the only way to answer any question about the cost associated with a meeting."

Oct. 1, 2012:

Roger Helms, CEO, HelmsBriscoe
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Roger Helms, CEO of HelmsBriscoe, had an "aha" moment back in 1992 when he realized how much his clients could benefit from the industry knowledge that he and others like him had gained over the years to help them find the right meeting venues with the best possible contracts and rates. With $800 million in revenue booked with an estimated meeting spend of more than $1 billion there’s no player bigger than HelmsBriscoe. 

HelmsBriscoe also welcomed Richard Harper to the team this year. Read about his appointment.

Sept. 24, 2012:

Reid G. Hoffman, Co-Founder, LinkedIn

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We honored Reid G. Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, because the jobs-focused social media network has become all-important at meetings and events. 

The number of tradeshows and conferences creating LinkedIn groups to promote and distribute information about the event to attendees has grown rapidly, and many apps for meetings now have Linked In networking built directly into their interfaces so that conference attendees can keep in touch after the event.

Sept. 17, 2012:
Steve Jobs, Co-Founder and Former CEO, Apple
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The late Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple, never missed an opportunity to turn a meeting into a showcase for the brand he created. Innovations like the iPhone and iPad have redefined the landscape for virtual meetings. 

Jobs also — perhaps indirectly — drew worldwide attention to the need for adequate Wi-Fi coverage for large meetings when he had to ask attendees at the 2010 World Wide Developers Conference to turn off their wireless devices so that he could present the new iPhone 4. Find out how to avoid a similar fate.  

Sept. 10, 2012:

Steve Knight, Event Director, Centaur Exhibitions

You may know Steve Knight as the man behind AIBTM, but he is now the event director for Centaur Exhibitions, which is based in London. Next summer Knight will launch The Meetings Show UK, a three-day hosted-buyer show.

Andrew Evans, the managing director of Centaur Exhibitions, says, "After months of careful research, it is clear that the buyer and exhibitor communities would welcome a fully hosted buyer show in London, organized by a senior team of experienced meeting professionals."
Sept. 4, 2012:
Dawn Penfold, President, The Meeting Candidate Network, The Meeting Temp Job Network, MeetingJobs.com

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Dawn Penfold, CMP, serves as president of The Meeting Candidate Network, The Meeting Temp Job Network, and MeetingJobs.com. Aside from connecting planners with job opportunities, Penfold offers advice based on her more than 25 years of industry experience on her site MeetingJobs.com. 

Want to know what questions you should ask on a job interview? Penfold suggests opening by asking “How does upper management consider the actions and responsibilities of this department?” The answer you get back will tell you your potential stature within the organizaton, as well as who the decision making authorities are. You need to be keyed into clues that indicate interaction with top management. Read more.

Aug. 27, 2012:
Kimberly Ritter, Senior Account Manager, Nix Conference & Meeting Management 
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Kimberly Ritter of Nix Conference & Meeting Management, a meeting planner, noticed that it was possible to identify many hotel chains by the room décor in the background of the photos in escort service ads. She has encouraged the management of the mainstream middle-end and high-end hotels in her network to fight sex trafficking at their properties.  In May, Ritter received the 2012 Women of Achievement Human Welfare Award from the city of St. Louis.

EPCAT USA, the organization Ritter worked with, is dedicated not only to fighting trafficking and pornography, but to raising awareness. Watch its recent video, designed to raise awareness as part of Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Aug. 20, 2012:

Mickey Schaefer, President, Mickey Schaefer & Associates

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A veteran of the meetings industry for more than 30 years, Mickey Schaefer, founder of Tucson, AZ-based Mickey Schaefer & Associates, has recently launched a new project, The Experience Institute, which provides destinations with continuous visitor research that will enable communities to consistently deliver positive experiences. 

“In today's consumer-driven society there was no consistent way for destinations to gauge the visitor experience across the destination. So we researched and developed standards and measures to help destination leaders and stakeholders see how they are doing in the eyes of the visitor. No one else is in this space so we are very excited and it fuels the CTA program too,” explains Schaefer.

The Certified Tourism Ambassador (CTA) program trains frontline hospitality employees and volunteers to work together to improve the visitor experience at destinations. To date, more than 100 CVBs and DMOs have adopted the program and thousands of hospitality employees have been certified. 

Her newest endeavor, The Experience Institute is three years in the making. “We wanted to make sure we were looking at the holistic experience and that everyone in the destination knew it was their job to make sure that all visitor experiences are good which in turn results in positive word-of-mouth.”

