Meetings & Conventions - Coping in a Seller’s Market -
Tried & True
In an age when many workers seem to job-hop as sport, why
have these planners remained loyal to their employers for
By Carla Benini
has devoted 17 years to the
National Environmental Health Association. Deborah Gaffney has been
at the Tax Executives Institute for 15. Denise Novak, CMP, is a
proud 22-year employee of Ernst & Young. These veterans have
watched cubicles multiply and outnumber corporate offices. They’ve
witnessed the birth of 401(k)s, and seen typewriters replaced by
computers and supplemented by Palm Pilots.
When Susan Byrd, CMP, joined the SAS Institute Inc. as a
secretary 23 years ago, the Cary, N.C., software company had fewer
than 10 employees. Today, she is manager of training administration
for a firm that employs 3,500. “I’ve never thought of leaving SAS,”
Considering the mass exodus from brick-and-mortar firms to
virtual employers, and in lieu of the younger generation’s tendency
to job-hop as sport, such devotion seems almost antiquated. Today,
about one-quarter of workers in the United States have been with
their current employers for 12 months or less, according to
statistics compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor. In the private
sector, the median length of tenure is 3.2 years. Government
employees tend to last longer; median tenure for the public sector
is 7.2 years.
What makes planners like Byrd stay put? The answer rarely is
money alone. They cite some key tangibles health and retirement
benefits but also a host of subjective factors, like the
satisfaction of working for an organization in which they believe.
A great boss, reliable colleagues, even an easy commute are among
the loyalty builders.
“A good company realizes people need change, diversity, to be
engaged,” says Ann Vincola, senior partner at Corporate Work/Life
Consulting in Boston. Rather than focusing on health benefits or
savings programs alone, firms are becoming more attuned to the big
picture, notes Vincola. “They are focusing on what is really going
to keep these people at their jobs.”
What’s the secret to long-term job satisfaction?
M&C talked to meeting planners who have spent at least
10 years with one employer to find out why they’ve stayed, whether
they have considered moving on and, in some cases, why they finally
called it quits.
Work that matters
There have been some unforgettable moments in Nelson Fabian’s years
as executive director of the Denver-based National Environmental
Health Association. He shared a sitting room with British Prime
Minister Tony Blair, former Russian president Boris Yeltsin and
President Bill Clinton during the G7 Summit in Denver four years
ago. Last May, Fabian participated in a counterbiological terrorism
exercise, a joint effort with the Centers for Disease Control, the
Department of Justice, the Colorado State Police and local health
“I have had the opportunity to participate in such powerful
experiences, and you can’t put a price tag on that,” he says.
Fabian, 51, formerly with the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers
Association in Detroit, relocated his family to take the top post
at the NEHA in 1983. It was a low point in the life of the
association, a time when it was practically clinging to solvency.
“Our auditor gave us a report that was tantamount to, ‘last one
out, turn off the lights,’” he recalls.
He considered the crisis a challenge. “There’s something
thrilling about coming into a situation when the chips are down,”
he says. Today, Fabian is knee-deep in chips: During his tenure,
membership has nearly doubled from 2,800 to 5,500, and the budget
has increased from $280,000 to $3.5 million. Fabian’s staff has
grown from four to 27 employees.
His role in this turnaround is part of Fabian’s incentive for
staying. “Building something has been one of the joys of this
work,” he says.“As long as I can grow and do something meaningful,
I am a happy man.”
Fabian also likes the location. In 1983, the choice to move to
Denver was in large part a reaction to the declining economy in
Detroit. “I wanted to raise my family in a better part of the
country,” says Fabian. “I had done enough traveling in my job to
appreciate that there were nicer places to live.”
As for salaries, Fabian says that they “still lag” in the
nonprofit sector. Yet, he would rather feel free to do his job as
he sees fit than earn more money. He works up to 70 hours a week
but has a great deal of latitude. “I’m not sure I could enjoy that
leeway elsewhere,” he notes.
And then there’s the bigger picture to consider: Fabian is a
leader in the environmental industry, and that’s something to be
proud of. “When I turn out my light,” he says, “it’s good to know
that I have a small part in making the world a better place to
dust has not yet begun to settle on the desk of Laura Yarbrough,
CMP. When she spoke to M&C in August, she had served
as the marketing events manager for Philips Speech Processing in
Dallas for all of 10 days. But she expects to be with the company
for a very long time.
Yarbrough spent 16 years with her former employer, EDS, also in
Dallas. Exciting programs, the security of a large corporation and
benefits that allowed her to twice take an eight-week maternity
leave when she adopted children were among the reasons she
“They gave things to me, and in return, I was so loyal,” says
Yarbrough, who is 43. But a change in management led to layoffs
that left Yarbrough and almost half of the 12-person meetings
department out of work.
After 16 years, Yarbrough found herself back in the job market.
“It was frightening,” she recalls. “Everything had changed. In
1983, you got your foot in the door by having the prettiest
She is optimistic about her new job, which she found through a
former colleague. Philips Speech Processing is a new division of
the Dutch firm Royal Philips Electronics. Yarbrough enjoys an
entrepreneurial atmosphere that has the backing of a parent company
with deep pockets. “There are no preconceived notions about what
can and cannot be done,” says Yarbrough, who is charged with
finding booth space at trade shows, arranging for speakers and
planning Philips’ own conferences.
