Meet the Upstarts
The meeting and events industry future rests comfortably of the shoulders of today's youth. Meet the… Upstarts.
By Constance E. Richards
These up-and-coming industry upstarts are already affecting the face of meetings, garnering numerous awards and bolstering local economies on an international scale. They also project a forward-looking vision, and in doing so are exciting industry veterans and other students with their lust for life in the meeting and events world and beyond.
In his first 26 years, Krzysztof Celuch has already had a lifetime of varied experiences. Senior project manager of the Warsaw Convention Bureau, a journalist and lecturer in business tourism, all while completing a Ph.D., Celuch first began his worldwide education as a young folk dancer, performing at international festivals with a troupe from his hometown of Torun, Poland, starting at the age of seven. At 20, he was a folk dance instructor.
"Dancing gave the feeling that everything is possible and it showed me that the stage is also for me and not only for celebrities," Celuch said.
Traveling as a teenager continued stoking his interest in tourism, and he counts working part time at a health resort and moving to Warsaw as further steps in his growth. Not much has held Celuch back in the industry—he interviewed to become a Warsaw tour guide while he still had an arm and a leg in casts from an accident, and he got the job.
"My dream is to put Warsaw and Poland on top of the meeting industry destination map," Celuch said, continuing to aim high.
With an interest in destination marketing, Celuch says he wants to create a strong CVB in the capital city that acts as an example of a well-organized office in central Europe. A lofty, but not unobtainable, career goal is to become managing director of the Warsaw Convention Bureau.
"I want to invest all my energy in my city," Celuch said. "The meeting industry is the king of tourism. It gives me the opportunity to meet new people and speak about cultures, history, landscapes, dances and customs. Thanks to MPI, I can get the information about different traditions, special occasions and the fascinating mentality of people around the world. This is just fantastic!"
In Poland's growing meeting industry, the field is wide open for innovation and Celuch hopes to take advantage of that.
"I like doing things in my own way and actually now in Poland there is a chance to build a strong, in fact, new, industry," Celuch said.
As organizer of the IMEX/MPI Future Leaders Forum Warsaw and chairman of the MPI Poland Club Steering Committee, there's little doubt that Celuch will have a leading role in building the industry.
"She is a dynamo," said Marge Risinger, CMP, an industry consultant and educator and one of Robinmarie Carriere's mentors. "She was my student in the meeting and event certificate program at California State University, Dominguez Hills. From the very first day, I knew that this person was going to make a difference in our industry."
Carriere's career began in her grandmother's kitchen.
"It all happened there: menu and event planning, creative presentation and training for life," Carriere said.
The youngest of four children raised in California's San Fernando Valley, Carriere says family events always had a sense of presentation, allowing her to see from an early age what makes or breaks an event, no matter how large or small.
"She joined MPI and volunteered for many things as a student," Risinger said. "She took time off her regular job in a lawyer's office to attend MPI meetings at her own expense."
After attending Brooks College and Woodbury University, both in California, and working in legal administrative work, Carriere craved more challenge and creativity. She earned her certificate in meeting and event planning at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
As a meeting professional, her responsibilities have included trade show entertainment coordinator, exhibit floor management, monthly programs and community outreach. She is now section administrator for the Los Angeles County Bar Association, where she helps plan and coordinate many of the group's 500-plus meetings annually.
"My desire is that every event creates a memory for attendees that they will share for years," she said.
She had one such experience most recently when organizing a hotel reception honoring past judges for their contributions to the legal community. The details of memorable gifts, a video from their colleagues and people greeting them as they arrived conveyed an atmosphere of appreciation for their work, she says.
"When they walked in they asked, ‘Is this all for us?'" Carriere said. "Creating an atmosphere, a moment, an experience for an attendee that they can take away with them and can talk about year from year—I love it," said the MPI Southern California Chapter rising star.
Besides creating a lasting impression, Carriere is also concerned with making sure events proceed perfectly. Therefore, becoming a CMP and CMM specializing in risk management is a goal for the near future. She hopes to have a company that empowers the student outreach community and, as a longer-term goal, she'd like to teach aspiring meeting professionals.
"I got into MPI as a student and I want to reach out to our future leaders," she said. "I didn't even know this was an industry, but I was doing it all my life.
"Each one of the men and women who have shared wisdom, knowledge, time, contacts and, most of all, their friendship are priceless and forever etched into my life."
Not yet 30 years old and Timothy Arnold is already a VP—vice president for national accounts with the Hospitality Performance Network—and has a 10-year history with Hilton Hotels Corp.
"He has shown himself to be a person of great character," said Joan Eisenstodt, chief strategist of Eisenstodt Associates and one of Arnold's many mentors. "Tim is a person who puts what's right ahead of personal or professional gain, speaking out when others fear to do so. I first became aware of [him] when I read his posts on MPI's blogs where he showed how thoughtful and interesting and interested he was in others."
Graduating at the top of his class at the American Airlines Travel Academy was only one of the goals that Arnold set for himself as a student enthusiastic about the hospitality and meeting industry. Long before, the native Texan first encountered the industry through a book—and his excitement never ebbed.
