. The 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry | Successful Meetings

The 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry

The act of human beings gathering together to promote their self-interests is the core of a dynamic, ever-advancing industry with worldwide impact, due in large part to the efforts of thousands of individuals both inside and outside of the meetings industry. This year, the editors of Successful Meetings are reviving “The 25 Most Influential People in the Meetings Industry,” an annual list started in 1994 by our sister brand MeetingNews and discontinued five years ago. 

Our 25 influencers this year were chosen because they have: contributed to the business of meetings; made it easier for meetings professionals to do their jobs; helped raise awareness of the industry; or, through their actions, have had a significant impact for good or bad on the industry. SM is happy to revive a proud tradition of honoring those whose vision and hard work have done so much to elevate the art and science of meeting planning. 
CSR & Sustainability
Kimberly Ritter, senior account manager, Nix Conference & Meeting Management 
Ritter’s experience organizing conferences all over the world has given her an unusual talent: She can identify most hotel brands simply by looking at a photograph of an otherwise un-logoed building, lobby or guest room. Indeed, a few years ago, she noticed that she could identify many hotel chains by the room décor in the background of the photos accompanying those notorious “escort service” ads found in the back of some publications and online. She’s put that ability to good use in leading an initiative to fight international sex trafficking by lobbying the hotels in her network to eliminate the scourge at their properties. By acting on the idea that true corporate social responsibility means taking a principled stand and getting involved, Ritter is a dynamic role model for others who could use their good offices to shed light on some dark aspects of the human condition. Read more about Ritter's efforts.
Amy Spatrisano and Nancy J. Zavada, CMP, principals of MeetGreen and co-founders of the Green Meetings Industry Council 
There would be a green movement in the meetings industry without Spatrisano and Zavada, but it would be far less targeted, and missing the rallying cry of a planner-focused organization that has an international reach. With the Green Meetings Industry Council, which has grown to include 15 chapters across North America and Europe since its inception in 2006, these two dedicated friends of the earth have created an organization that essentially is a one-stop shop for sustainable best practices and advocacy. Through their work at the GMIC and MeetGreen, Spatrisano and Zavada have made major contributions with initiatives to generate research, establish standards, and promote education in the field of sustainable meetings. The air, sea, and land all around us can’t say thanks, but we can. Find out what the GMIC's been up to.
Reggie Aggarwal, founder, Cvent 
In a recent survey conducted by our sister publication Meetings & Conventions, 95 percent of the planners who responded said that they use online RFPs at least some of the time. That they can do this so effortlessly and efficiently is in no small part due to pioneers like Aggarwal, who founded the online event management firm Cvent back in 1999. In 2011, Aggarwal raised $136 million in investment capital for the company — the largest commitment of funds ever recorded in the meetings and event technology industry. Aggarwal has been using the money to evolve the company’s social media and mobile offerings and to hire more engineers focused on enhancing its suite of cloud-based event management, strategic meetings management, and web survey products. As increasing numbers of tech-savvy Gen Yers enter the workplace, we’re fast approaching a time when many meeting planning functions will be managed completely electronically. The industry needs a forward-thinking entrepreneur like Aggarwal who can generate the financing necessary to create the tools that will take us there. For more about why Reggie Aggarwal is on the list, click here.
Corbin Ball, founder, Corbin Ball Associates
Consultant Corbin Ball has been helping the meetings industry come to terms with the always-accelerating impact of technology ever since the only e-mail domain around was   aol.com. His website could be considered the Library of Congress for meetings technology: It’s impossible to find a more complete compendium of useful links to databases, software, and articles aimed at providing the meetings industry with the technology to produce better events, and the education to use it effectively. At a time when the pace of technological development is lightning fast, the industry has a crying need for more people like Ball who can provide organizations with some perspective on how to use this dizzying array of technology to improve meetings management. For more on what makes Ball stand out, click here.

