by M&C Staff | October 01, 2016

 • Vanessa Sinders
Leading the charge on Capitol Hill for the Washington, D.C.-based American Hotel & Lodging Association is Vanessa Sinders, senior vice president of government affairs. In her role, Sinders spearheads the association's advocacy efforts and promotes the importance of the lodging industry's employment and economic impact to Congress.

Over the past several years, Sinders has moved the needle on multiple policy fronts on the industry's radar, including curbing deceptive online booking practices, ensuring government per diem rates are sustainable, and advocating for local and state legislation to regulate companies operating in the shared economy space, such as Airbnb, in terms of safety, security and insurance.

"We have worked hard to provide a unified voice on issues critical to the future of the lodging industry," Sinders notes, "and we recognize that building broad-based coalitions and relationships are imperative to success."

 • Julia W. Smith, CEM, CTA
Her success in the world of trade shows and exhibitions has imbued Julia W. Smith with a mission to mentor new talent, particularly young women in the industry. "We have to continue a dialog about how we can attract and keep the next generation of solutions providers," says the senior vice president of national sales for Las Vegas-based Global Experience Specialists, a company she has been with since 1989. "To do that properly, we need to address issues like equal pay, flex time, job sharing, telecommuting and finding creative ways to keep future generations of talent in an industry that can require long hours, weekends and extensive travel."

The first associate member of the International Association of Exhibitions and Events to earn the Certificate in Exhibition Management designation, Smith also serves as 2016 chair of the board for IAEE, and she has taught CEM modules in the United States as well as China, Taiwan, India, Canada and Europe.

Among Smith's other accolades, she was the inaugural winner of IAEE's Woman of Achievement Award and a recipient of IAEE's Distinguished Service Award.  

 • Janiece J. Sneegas, Ph.D.
For Jan Sneegas, the art of sustainable meetings is a religion -- literally. The director of the general assembly and conference services for the Unitarian Universalist Association in Boston has been preaching the gospel of green since she joined the organization in 2002, a mission her employer takes to heart. The impetus to go green is built into the Unitarian faith, which touts as one of its principles, "Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."

It's been Sneegas' job to make sure the UUA's gatherings walk that talk, finding new ways each year to save resources and, often, money as well.

"I come to work every day and have as a focal point: How can we make this a more sustainable meeting?" she says. Two areas still frustrate Sneegas: First, food donation is still problematic, because venues often are unfamiliar with the Good Samaritan Act of 1996, which removes liability from groups that give away leftover meals properly. The second concerns cities that are willing to do what the UUA asks "because we're the client," Sneegas says, "and then some of them revert back to their old ways the moment we're out the door."

Sneegas doesn't see herself as the trailblazer she is: "I'm not anything other than a person who is persistent. I'm willing to deal with the setbacks."

 • Janet Traphagen
Before being named president of incentive firm the Creative Group nearly two years ago, Janet Traphagen spent close to 20 years in sales for the organization. She was so good in that role that she was named the top-selling executive in the company's history.

As much as she loved working with clients, Traphagen also had a passion for coaching and leadership, and was asked to join the executive committee in 2008. "Since then, Creative Group's revenues have nearly doubled, and in the past three years growth has been in the double digits year-over-year," she notes with evident pride.

Traphagen now shares her leadership skills with others in the incentive industry in her role as chair of the board of trustees for the Incentive Research Foundation. She has been a driving force behind the organization's goal of increasing its research offerings, and in particular, boosting both the number and quality of incentive studies and white papers conducted by universities.

The effort has been fruitful: At the annual IRF educational and incentive invitational event held earlier this year, the organization reported a record number of 16 research projects currently in its pipeline.

"Research and education are the heart of the IRF," says Traphagen. "Developing objective and reliable insights for our constituents, whether corporate, association, suppliers or third parties, is critical to helping make the business case for how incentives impact an organization's overall performance. With more facts and research to back this up, we can move the conversation from travel destinations to how a properly designed incentive can be a powerful business tool."

 • Kari Kesler Wendel, SMMC
"I love a big, messy challenge," says Kari Kesler Wendel, senior director of global strategic meetings management strategy and solutions at Carlson Wagonlit Travel Meetings & Events. Evidently, SMM and its myriad issues serve as her ambrosia.

This is Wendel's second stint with CWT; the first time around, in the early 1990s, she managed the global hotel spend for Xerox, which then hired her away. "I took the job, which turned out to be the beginning of the SMM program there," she says.

Continued success came from building other companies' SMM programs. Wendel has had a hand in meetings management for the likes of Apple, Eli Lilly and Honeywell.

About six years ago she rejoined CWT. "Now I have a global team, and when companies really want to succeed at this, we build their program," says Wendel, who has volunteered for the Global Business Travel Association and served on its board. Like others in the SMM space, she can't believe such programs aren't more widely embraced across the industry. "This shouldn't be so difficult," she says. "Most companies don't allow this kind of decentralized activity in any other department."