"I read Hotel by Arthur Hailey when I was 12," Arnold said. "Reading about the exciting day in the life of Peter McDermott, general manager of the St. Gregory Hotel in New Orleans, and following him as he dealt with a number issues with courage and integrity, made me want to get involved in the hospitality industry.
"This is such a dynamic and exciting industry," he said. "It is challenging, ever evolving and there are always opportunities to learn new things and expand your horizons."
His five-year plan includes serving as president of the MPI Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter, as well as teaching in local schools with meeting and event programs. Arnold also hopes to get his CMP designation and attain additional industry certifications.
"Most importantly," he said, "I resolve to never stop learning as much as I can from all the tremendous mentors that this industry has to offer."
While Arnold could easily be deemed a workaholic, a love of travel with wife Susan, hockey, classic rock concerts and taking care of Cujo, Sarah Bear and Drake—the couple's three dogs—keeps him well balanced. Even so, Arnold readily enthuses, "I want to stay in this industry until I retire."
Erin Tench, CMP, CMM
The business plan that Erin Tench, CMP, CMM, produced during the Global Certification in Meeting Management (CMM) program was for the development and opening of Hyland Events, an events firm specializing in events for the hospitality and tourism industry.
During her career, she came to realize that the most successful events she has produced, so far, are those that maintain certain key elements: open lines of communication between all vendors and staff; meeting all objectives set for the event; coming in under budget; and, importantly, exceeding expectations.
"I like that the meeting industry can make a difference by impacting careers and the overall success of business," Tench said. "If we do our jobs right and our meetings are aligned with business objectives, we can help people achieve their goals and will in turn help their careers."
Tench, who holds a master's degree in tourism administration, with a concentration in event management from George Washington University, also values the relationships that drive this business.
"The part of the industry that I enjoy the most is the relationships that I have developed with fellow industry professionals," she said. "Some of my closest friends I have met through my industry involvement."
In addition to serving as president of the MPI Connecticut River Valley Chapter, Tench also serves as chair to the MPI International Membership Advisory Council.
"I owe much of my professional growth to outstanding individuals from whom I have learned," she said, stating that Terri Breining, CMP, CMM, president of Concepts Worldwide, in particular, when she was chairwoman of MPI, had an impact on her. "She is a tremendously successful businesswoman, but also recognizes the importance of giving back to the industry. In addition to all of Terri's accomplishments, she continues to serve as a mentor to young professionals."
Tench hopes to inspire and mentor new professionals to take an active role in the community. With a CMM certification and CMP designation, she's found the experience of meeting professionals from across the globe invaluable.
"I hope that others new to the industry will see me as a resource and example of the benefits to participating in the industry community," she said.
And planning certainly carries over into her personal life—carving out time to entertain friends at home with husband John is key, and following the college football season as a Penn State fan, are important activities outside of work.
Andrew Walker knows about putting on a show. The freelance event specialist from Toronto studied theater since he was a teenager, graduating from a high school with an enriched arts program. He thought he would continue in theater, but working in retail to supplement his studies introduced him to the service side, which also held appeal, he says.
His undergraduate courses at the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University confirmed his devotion to the industry.
"Now I see a lot of parallels with theater," Walker said. "Putting on an event is like producing a show. There's a lot of drama… There were similarities that drew me to [the industry]."
Already a student member of MPI, he attended the 2004 Professional Education Conference-Europe in Edinburgh, Scotland. The images from his first international industry conference remain etched in his memory.
"We were bused out to this amazing place, where people in tartan and kilts were doing a procession and formation on the lawn," Walker said.
Fireworks lit up the sky and double-decker buses raced across the lawn and lined up in front of the group to take attendees back at the end of the evening.
"It was one those moments that made me think, ‘Wow, this is a great industry to be in,'" Walker said.
Now a graduate student at York University, he's combining his enthusiasm for the meeting industry with environmental studies.
"Green meetings are kind of the buzz word. I'd ultimately like to move to a consulting role in helping the industry embrace a more responsible [position]," Walker said.
Focusing on the bigger picture, he asks, "How can we give back to the communities we live in on a social level, and how can we be profitable?"
Inspired by several people in the sustainability discussion, Walker cites Amy Spatrisano of Meeting Strategies Worldwide and Anthony Watanabe, president and CEO of the Innovolve Group, whom Walker notes is on the forefront on sustainability in the meeting industry in Canada, as influences on his work.
"I want to make a difference in helping planners and suppliers go green," Walker said. "Maybe that will just be a way of doing business, and maybe [that means] I'll be out of business… Then I'd move on to something else."
"[Biersner] is curious and he asks questions and listens," said Joan Eisenstodt, chief strategist of Eisenstodt Associates. "He jumps in with both feet when he knows there is something to be learned or done. He chose this industry and is working to move himself and the industry forward. He got a master's degree and he joined a number of industry organizations in which he is active not passive!
"He is active on the MiForum list where he provides input for others seeking information and assistance; he is on the advisory board of meetingscollaborative.com where he provides input for the design and use of the site; he is active in MPI and other industry organizations, joining and spear-heading efforts on committees," Eisenstodt said.