Jack Dorsey, creator, Twitter
Dorsey is a web developer, businessman, and celebrated innovator. In 2008, MIT named him one of the top 35 innovators in the world under the age of 35. His role in creating Twitter had a lot to do with that honor. Tweeting has been a game changer for the meetings and events industry since it was introduced in 2006.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a conference, convention, or trade show these days that doesn’t have a Twitter component as part of its event strategy, or attendees who don’t Tweet during the meeting. Indeed, it has transformed the meeting attendee experience from that of passive recipients of information to active content creators and deliverers.
Christine Shimasaki, managing director, empowerMINT.com
With the explosion of online RFPs, any tool that helps planners manage the site-selection process more efficiently makes a great contribution to the industry — as has empowerMINT.com, a web portal that aggregates information from destination marketing organizations. Launched in 2009 under the auspices of Destination Marketing Association International, and presided over by Shimasaki, empowerMINT.com has essentially become a virtual sales office for CVBs and DMOs, making it easier and quicker for planners and suppliers to advance to face-to-face negotiations. She tirelessly strives to improve the portal which, last year, unveiled a destination profile section to further aid planners in site selection, and the website added enhanced mapping functionality, destination-services checklists, contact information for local experts, and destination news. Learn more about empowerMINT.com.
Kirsten Strand, creator and co-founder, MeetingApps.com
As with any new development that changes the way people interact and do business, there has been an explosion of mobile apps. A few are great. Some are good. Most are useless. 

That’s why in 2010, Strand, as CEO of meetings and incentive management company Invenia, created MeetingApps.com to help meeting planners find the applications that will help them the most. By August 2011, the online directory notched its 2,500th app. The apps listed on the site are selected by invitation only, and there is no fee charged for the primary listing. That makes it the most useful index of mobile applications in the meetings industry, offering tools that range from managing air travel to finding venues. Read the industry's latest piece of app news. 
Michael D. Gehrisch, president and CEO, Destination Marketing Association International
In 2011, Gehrisch negotiated a partnership with the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) to create a new study of convention destinations. The study, “Destination 2020,” will include a comprehensive review of the operational issues affecting major convention destinations, as well as a roundup of industry best practices, performance benchmarking guidelines, and a forecast of the impact of current convention center marketing issues and trends. Under Gehrisch’s leadership, the organization also debuted its Event Impact Calculator, which measures the economic value of an event and calculates its return-on-investment to local taxes. 

If there’s anything to be learned from AIG and other meeting scandals of recent years, it’s that the best defense our industry has is to provide hard data that proves meetings make a valuable contribution to the organizations that hold them and the communities that host them. Armed with the information from these two initiatives, CVBs, DMOs, and organizations that host meetings will be better prepared to make the case to policymakers and the media for the ongoing development and growth of the meetings sector. Learn more about DMAI.

Eduardo Chaillo, executive director of meetings, Mexico Tourism Board 
Last year, the Joint Meetings Industry Council (JMIC) gave Eduardo Chaillo its Profile and Power Award, which recognizes individuals and organizations that have made “significant contributions” to advancing the awareness and influence of the meetings industry in their respective communities. Chaillo received it for his leadership in conducting a comprehensive economic impact study of Mexico’s meetings industry. The effort was just one of many initiatives he has undertaken to combat the negative perception held widely in the United States that Mexico is not a safe place to hold meetings. Few tourism officials have a tougher job than Chaillo, and the creativity he has demonstrated in accomplishing it is nothing less than a template for how to penetrate the U.S. market. Learn more.

Cimex lectularius (The Bed Bug) 
We know what you’re thinking: That’s a bug, not a person, (or even a mammal for that matter). But the number of reported bed bug incidents in 2011 shattered 2010 totals by more than 660 percent, according to travel website Raveable.com. Overall, the number of individual hotels with bed bugs rose by 250 percent, making these parasites the most prolific event crashers in the history of the meetings industry. 

Why that’s important: Since bed bugs can arrive on the clothing or in the suitcases of guests from infested homes, hotels can be an easy target for bed bug infestations — and incubators for spreading the vermin. It’s important for host organizations and attendees to be aware that they have a responsibility to take precautionary steps that can reduce the likelihood of introducing bed bugs to their communities when they return home from meetings. Learn more.