Looking back, she believes leaving EDS was a good thing. “I’d
like to stay here for the next 15 years.”
For Karen Galdámez, meetings coordinator for the
Committee on State Taxation in Washington, D.C., job loyalty is
based on a mutual understanding.
“At work, people know my boys are my priority. I put in nine and
a half hours, but at five o’clock, I’m out,” says the soccer mom,
who moonlights as a chauffeur to get her three teenage sons to
their practice sessions.
“My ambition has not been to become a high-profile planner,”
says Galdámez, 34, who has been with the organization for 11 years.
“I know when you move around a lot you make more money, but that’s
not my goal.”
Galdámez has unlimited sick days and four weeks of vacation.
Days off for doctor visits are not a problem, she says. The company
is generous with benefits and its 401(k) program. And she enjoys
the downtown D.C. location and the camaraderie of her
The job itself is not perfect. A change in leadership has led to
some frustrations. Forced to bring new management up to speed,
Galdámez feels some of her responsibilities have been neglected.
And there have been temptations: She has been offered higher-paying
jobs, but nothing has enticed her to risk losing the flexibility of
her current post.
“I don’t know what it would take for me to leave,” says
Galdámez. “The money isn’t that big of a deal to me. I just want to
In fact, it’s her strong commitment to family that could
eventually push Galdámez to make a major move. She would like to
leave D.C. for the beaches of North Carolina, where her mother
lives. But, she says, there are few opportunities for planners in
Respect and more
Deborah Gaffney’s professional commitment of
more than 15 years with the Tax Executives Institute in Washington,
D.C., is due in large part to her smooth working relationship with
her supervisor, the executive director. However, “My boss is
retiring in 2001,” notes Gaffney, director of conference planning,
“and I’m going to cry buckets.”
While her longtime mentor will be missed, those who remain are
extremely supportive. “Our leaders respect that the logistics of
conference planning are part of the success of the educational
program,” she says. Gaffney, 47, also appreciates that her
professional development is supported by the institute, which pays
the dues for her membership in meetings industry associations. Even
her commute from Maryland is partially subsidized.
Gaffney likes being part of a small staff she is one of just 13
employees. “There are fewer rules here,” she notes. And she is able
to leave work early to attend her son’s school events or for other
special occasions. “I’ll be taking the day off for his birthday,”
Financial security for her family’s future also is important.
Gaffney is grateful for what she calls a “very generous” pension
and 401(k). “I don’t worry that I wouldn’t find this elsewhere, but
I wouldn’t want to test it.”
Another factor: Gaffney just isn’t the type to switch jobs. “It
isn’t my personality. My parents both had long-term jobs. I’m
comfortable with it.”
Riding out change
It’s not the bosses, the salary or the perks that
have kept Kevin McNally, CMP, with the same hotel company for 21
years. “I stay because of the talent,” says McNally, catering and
convention service manager at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and
Towers. “If I didn’t like the people I worked with, I’d get
In the hospitality industry, that kind of tenure is nearly
unheard of. A conscious decision not to burn out might be partly
responsible for McNally’s staying power. “I reached a point in my
career where I said, ‘I’m not going to kill myself. I’m going to do
my job and do it well, but you can’t control everything.’”
McNally has seen his job evolve over the years, especially in
light of a healthy and demanding economy. He finds the majority of
his time today, about 75 percent, is spent forecasting revenue of
existing clients. The rest is saved for customer relations. It was
the reverse when the 43-year-old first started in the business, he
says, adding, “Today, you almost have to be an accountant.”
Accountant or no, McNally’s job has afforded him the chance to
work in different locales, including Tucson, Ariz., and Chicago.
“With Sheraton I’ve moved around every one to two years, and each
time it has been a promotion,” he notes.
McNally puts in 55 hours a week, and maybe even a half-day on
the weekend. But, he says, “I’m not trying to work harder I’m
trying to work smarter.” To find a balance between his work and
personal life is a paramount aim. “As we get on in years, our goals
change. At work, I want to have some fun, learn something new, make
a difference with another human being and then go home and take
care of my personal life.”
Beyond the office walls
In more than two decades of service, Denise Novak, CMP, has watched
the evolution of training at the Chicago-based Ernst & Young
move from the classroom to the computer. She began as a secretary
in the tax department. After two years and with a few successful
meetings under her belt, she applied for the position of area
education coordinator, which she has held ever since.
“The firm has been good to me,” says Novak, who is 46. “The
benefits are fair, and the salary increases are fine.”
Novak spends two days a week working from her home, about 65
miles from urban Chicago. Although she enjoys a network of friends
on her commuter train, Novak welcomes the breaks from her four-hour
daily commute. Another plus: Her husband, a residential
construction consultant, is her home office mate. “I like having
the best of both worlds,” she notes. “I like working in the big
city and then coming home to five wooded acres.”
When in the office, Novak is on the move, visiting internal
departments to facilitate their educational and training sessions.