With a bachelor's degree in American Studies (and minors in English and Film Studies) and a master's degree in tourism administration from George Washington University, Mitch Biersner combines his love of cultural tourism and meeting planning.
"I love exploring new places and experiencing new things," he said. "I think having grown up in a rural Midwestern town cultivated this in me—the need to branch out and learn more about the world in which I live."
Eager to learn about the world after growing up in Dike, Iowa, population 1,000, Biersner found the stimulus of meeting planning the perfect match for his thirst for knowledge.
"I enjoy the fact that no day is exactly like the one before it," he said. "There is always a new challenge that presents itself and keeps me on my toes. We're ultimately in a service industry and I have always enjoyed helping people. Even if I'm in a different city, in a convention center or hotel and don't get a breath of fresh air for more than five days, it's still new and different and energizing to me."
Further explorations in the world were afforded him when he attended the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.
"It was exciting to see what it takes to put on an international mega-event," Biersner said. "It was informative to hear how the event works behind-the-scenes."
Finally, with an interest in the development of strategic meeting management programs, Biersner plans to continue his education in this area.
"[They] are catching on and will be valuable to those wishing to better track an organization's meeting and event spending as well as improving the cost effectiveness of planning meetings and events," Biersner said. "As the economy remains less than desirable, [strategic meeting management program] development and expertise will prove more valuable."
After earning his CMP, Biersner hopes to move back to the Midwest some day.
"I'll either be working as a meeting/event manager for an organization or working with cultural heritage tourism," he said. "My ultimate goal is to work studying, preserving, sustainably developing and promoting the cultural heritage of a destination."
Alison Huber is small-town, born-and-bred and proud of it.
"I have always lived in the country and love every minute of it!" she said.
But the 30-year-old graduate of Madison Area Technical College in Wisconsin put herself on the larger map with her ability to organize and serve as the face of logistics for numerous events while working as meeting planner for the State Bar of Wisconsin and now as events planner at the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.
A serious multi-tasker, Huber held a restaurant job while working charity golf outings and taking opportunities to learn the industry by volunteering with events where she honed her acumen dealing with "tedious details."
Working events while still in school, and becoming a student member of MPI when she joined her first international committee (the Student/Faculty committee) set the wheels in motion and she soon found herself recruited by instructor Janet Sperstad, CMP, at the start of her second semester to be on the committee and planning team for an 880-person onsite event for Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton.
The one-day "Wisconsin Women Forward" event in 2005 enabled Huber to put into practice the mastery of those "tedious details" as lead organizer for registration, receiver of registrations and onsite contact with the facility. Additionally, she worked with onsite management and was part of the planning and marketing team. Huber says this opportunity allowed her to see the big picture and the details.
"I love seeing the hard work of many months culminate with a fabulous event," she said. "Having a member or attendee approach me and tell me how wonderful the convention is or send a letter to the office weeks after the event, makes it all worthwhile for me."
Another exciting experience for the 2006-2007 MPI Wisconsin Chapter Rising Star was an event for the Experimental Aircraft Association, a group of more than 170,000 aviation enthusiasts. The celebrity-filled event allowed Huber to again take in the big picture of "seeing what comes together from all the details that you've been working so hard on."
One of her many influences, Huber points out her instructor Janet Sperstad, CMP.
"Janet really ignited my passion for the industry," she said. "She has taught me many things I could not have learned from text books and has also provided me many opportunities in both the industry and MPI."
Huber continues to serve internationally and is now a member of the MPI Wisconsin Chapter Board. Part of the Future Leaders Forum at World Education Congress as a participant, organizer and presenter, Huber admits to having a carpe diem attitude.
"I have made so many connections and seen many things I would not have experienced if not for taking advantage of each and every moment I can."
Eventually, Huber envisions running her own planning business. Working toward her CMP, she still has a few more "steps in the middle," but continuing to "learn and building my network to continue down the path to my ultimate goal" is key.
Miguel Neves is only part way through a master's degree in conference and events management from the University of Westminster, but he's just taken on a medical conference of more than 1,000 attendees that takes place in September. As a SYNAXIS Meetings & Events Inc. intern, he's been given the responsibility of coordinating the registration process and audiovisual services.
Growing up in Portugal, Neves attended an international English-language school, and spent much of his youth traveling, playing sports and music. Comfortable in new environments, and with friends around the world, Neves likes to know a little about a lot of different things, he says.
"That is my skill set. The meeting industry allows me to put all this to use in a worthwhile and exciting way."
Neves is used to stressful, fast-paced environments as experienced during his time in the music industry and maintains that he excels in just such a setting.
He echoes what many in the planning industry say: "The job is different every day and even the office can change from day to day. Every day is a new challenge. That is very exciting and enticing to me."
Once he completes his studies, Neves wants to jump into the industry head first—planning conferences, events and incentive travel all over the world. Eventually he sees himself as a senior planner for a large multi-national event planning company.
"Ideally, I would have a great wealth of experience in various markets and types of events," he said.
CONSTANCE E. RICHARDS is a freelance writer based in Asheville, N.C.