Schaefer worked with four cities, Fort Worth, Indianapolis, Spokane, and Baltimore, in a pilot study before rolling out The Experience Institute.

“This program will help increase attendance at meetings and help more attendees have a better time,” adds Schaefer.

Click here to find out more about the Certified Tourism Ambassador program.

Aug. 13, 2012:
Deborah Sexton, President and CEO, Professional Convention and Management Association

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As president and CEO of PCMA, Deborah Sexton has a lot on her plate! She was a key player in the Economic Significance Study for the U.S. Meetings Industry, conducted with PricewaterhouseCoopers and released last year.

Now Sexton and her team are celebrating the success of AIBTM 2012 and their organization's partnership with the trade show. "By partnering with PCMA, AIBTM ensures attendees will get the best of both worlds — innovative education and creative global solutions to enhance their organization's face-to-face connections, as well as a show floor featuring over 1,000 global and domestic companies," Sexton said of the show in May.

Aug. 6, 2012:

Christine Shimasaki, Managing Director, empowerMINT.com

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Christine Shimasaki, the managing director of empowerMINT.com, is not one to rest on her laurels! After successfully launching empowerMINT.com, an all-in-one planning web portal that aggregates information from destination marketing organizations.

Last September empowerMINT made some upgrades under her direction. "The new destination profile was created with direct input from several focus groups with planners identifying the key challenges they face when choosing a meeting destination," she says. "One of the resonating issues was that planners often find it difficult to know which destinations offer which services. Our new destination services checklist directly responds to this concern, making it easy to see exactly which services each destination provides."

Now Shimasaki has gone ahead and started her own blog, Shimo’s Corner.
July 30, 2012:

Angela Smith, Communications Solution Architect, InVision Communications  
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Want to plan a killer virtual event? Angela Smith, communications solution architect for InVision Communications, practically wrote a book on the subject. Two years ago she organized a massive virtual event for CiscoLive then went on to shine with INXPO and InVision.

As we shift more and more toward hybrid and virtual meetings it's a good idea to let our imaginations run wild, and pioneers like Smith help set a new standard. Take a peek inside the design process of the Cisco virtual event.

July 23, 2012:

Amy Spatrisano and Nancy J. Zavada, CMP, Principals of MeetGreen and Co-Founders of the Green Meetings Industry Council
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As the brains behind MeetGreen, a meetings industry environmental watchdog organization, Amy Spatrisano and Nancy Zavada work tirelessly to get the word out on sustainability and sustainable development. The pair has helped to shape what we think of as a "sustainable meeting," and to take the guesswork out of planning meetings that are environmentally friendly as well as productive. 

The MeetGreen site offers a fantastic calculator that will help planners integrate aspects of both the APEX/ASTM Green Meetings and Events Standards and the British Standard for Sustainable Events into their planning. The tool even scores an event based on measures whether specific practices related to air quality, waste management, water conservation, energy efficiency, and environmental purchases were implemented.

Learn more about Spatrisano's and Zavada's philosophy by watching this video about sustainability.

July 16, 2012: 

Kirsten Strand, Co-Founder, MeetingApps
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As creator and co-founder of MeetingApps, Kirsten Strand is more than comfortable with technology. She’s on a mission to narrow the field for professional planners looking to take their business mobile.  "We are all driven to prove the value of meetings and to work more efficiently,” says Strand. “For years I have had the pleasure of working directly for a few select clients.  My vision is to also help other planners and hospitality partners easily access useful tools that will make a difference in their day-to-day business activities."  

The site aggregates apps for Android, Blackberry and iPhone, and allows planners to submit their own apps for inclusion.  Strand and her partners are looking to grow their directory of apps even further, and invite planners and developers to submit apps directly through the website.

“I believe that by using apps, each industry pro can save a substantial amount of time.  Also, newly developed apps will replace other higher priced meeting technologies, saving money for corporations and associations.  Our goal was to to create a useful tool that can immediately make it easier to conduct business in today's ever-changing landscape,” says Strand. 

July 9, 2012

Shawna Suckow, Founder and President, SPIN

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Shawna Suckow, the founder and president of SPIN, the Senior Planners Industry Network, is busy gearing up for her organization's SPINCon 2012 Hosted Buyer Program, taking place July 11-13 in Telluride, Colo. In past years, SPINCon has attracted attendees from more than 50 percent of the Fortune 500 companies in the United States, as well as top associations and independent planning companies from across North America. 

But why take our word for it — check out what Shawna Suckow has to say in Successful Meetings' exclusive video interview with her from this year's AIBTM conference in Baltimore.