She also helps plan executive meetings and social functions.
While she’s in it for the long haul, Novak sees “a lot of
turnover” at the company and says many positions are being filled
with considerably younger employees. “I don’t think they have the
same work ethic,” says Novak. “It will be interesting to see if
they advance, settle on a career or continue [going] job to
The day in 1988 when Pat Stemple was hired as
manager of meeting planning for the Kellogg Company in Battle
Creek, Mich., was the day her pantry was cleared of all competing
brands. “I give my loyalty immediately to whatever company I work
for,” she says. “I did that for B.F. Goodrich; I did that with
Stemple, age 50, gave 12 years to the cereal giant, setting the
standards for a department that eventually grew to execute as many
as 600 meetings annually. But on Aug. 4, for reasons she still
finds unclear, Stemple was asked to leave. “For 12 years, I put
Kellogg first before anything. In one day I felt like they forgot
Stemple was proud of Kellogg. And while never promoted, she says
she was well compensated in salary and benefits. Although she has
no children, Stemple appreciated the company’s community
involvement, such as its effort to improve local schools.
“I’m not fully aware of why I’m not there anymore,” Stemple
acknowledges. Over the past few years, she perceived the company
was gradually distancing itself from what had once been a
supportive role in meetings. As a possible reason, Stemple points
to the intense competition among cereal companies and the strong
focus Kellogg placed on its core business.
Stemple, who is president of the Society of Corporate Meeting
Professionals and a board member for the Convention Industry
Council, claims she was being pushed to lower standards she had
fought so hard to raise. “There were times I wasn’t getting the
support I needed to implement and enforce standards.”
Meetings and contracts were being handled by nonplanners
throughout the company, she says, adding they were jeopardizing the
company from a legal standpoint and threatening the integrity of
her department. However, she says, Kellogg did not give her the
resources to track those meetings and enact change.
While Stemple says she continued to push her staff to meet
department goals and maintain quality, she felt higher-ups were
sending the message to cut costs. “My staff was tired, frustrated,
maybe even angry. That all gets directed back at me.”
Looking back, Stemple believes she could have compromised “a
little bit” if it meant holding onto her job. Now, she is trying to
enjoy her time at home and contemplate her next move. “Everyone
says I’ll eventually get angry,” she says. “So far, I just shed a
lot of tears.”
Stemple is surprisingly hopeful about finding another dream job.
At the top of her wish list is a company that would give her staff
the authority to “get the job done.”
She wants to find an organization that “not only allows for a
balanced life but treasures it.” Stemple says she and her husband
of three years do not expect she will find said company in Battle
Creek, headquarters to Kellogg and not much else. They are prepared
to live apart for a while, if necessary.
Despite her painful experience, she says, she’ll be as devoted
to her next job as she was to Kellogg. “I think the overriding
factor will be my nature, and that is to be loyal, whether it’s to
my company, my family or my friends.”
GREAT JOBS“We’re not your normal
admits Betty Lang-Holmes, vice president of
human resources for Ipswitch Inc. in Lexington, Mass. In an
industry where turnover averages 22 percent a year, at Ipswitch
it’s 9 percent. “If employees are treated well, they will treat the
customers well, and then the profits will come,” says Lang-Holmes.
Employees certainly are treated well at
Ipswitch. concierge service will pick up laundry, make dinner
reservations or wait for a plumber at their homes. Elder care,
child care and domestic-partner benefits are available. After one
year, employees get five weeks vacation plus 10 holidays. They get
hefty annual bonuses, too.
At another software firm, SAS Institute in
Cary, N.C., turnover hovers at around 4 percent. SAS, established
in 1976, was one of the first firms to offer workers on-site child
care. Today, the company’s cafeteria is equipped with high chairs.
SAS also provides an on-site health-care center, where sniffling
employees can get a quick fix of cold medicine and be back at their
desks in minutes. Most employees are out the door by 5 p.m.; some
work flextime. Says Mike Gallagher, senior human resources manager,
“The retention we’ve benefitted from comes from the company
philosophy: You hire the best people, and then ensure they’re
Time to Go?Do you need a new
or just a vacation? Dan King, principal of Career
Planning and Management Inc. in Boston, and Bruce Wayne,
president/CEO of Careerperfect.com, say the following signs point
to the exit door.
You are no longer learning. When you find the
learning curve is beginning to straighten, it’s time for new
You feel sick and tired. A sense of dread,
fatigue, frequent headaches and colds might be job-related.
Unhappiness at work can be expressed physically.
You just don’t care. Lack of excitement about
your job should not be the norm.
You’ve strayed from your path. Sometimes a
career takes a turn, and five years later you’ve become an expert
in a business you simply don’t like.
Your quality of life is suffering. If a 70-hour
work week or a hectic travel schedule infringes on important family
or personal time, change might be required.
Consider solutions. Would a rejuvenating
four-week vacation or new responsibilities inspire you to stay?
Approach your boss with suggestions.
If you decide to go, realize that today,
longtime loyalty to one company might be viewed as a negative. If
one post dominates your résumé, stress your growth during your
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