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June 2014

Meetings trendsetters propel industry forward in 2014

Maybe you’ve heard them speak at one of the big meetings industry shows, or read about them in the pages of this magazine. Maybe most of their work is behind the scenes. But for one reason or many, following are some of the interesting people who are shaping our profession—and special thanks to those who indulged us with the whimsical pics!


Jordan Schwartz
CEO, Pathable
Specialties: Meetings apps; technology

Jordan Schwartz and his tech-veteran team at Seattle-based Pathable have authored numerous award-winning, user-friendly mobile apps that supercharge the social networking aspect of the meetings and events industry.

Maura Gast
Executive Director, Irving CVB
Specialties: Destination promotion; industry advocacy

More than just the longtime leader of the Irving CVB, Maura somehow still finds time to fill key roles on many industry boards, including DMAI, the Texas Society of Association Executives, the American Society of Association Executives and the U.S. Travel Association.

Denise Suttle
Assistant Director of Convention Services, Albuquerque CVB
Specialties: Convention services; industry associations

A convention services pro, Denise is a past president of the Event Service Professionals Association and was part of the team that wrote the chapter on convention services management for PCMA’s Professional Meeting Management.

Jeff Chase
Vice President of Sustainability, Freeman Companies
Specialties: Exhibition sustainability

By its very nature, the exhibition industry presents a lot of opportunity when it comes to sustainability initiatives and practices. As a VP of the world’s largest event-marketing company, Jeff has worked tirelessly to green the exhibiting world.

John Chen
CEO & the “Big Kid," Geoteaming
Specialties: Geo teambuilding; gamification; technology; CSR

Games are serious business for John, an evangelist for gamification, CSR and strategic marketing for organizations via teambuilding programs that use technology to forge participant bonding, often for a good cause.

Michael Dominguez
Senior Vice President of Corporate Sales, MGM Resorts International
Specialties: Diversity; planner-supplier relationships; advocacy

If you haven’t seen Michael deliver his presentation on hotel revenue sources—not as dry as it sounds!—you’ve missed a candid, thorough talk on how the supplier side operates. Michael also gives back through his work as chair of MPI and involvement in other industry organizations.

Alex Cabanas
President & CEO, Benchmark Hospitality International
Specialties: Strategic development

Following in his father Burt’s footsteps, Alex was promoted to CEO last October, and was instrumental in doubling the size of the company in the eight years prior.

Issa Jouaneh
Vice President & General Manager, American Express Meetings & Events
Specialties: Data analysis; benchmarking; expense management

With a wealth of American Express business traveler data at his disposal, Issa is a frequent speaker and author on expense management techniques. Under his leadership, the Amex division has forged a number of new partnerships in the last year and expanded into key international markets.

Reggie Aggarwal
Founder, Chairman and CEO, Cvent
Specialties: Technology; RFPs; data; social media

As the leader of what has become a ubiquitous meetings technology and content company, Aggarwal led Cvent through a successful IPO last October and continues to expand its offerings through social media apps, live events and other avenues.

Lara McCulloch
Chief Shift Disturber, laramcculloch.com
Specialties: Social media; speaker; branding; business development

As founder of #eventprofs, Lara created what may be the most popular meetings and events industry Twitter feed. If you doubt its relevance, just take a look at how its hashtag is included in the tweets of so many other Twitter users.

Regina Richardson
National Sales Director, Long Beach CVB
Specialties: Government meetings

Government meeting planners have taken it on the chin recently, and Regina, based in Washington, D.C., has undertaken a proactive role by reaching out to procurement officers, planners and venue partners, and consulting www.usaspending.gov, to make sure the show always goes on.

Christine “Shimo” ShimAsaki
Managing Director, empowerMINT
Specialties: Destination management organizations; RFPs; venue selection

Leader of Destination Marketing Association International’s empowerMINT RFP tool, “Shimo” is a meetings industry standby who has recently branched out into offering free webinars that educate planners about how to reveal the value of their meetings, and how CVBs can help with site selection and other services.

Elliott Ferguson II
President & CEO, Destination DC
Specialties: Destination marketing strategy

D.C. has been on quite a roll, welcoming a massive new hotel, The Marriott Marquis, that adds 1,175 guestrooms connected to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Elliott has been a driving force in upping the U.S. capital’s meetings and convention profile, and is leading the charge to target a corporate market that is outside of its traditional strength in the association and government segments.

Kristin McGrath
Vice President of Sales and Services, Providence Warwick CVB
Specialties: Advocacy; education

Currently chairperson of DMAI’s Education Committee and on the board of directors of its Destination Marketing Accreditation Program, McGrath has been proactive in proving the value of meetings, and even invited a congressional delegation to visit her destination.

Jacques Horovitz
President, Chateauform
Specialties: Conference centers; alternative learning environments

Specializing in conference center meetings in decidedly un-conference-center-like environments—think private chateaus and other relaxing venues—this Swiss company and its innovative leader may just transform the European meetings experience.


Paul Radde
Thrival Systems
Specialties: The psychology of meetings; seating; meeting architecture

Dr. Paul O. Radde, Ph.D. has “a black belt in optimizing meeting architecture to promote engagement and forge relationships.” His book, Seating Matters: State of the Art Seating Arrangements, has given what seems like a relatively tame subject a “seat at the table.”

Dahlia El Gazzar
CEO & Founder/Editor, The Meeting Pool
Specialties: Technology; education; speaking

Having worked on both the hotel and planner side of the business, Dahlia brings a wealth of knowledge to the table, and specializes in spreading the word about new apps and other technology for meetings.

