The Accidental Meeting Planner

When Dr. Jorge Bisteni-Bustani, director general of B.P. Servimed, one of Mexico's largest professional conference organizations, was growing up, it was assumed that he would follow in the footsteps of his father, a prominent cardiologist and researcher. At first, he did.

After graduating cum laude from Mexico's La Salle University in 1975, he went on to medical school. A requirement in Mexico is to spend a year doing social service after graduating. He was asked to teach electrocardio-graphy and eventually found his way into the university's administration department.

A battle with Hodgkin's disease resulted in Bisteni-Bustani deciding to stay in the administration field. He spent 16 years working for La Salle University, serving the last six as dean of the medical school. In 1990, he left the university and used his skills as an administrator to serve at several medical societies.

"One of the societies I worked with, the National Society of Surgery, asked me to organize their Latin American Congress of Surgery," says Bisteni-Bustani. "I didn't know a thing about planning congresses."

He contacted the country's only meeting planning company at the time but was told they didn't have the time to help.

"It was up to me to plan this 3,000-person congress," he says, adding that he gathered an administrative staff, rented computers, and got to work. "For me, the outcome of the conference was a disaster but according to the association, it was a complete success."

He considered it a disaster because he had some disgruntled attendees. More than 1,000 signed up on-site and the registration process got backed up.

"There were some who got angry because their badges weren't ready in less than three minutes," he says. "When you're registering hundreds at the same time that becomes difficult. I didn't sleep for weeks."

Despite these challenges, the event was deemed a huge success and the National Society of Surgery was thrilled with Bisteni-Bustani's effort. Before he knew it, Bisteni-Bustani was contacted by the leaders of six other medical associations asking if he could help plan their congresses. A career was born.

"This career just found me. It was like a train that I just climbed onto," he says.

When he started, Bisteni-Bustani used slide projectors and fax machines to receive registrations. Today, his company employs 65 people, including his son and daughter.

Bisteni-Bustani understands the importance of recognizing his employees. Depending on the results of the conferences they help plan, they can earn bonuses, trips, and even cars.

Planning successful congresses and conventions is just as important to Bisteni-Bustani as demonstrating to the world that Mexico remains a prime convention destination. On this front, he realizes that in some ways, he has his work cut out for him.

"I know that the international image of Mexico is not very good. We are working on that with the tourist board. Believe me, it is not as bad as it looks," he says. "September 11th is something that happened in New York but that doesn't mean the city isn't safe. Our problems have been dramatized by the news."

Bisteni-Bustani is a respected member of many meetings industry associations. He is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), has his Certification in Meeting Management, is the president of PCO Meetings Mexico, a professional association, is a member of the International Association of Professional Congress Organizers, has been the president of the Mexico chapter of Meeting Professionals International, president of the Alliance of Meeting Management Consultants, and was a member of the board of the Convention Industry Council (CIC). He is excited about the healthcare meeting certification that is being developed by the CIC, and expects to pursue this qualification.

Education and certification is a passion, and Bisteni-Bustani wishes all in the industry shared his sentiments, competitors included. Meeting planning, once an unknown field to Bisteni-Bustani, is now a devotion. He takes an average of 90 flights a year and is on the road constantly. "My personal goal is to keep my company a leader in the industry and to increase the professionalism of the congress industry in Mexico," he says.