by Sarah J.F. Braley, Michael J. Shapiro and Cheryl-Anne Sturken | February 01, 2017
Jill Bell
Site-sourcing specialist / SHWorldwide / Bellevue, Wash. 

Like so many others working in the meetings realm, Jill Bell came to the industry with a yen for travel. After graduating from the University of Washington in Seattle, the six-foot-tall Bell was a professional basketball player for five years in Spain and Argentina, then came back to the States to play for the WNBA's Seattle Storm. 

"After my second season with the Storm, I realized I wanted to do something different," she says. Three years ago, playing on her love for travel and meeting new people, Bell switched to the hospitality industry. She first worked in group reservations at the Marriott in Seattle, then the Fairmont, and finally moved to third-party events company SHWorldwide at the beginning of 2016. Her responsibilities include site selection and accounts management, primarily for corporate events, retreats and some incentive trips. "I love problem solving, making my clients happy and collaborating with new people on a daily basis," she enthuses. 

Bell works from home, where she can keep an eye on her 2-year-old daughter, but she doesn't rule out working in a corporate office: "At industry events, I meet people who are in-house at corporations, carrying out the entire process. I see that as something that would be fun to do. But for now I'm happy with my company and doing something different every day."

Carley Crose
Manager, events and incentives / Lennox Industries / Richardson, Texas

At Irving, Texas-based Spear One, where she got her feet wet in the incentive industry, Carley Crose started a kickball tournament, sweet-talking some folks into mowing the field outside her office building and declaring herself the "kickball commissioner." Now, barely six weeks into a new job as a full-fledged meeting planner, she heads up a team of three at Lennox Industries, which produces 12 major events a year. Crose believes that same energy and creativity will help her stand out in her new role.

"This team has been here for 15 years, but I am so excited to see what we can do together," she says. "I am eager to see what efficiencies we find." 

Crose recently joined the Dallas-Fort Worth Chapter of MPI and will be sitting for her certified meeting professional exam later this year; she acquired her certified incentive specialist designation in 2016. 
"I am a born-and-raised Texan, so I grew up hunting and fishing," says Crose, who practices archery at a local range on weekends, when she isn't keeping track of baseball scores, following her beloved Texas Rangers. "I am on a quest with my friends to visit every stadium in the country. You have to be there when a game is being played, which becomes quite strategic." 

Michael Doane
Marketing manager / CadmiumCD, LLC / Baltimore

Michael Doane published a novel this past October. He also consults with other authors about how to market their writing and co-hosts a monthly podcast about books. He was a founding member of Artists Compound, a community hub for Baltimore artists that helps them turn their passions into a living. He also writes poetry, which he publishes on his eponymous blog.

Oh, and Doane is marketing manager for CadmiumCD, an event-management and attendee-engagement platform. While it might be tempting to write off that last role as simply a day job to pay the bills, nothing could be further from the truth: Doane is devoted to the meetings industry and is extremely active in its organizations.

"To me, there's not really a differentiation between what I'm doing at night and what I'm doing at work," he explains. "I can take things from my day job and apply them to what I'm doing outside, and I can take what I'm learning from what I do outside of work and bring them back to Cadmium."

Doane served last year on the IAEE membership engagement committee, and he's now PCMA membership director for the Chesapeake chapter. "Once I fell into this industry," he says, "I fell in love with it." He thrives on the social interaction and the degree to which people are receptive to getting together to talk shop. "I don't know how anyone couldn't like this industry, to be honest. In five years, 10 years, 15... my heart and soul will still be in events, no matter what I'm doing."

Leigh-Anne Dochstader
Director of group events / Strategic Incentive Solutions / Ontario, Canada

Fresh out of college in 2010, Dochstader started working in electronics and retail, but it wasn't long before the meetings industry came knocking, and she answered the call. When she learned that her long-time business mentor, Stephanie McVeigh, had left an incentive house to start her own company, Dochstader reached out to her and landed a job on the operations side of the business.

She quickly rose through the ranks and jumped to the planning side, eventually becoming director of group events. "I am really into the nitty gritty of details, but I also like coming up with creative ideas that wow our attendees," says Dochstader. "I see events as masterpieces that I get to create. No two are ever alike."

As the head of SIC's events division, she is project manager for about 10 events a year, signing off on everything from registrations, sourcing, vendor contracts and hotel negotiations, and finalizing flights. "Every day there is a new challenge, because there are so many parts to a program," she says. "But I love all the details involved in planning."

Dochstader grew up on a farm, learning early how to ride rodeo and eventually winning barrel-racing titles on Ontario's rodeo circuit with Boomer, her quarter horse. "Boomer and I are retired," says Dochstader, "but I still travel to rodeos to watch my friends compete."

Stacy Hanas
Communications coordinator / Seven Degrees Communications / Woodbridge, N.J.

Spending time at the gym really does pay off, Stacy Hanas learned several years ago. She was working as a receptionist for one such athletic establishment while studying event planning, considering a focus in either marketing or public relations, and happened to mention this to gym member Jessica L. Levin, MBA, CMP, CAE, president and chief connector at Seven Degrees Communications. Levin, one of M&C's Top 25 Women in the Meetings Industry for 2015, brought Hanas along to an MPI chapter meeting. The rest, as they say, is history: With Levin as mentor, Hanas interned with Seven Degrees over the course of a couple of years, and she's now the company's communications coordinator.

She's also a rising star in MPI's New York chapter, for which she chairs the digital marketing committee. Hanas is responsible for the chapter's newsletters and is an integral part of the social media team. Her focus on public relations -- the topic in which she got her degree -- is an important ingredient in her approach to the marketing and logistical planning she does for Seven Degrees.

For her efforts and enthusiasm in the MPI Greater New York chapter, Hanas was nominated this past year for a Genie Award. "She has really taken a lead in helping to ramp up our social media presence for the team," notes Joshua Novick, president-elect of the chapter and business development manager, North America, for London & Partners. "She's always coming to the table with fresh ideas and finding new ways for us to get involved. And Stacy is integral in creating the marketing that goes out for every event we do."

Alecia Smith Jones
Event coordinator / Active Network / Dallas

Alecia Smith Jones, event coordinator for registration and event management platform Active Network, has the unique distinction of being the only young professional on our list to have worked as a dentist in Africa. 

The unexpected opportunity came on a volunteer trip with Living Hope Christian Ministries, a nonprofit organization that brings medical services to rural communities in Nigeria. "They said I was very organized and focused," recalls Smith, "but I have zero medical skills." Nevertheless, she assisted the two on-site (professional) dentists for a week, quickly picking up the basics of their appointments.

"Then, for a few days, things got really busy, and they just gave me a chair and said 'You can do it -- we have faith in you. If you have any questions, let us know!' "

Smith has no ambitions to practice dentistry stateside, but the fact she's a quick study catapulted her into the industry. She began in sales at Lanyon (which previously was affiliated with Active), where the marketing department pegged her for the new role of event coordinator. It wasn't until she was in the job that she realized she had such a passion for it -- at which point she learned the ins and outs from her former co-worker, Kevin Iwamoto, who blogs for M&C. 

"Everyone calls him the godfather of strategic meetings management," she laughs. "He really inspired me because he was so knowledgeable about the industry and I had no clue about most of it, except for the technology."

Smith eventually would like to go into consulting. "I love looking at the strategy behind events and how it impacts one's brand and target audience," she says. "The marriage of marketing and events isn't just a trend -- it really takes branding to the next level."