Catherine Simmons (pictured) of Salesforce presides over the mammoth Dreamforce conference.
Video: How M&C Selects the Top 25 Women in the Meetings Industry
Click here to view editor-in-chief Loren Edelstein speaking about the process of compiling the list.
In an industry filled with extraordinary women, those who populate M&C's second annual Top 25 list are true standouts for their professional accomplishments, leadership, innovation and/or advocacy. This special feature, carefully curated and presented in alphabetical order, turns a well-earned spotlight on a distinctive group of high achievers.
• Her Excellency Maitha Al Mahrouqi
When it comes to site selection, Oman likely isn't top of mind for most planners, but Her Excellency Maitha Al Mahrouqi aims to change all that. The undersecretary for the Oman Ministry of Tourism is helping to spearhead a new commitment to long-term tourism and meetings development by the sultanate, an effort that keeps her busy.
Among her many tasks, Al Mahrouqi is overseeing the expansion of Muscat International Airport and Salalah International Airport, the construction of new regional airports in Duqm and Sohar, and the addition of more than 10,000 new hotel rooms across the sultanate by 2018. "My personal priority is to ensure that we continue to develop sensitively and maintain our strong cultural identity and heritage, while showcasing our country and people to an international audience," she says.
On the meetings front, Al Mahrouqi points to the Oman Convention & Exhibition Center in Muscat, which in August debuted its first phase, which features 238,000 square feet of exhibit space. Phase two, a facility that will accommodate up to 3,200 attendees, is set to open in 2017.
"We are looking to attract 'the premium visitor' -- the responsible visitor who respects the culture and environment, and who can add value to the economy as well," notes Al Mahrouqi. "The MICE market will provide these."
• Amanda Armstrong, CMP
Like many in the meetings industry, Amanda Armstrong went into hospitality because she wanted a job that involved travel. An early stint with the incentive travel company Intrav, for which she visited 55 countries in five years, certainly helped to scratch that itch. Today, Armstrong serves as director of corporate travel and meetings for Enterprise Holdings, the international car-rental giant, where she has worked for more than nine years.
"At the time I started, we didn't have much of a global footprint," Armstrong notes. "Now we're in 85 countries and have more than 90,000 employees." Her focus recently has been on implementing a global travel program, which will commence by the end of the year.
Armstrong also has found a home at Meeting Professionals International. After co-chairing the group's 2012 World Education Congress in St. Louis, she joined MPI's international board of directors and is now its vice chair of finance. While the official stamp is expected to come on Oct. 6, she has been tapped to lead the board in 2018, stepping into the chair-elect seat for 2017.
Among her goals for that role: "I'd love to encourage younger members that being involved does pay off, and establishing informal mentorships is a great way to grow."
• Carina Bauer
Fresh: That's how Carina Bauer, CEO of the IMEX Group, likes to keep the two giant meetings industry shows she manages -- IMEX Frankfurt and IMEX America. That both shows continue to rack up year-over-year growth speaks to her talent -- and serves to explain why this is her second year on our list of Top 25 Women.
Bauer wants her shows -- as big and busy as they are -- to be personally fulfilling for attendees. "We need a way to find balance in the way that we work and conduct our lives," she says. "We need flexibility, time to reflect, and a way to live and work that doesn't eat up the planet. That should be true when we are at events, as well as within our work space and at home. It makes business sense, too, because we will all be more productive if we take care of ourselves as well as the planet."
To this end, the IMEX shows now offer Be Well Lounges for guided visualization and meditation, Inspiration Hub sessions on health and well being, 5k runs and a new local park clean-up activity -- Garbage Grabbers -- during IMEX America.
• Betsy Bondurant, CMM, CTE
It might surprise some to learn that Betsy Bondurant, whose name is closely associated with strategic meetings management, began her career in hotel sales. But then she had epiphany: She hated selling.
In 1992, she moved into meetings management at biotechnology giant AmGen in Southern California, and things began to click. "I ended up managing not just meetings but trade shows. I was learning by the seat of my pants."