Richard Harper, executive vice president, HelmsBriscoe
Before he assumed his duties at third-party planning firm HelmsBriscoe earlier this year, Richard Harper had a stellar 13-year run at MGM Resorts International. He finished up as executive vice president of sales and marketing, where he had executive oversight for company sales strategies, regional sales efforts in some of the country’s biggest markets, diversity sales, industry relations, and more. All of this made him one of the most influential sales professionals in the meeting and trade show industries, during a time when MGM achieved a huge increase in hotel room inventory worldwide. If anyone is an expert in finding innovative and creative ways to get heads in beds, it’s Harper, and it will be interesting to see how he leverages that experience in his new position with the largest procurement company around. Read more about Harper.
Mickey Schaefer, founder, Mickey Schaefer & Associates 
A veteran of the meetings industry for more than 30 years, Schafer has a long list of accomplishments, but her inclusion on this list isn’t for what she’s done in the past — it’s for what she’s doing right now. Specifically, the Certified Tourism Ambassador (CTA) program Schaefer heads up. It is a certification program that 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. See what Schaefer accomplished as chair of the Convention Industry Council's APEX Commission. 

And this month, Schaefer is launching The Experience Institute at the DMAI Annual Convention in Seattle. The Institute will provide destinations with continuous visitor research that will enable communities to consistently deliver positive experiences. 

It’s easy for meeting owners to dismiss one of the most important contributors to the success or failure of a meeting: The experience an attendee has outside of the hotel or convention center. It’s easy to dismiss that because, after all, what can you do about it? The answer was “nothing” before Schaefer began her CTA program. What she is trying to accomplish is still in its infancy, but she has been building a network of CVBs and DMOs that are beginning to wrap their arms around the most difficult part of a meeting: gaining control of the attendees’ experience on the streets of the host destination. More power to them. See what Schaefer accomplished as chair of the Convention Industry Council's APEX Commission.

Business Drivers
Ray Bloom, chairman, The IMEX Group
It could be argued that no one did more for revitalizing the meetings industry in 2011 than Bloom. IMEX America firmly established the European hosted-buyer MICE show concept, which Bloom pioneered. According to post-show surveys, IMEX America 2011 will generate a total of $2.2 billion in business with its exhibitors. Having a high-energy show that the industry can rally around can go a long way toward creating the feeling that things are getting better. It makes everyone in attendance feel better about their industry, their profession, and themselves. It’s been a long time since a meetings and incentive industry show in North America has provided anything close to that. Click here to find out why Bloom made the list.
Roger Helms, CEO, HelmsBriscoe
With $675 million in revenue booked and an estimated meeting spend of more than $1 billion, there’s no player bigger than HelmsBriscoe (HB). Put another way, HB associates booked 3.86 million group room nights last year for 25,000 different meeting programs. That’s a lot of influence. The sheer volume of online RFPs is engulfing hotel sales staffs and creating what Mike Mason, CEO of Zentila, an online search and booking engine, calls lead spam. It’s a situation that is making third-party meeting planning companies more important that ever. As the biggest player in that arena, the way HelmsBriscoe manages its high volume of events through site selection, procurement, and execution is a model the entire industry could learn from. Find out how HelmsBriscoe is growing.
Steve Knight, event director, Centaur Exhibitions 
In 2011, as the project director of AIBTM, Knight helped establish the European hosted-buyer MICE show concept in the U.S. The success of the show has made a major contribution to the continuing rebound of the meetings industry. In April, he jumped back across the pond to join Centaur Exhibitions, which is just about to launch a major hosted-buyer show for the U.K. meetings industry. 

For decades, the U.S. meetings industry had been a disinterested observer of the success that European meetings expositions were having with the hosted-buyer model. When AIBTM debuted in June 2011, to say that there was a buzz on the trade show floor that hadn’t been experienced at a meetings trade show in years would be an understatement. It was more like an entire industry coming back to life after a long hibernation. When IMEX America debuted four months later, the case was proven: the hosted-buyer model for meetings trade shows was firmly established in North America. Read Successful Meetings' interview with Knight.