Roger Rickard
Founder, Voices in Advocacy
Specialties: Advocacy; education; speaking

Roger has been the consummate road warrior for the Meetings Mean Business campaign, which serves to show public policy-makers and politicians the economic value and job creation power of the various components of the meetings industry.

Shawna Suckow
Founder and President, SPIN
Specialties: Senior planners; education; speaking; attendee engagement

Leader of SPIN (Senior Planners Industry Network), Shawna is a voice for veteran planners, but also is a popular speaker delivering presentations on creating attendee engagement, planner-supplier relationship-building, social media, sponsorship strategies and “planning meetings for zombies.”

Emilie Barta
Chief Strategist, Emilie Barta Presentations
Specialties: Hybrid meetings; education; speaking

Whether delivering her message on stage in front of a live audience or via the Internet, Emilie engages attendees to learn more about hybrid meetings, which are gaining a foothold as a meeting component.

Janet Sperstad
Program Director, Meeting and Event Management Degree Program, Madison Area Technical College
Specialties: Education

A former meeting planner, Janet has worked in the industry for nearly 30 years, and was named the 2014 Educator Honoree by the PCMA Education Foundation. When it comes to her philosophy on meetings, Janet is a deep-thinker that believes they can be a transformative experience that create context and provide meaning.

William R. Host
Associate Professor, Manfred Steinfeld School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Roosevelt University
Specialties: Education

A 30-year industry veteran, and former president of HOST Meetings & Events, Bill is currently enmeshed in a study of hotels and meetings in Chicago from the Great Fire of 1871 through the First World War, and has amassed a collection of some 2,000 vintage postcards from the era.

Tracy Stuckrath
Founder/Chief Connecting Officer, Thrive! Meetings & Events
Specialties: F&B; and food allergies; speaker; special events; meetings management

An advocate and practitioner of combating food allergies at meetings and events, Tracy, who has food allergies herself, beats the drum for making F&B; more inclusive of attendee needs that are frequently overlooked.


Tanya Zuckerman
Senior Manager of Meetings and Events, Bayer CropScience
Specialties: Strategic meeting management; meeting policy; ROI

As a leader of the meetings and conventions efforts of one of the most successful multinational agricultural science companies, Tanya is a master of logistics, structure and strategy.

Joan Eisenstodt
Chief Strategist, Eisenstodt Associates LLC
Specialties: Inclusion; ADA; ethics; expert witness; meeting design; training

One of the most influential people in the industry, Joan has served as the unofficial mentor to a constellation of meeting professionals, and possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of all things meetings.

Tess Vismale
Conference Center Manager, Atlanta Technical College; Senior Event Lead, Atlanta Botanical Garden
Specialties: Digital events; sustainability; inclusion, event execution

Tess has a lot on her plate. Besides her “day jobs,” she’s on the board of the GMIC’s Atlanta Chapter, co-chair of the Curriculum Committee for MPI (Georgia chapter) and served as a board member of Hospitality Industry Professionals of Atlanta.

Shawna McKinley
Director of Sustainability, MeetGreen
Specialties: Sustainability; education

As director of sustainability for perhaps the most-respected green meetings and events firm going, MeetGreen, many herald Shawna as the go-to green expert in the meetings industry. She also helps a variety of organizations via sustainability training.

Bill Reed
Senior Director of Meetings, American Society of Hematology
Specialties: Strategy; citywides

When it comes to large citywides, Bill is the man to see. His American Society of Hematology (ASH) attracts about 23,000 delegates and 300 exhibiting companies for its annual meeting and exhibition. The ASH’s portfolio of events includes 120 meetings per year. Prior to ASH, Bill was a senior vice president at Experient.

Paul Salinger
Vice President, Marketing, Oracle
Specialties: Sustainability; strategic meetings management

Paul has been a key leader in the sustainable meetings movement both in his work at tech giant Oracle and as a board member of the Green Meeting Industry Council, where he is currently president-elect.

Mariela McIlwraith
President, Meeting Change
Specialties: Sustainability; CSR; ethics; strategic meetings management; education

A jack-of-all-trades in the meetings industry, Mariela’s latest claim to fame is as the author of the Convention Industry Council Manual, 9th Edition. She also is a frequent speaker on the meetings circuit, covering topics that truly span the profession.

Niesa Silzer
Creative Director, Details Convention & Event Management
Specialties: Event design; strategic events

Following a stint as client experience architect for Tourism Toronto, Niesa recently returned to Calgary, Alberta, to work for Details, where she uses her experience as a touring Broadway production stage manager to craft show-stopping events for a range of clients.

Phillip Ridley
Meeting and Special Event Manager, American Society of Anesthesiologists
Specialties: Meeting design; faciliitation and training; ADA; ethics

Active in industry associations such as PCMA, Phillip delivered a series on ethics for the association, and is also part of the team that plans the ASA’s 16,000-attendee Annual Meeting.

Sandra Wood
Manager, Annual Meeting, Canadian Medical Association
Specialties: Sustainable F&B;

This Ottawa-based planner has served on the board of the GMIC and published numerous articles about incorporating sustainability into events. Sandra is currently spearheading a campaign to end food waste in the meetings industry.

Garland Preddy
Director of Education and Training, Society of Government Meeting Professionals
Specialties: Government meetings; education

Another trendsetter recognized because of her work in the embattled government meetings segment, Garland parlays her experience of nearly 35 years managing events for the federal government to educate planners.

Sekeno Aldred
Event Manager, Goodwill Industries International
Specialties: Nonprofits; charity events

Giving back seems to be what Sekeno’s all about. Working in conjunction with Goodwill, she has organized donation drives resulting in job training services and other programs for people with disabilities, those who lack education or job experience, and others facing challenges finding employment.

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