After attending an MPI session about meetings consolidation, she hired a temp for six months to compile AmGen's sourcing data in order to calculate savings and more. "When we had six months of data, we were able to go to the CFO and get approval for a temporary process that eventually became a strategic meetings management program," says, Bondurant, who has become one of the industry's guiding voices in the development of such programs.
She left AmGen in 2007 and moved to San Diego, parlaying her SMM expertise into her current gig, a healthy consulting business.
"I would love to have more companies embrace SMM," she says. "I just don't understand how companies can have such a huge category of spend that is unmanaged to this day. If we can't understand how important this is in our businesses, how can we move this industry forward as a profession?"
• Debbie Chong and Patti Tackeff
Lenos Software doesn't get the attention that its biggest tech competitors do. But while the strategic meetings and event management platform doesn't grab the headlines, it has scored major clients such as Salesforce, Nike, Google and Harley Davidson. CEO Debbie Chong and president Patti Tackeff, who co-founded the company 17 years ago, are perfectly happy to keep a low profile and let clients come to them.
That's just one of many ways Lenos is unique in the marketplace. In addition to strictly word-of-mouth marketing and being founded by women, Lenos has a very different business model than some of its competitors. The company doesn't accept advertising from hotels for placement in its database and search results, and will not share client data in any form, even in aggregate. By design, their business relationship is strictly with corporate clients.
Data privacy and corporate governance are major concerns for Chong and Tackeff, though not their primary goals. "We set out to create the easiest-to-use system possible for people who don't necessarily know a lot about technology," notes Tackeff, a technology entrepreneur who has worked for startups in the U.S. and China. The company's dedication to development continues to this day, with Lenos churning out software updates every few weeks.
As for data privacy, Lenos has a leg up on an area of increasing concern. "This industry has been highly unregulated," says Chong, who pre-Lenos was a regulatory lawyer in financial services. "It's the last mile of corporate spend that's been unmanaged, but it's in the process of being better managed. Things are changing."
• Dahlia El Gazzar
If you tend to be bored by presentations on technology, don't count on napping at Dahlia El Gazzar's sessions. The consultant and self-described "tech evangelist" sees her mission as "to untether busy professionals from their desktops and offices, and have them be more efficient and productive while working from a beach in Mexico, with an umbrella drink, through their mobile devices, smart solutions and apps."
El Gazzar is especially passionate about helping planners understand their options. "We educate participants on how tech can change their lives," she says. "The key is to show them, hands-on, how to use new tech and how the tools can empower them."
Her zeal for education is exemplified by the recent "[CTRL] + [ALT] + [DEL]" virtual event she put together on the fly with Liz King (also featured in this year's Top 25 list) and Aaron Kaufman, president of Fifth Element Group. Taking up the cause after a similar event was canceled, the team pulled off a massive success attended by more than 1,000 event professionals globally. Now that's what we call tech evangelism.
• Julie Coker Graham
Talk about timing: This past January, Julie Coker Graham took the helm of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau as president and CEO, just as the city was preparing for a dauntingly busy summer: eight citywide conventions, two large sporting events and, for good measure, the 2016 Democratic National Convention. But no matter, Coker Graham led Philly to the end zone for a spectacular win and what local press reports dubbed "the $500 million summer."
Coker Graham's first role in the industry was with Hyatt Hotels; she spent 21 years working her way up from corporate management trainee to general manager at the Hyatt Regency Philadelphia before making the jump to destination management. Her first DMO job was as senior vice president of convention sales at the Philly CVB (2010-2014) before being promoted to executive vice president and then her current post at the helm, where she has the added distinction of being the only African-American woman currently leading a major tourism bureau in one of the top-50 U.S. markets.
"The people who I have the honor of working with every day are some of the most passionate about Philadelphia that you'll find in this city," she says. "To be part of the planning process, and then helping to execute a very successful summer, was one of my proudest moments."