Career Building
Reid G. Hoffman, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and co-founder, LinkedIn 
As the social network used primarily for business connections and job searching, LinkedIn is also morphing into the de facto tool for professional networking among meeting owners, planners, and attendees. Go to LinkedIn and search the phrase “meetings groups” — 4,210 meetings industry groups will come up. The number of trade shows and conferences creating LinkedIn groups to promote and distribute information about events to attendees has grown rapidly as have hundreds of special-interest groups covering every aspect of meetings. When it comes to bringing together professionals from all corners of the meetings industry, LinkedIn could be called the center of the world. Learn why event planners love LinkedIn.

Dawn Penfold, CMP, president, The Meeting Candidate Network, The Meeting Temp Job Network, and MeetingJobs.com 
She has been in the hospitality industry for more than 25 years and was president of the board of the Greater New York chapter of Meeting Professionals International, in addition to serving on the board of the New York chapter of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). But Penfold’s true influence comes from her efforts in finding jobs for other planners. No one has done more to keep professionals in the meetings industry working than Penfold. She also plays a big part in helping planners advance their careers. In a struggling economy, Penfold’s network of job listings is the only search tool of its kind that is devoted exclusively to the meeting planning industry. Learn more about Penfold by reading some of her advice.
Shawna Suckow, founder and president, Senior Planners Industry Network (SPIN) 
SPIN is the largest network of senior-level meeting, event, and exhibition planners. All members must have more than 10 years of full-time meeting planning experience. Suckow started the organization as a social media site for senior-level planners to network; it has since evolved to include 40 live events a year. There’s no better way to do some serious brainstorming than having a face-to-face meeting. There’s no more efficient way to share a lot of ideas with as many people as possible than using social media platforms. The model that Suckow has created combines the best of both worlds. If there’s a better think tank for ideas to advance the careers of planners and improve the meetings industry, we haven’t seen it. More special-interest groups in the meetings industry should try to emulate it. 

Meeting Innovators
Deborah Sexton, president and CEO, PCMA 
Sexton was a key player in the Economic Significance Study for the U.S. Meetings Industry, conducted with PricewaterhouseCoopers, and released in 2011. Helping establish the connection between meetings and the economic health of the destinations where they are held definitely warrants inclusion on the list. But even more important is how PCMA’s annual meetings have evolved on her watch. Under Sexton, the PCMA annual meeting continues to be an incubator for cutting-edge ideas that further advances the meetings industry. Its 2011 meeting drew record numbers of virtual attendees as well as underscored the importance of virtual meetings by co-locating with the Virtual Edge Summit. 

Among the many thousands of associations that exist throughout the world, meetings industry associations are unique. An automobile association doesn’t have to build a car. A pharmaceutical association doesn’t have to produce a drug. An insurance association doesn’t have to sell a policy. But every meetings association has to plan and execute a meeting. While all other associations can get by just talking the talk, meetings associations have to walk the walk. In recent years, no association has been doing it better than PCMA. Every planner who attends the PCMA annual meeting gets two things: a variety of education sessions to choose from and a great example of how an event can 
incorporate many of the tools and techniques that are available to planners today. And that should be the mandate of every meetings association — lead and educate by example. Learn more about Sexton's recent achievements as PCMA president and CEO.

The late Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO, Apple 
No CEO ever used the annual meeting more masterfully than Jobs. Part showman, part revival preacher, he was also a brilliant marketer whose product launches created the kind of buzz and excitement that are generally reserved for blockbuster movies or rock concerts.

Jobs’ approach to shaping his message at annual meetings is the gold standard template for any meeting owner looking to make a significant connection with employees, B2B partners, and investors. To inspire an audience and bring them onboard with a vision, any corporate or association CEO needs only watch a video of Jobs in action. Then, do what he did. (Of course, that’s the tough part.) 

Angela Smith, communications solution architect, InVision Communications
Two years ago as the manager of global sales experience and global sales operations at Cisco Systems, Smith was responsible for organizing CiscoLive, a 100-percent virtual event that engaged 14,000 salespeople. This turned out to be a groundbreaking event that demonstrated to the meetings industry not only the value of virtual to enhance a physical event, but also how these events can be an integral part of an organization’s marketing strategy. Smith has continued her work at INXPO and InVision, coming up with innovative ways to transform the web from an archive of pages and files into a destination for meetings and events where attendees can go to meet, learn, and do business. 

It takes courage for a planner to jump into something brand new and risk failing at achieving the goals of her meeting. But that’s just what Smith did when she planned the first, really large-scale, completely virtual sales meeting. The influence of that is still being felt as organizations continue to evolve the practice of integrating virtual and live events into effective meeting strategies. Read more about Smith's groundbreaking CiscoLive event.
Government, Regulation & Advocacy
Roger Dow, president, CEO, U.S. Travel Association 
Under Dow’s leadership, the meetings industry successfully led the fight against the AIG Effect, and brought the meetings and events industry together for its first truly effective lobbying effort. From demonstrating the value of the business and its impact on the U.S. economy, to advocating visa reform to bring more international meetings to the U.S., Dow has been tireless — and quite possibly the most effective advocate the industry has ever had. After years of going it alone any time the meetings industry came under attack from the media or the government, the major associations finally joined together under one banner to speak with one voice. And the results have been impressive. It’s a lesson that took a long time to learn, and now that it’s here, hopefully there will be no going back. Learn more about Dow's exceptional leadership.
Abdalla Salem El-Badri, secretary general, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) 
The price of oil affects everything from airfares to the cost of F&B. In 2011, the wildly fluctuating oil prices made it tough for everyone in the meetings industry to take positions when negotiating. As the face of the most important cartel in the oil industry, El-Badri can alter the price of all goods and services simply by issuing a statement.

The meetings industry has made great strides in recent years getting the government and the media to appreciate how connected the industry is to job creation and tax revenues that pay for services and communities around the world. It’s equally important for meeting owners and planners to be aware of other outside forces that can affect meetings. While meeting professionals can keep abreast of State Department warnings and hurricane watches, economic factors, such as the price of oil, often remain off the radar. That can have a devastating effect on the cost of meetings. Staying on top of that can be extremely beneficial — especially during the negotiation process. Learn more about OPEC's influence on meetings.
Jim Evans, founding CEO, Brand USA
Created by the Travel Promotion Act in 2011, Brand USA is America’s first-ever global consumer brand. So overdue it’s actually pathetic, Evans had the gargantuan task of aligning a brand and corporate messaging strategy for a country that offers a range of destinations and experiences are unparalleled in the world market. Though he stepped down from the role after just a year, his tenure is still likely to have a major effect on the meetings industry. 

For years, the U.S. had been the only developed nation that did not have a national tourist board. It put us at a tremendous disadvantage when competing with other nations for every category of tourism, not just meetings. This new government agency will go a long way toward making the U.S. more competitive with other nations in bringing tourists to our shores. And many of those visitors will be coming to attend meetings as well. Find out more about Brand USA.
G.J. Hart, CEO, California Pizza Kitchen
Few CEOs have defended meetings as strongly as Hart, who earned the appreciation of the meetings industry in April 2009 when he went on NBC News to advocate the value of incentive events and conferences at a time when most organizations were cancelling meetings in the wake of the AIG scandal. Then the CEO of Texas Roadhouse, he made the case for the company’s five-day incentive event for its restaurant managers, stressing its business value and contribution to the satisfaction and success of the company’s frontline managers. 

The straight-talking executive has since moved west, taking over as California Pizza Kitchen’s CEO last August, but his stance on the importance of meetings has not budged — nor has his strategy for dealing with media inquiries about them. He still speaks to the consumer press about the value of meetings and has also been a keynote speaker at meetings industry tradeshows and conferences.

In a landscape where few CEOs are willing to speak publicly about their meetings strategies, Hart is rarity —- and a role model -- for all C-suite executives. Hear what Hart had to say about the recent "Muffingate" meeting controversy.