Marsha Willett, director of corporate events
with 14 years of service at Ingram Metro,
doesn’t wait for management to ask for
greater efficiency and cost savings.
The past several years have been challenging to
say the least for corporate meeting planners. In some companies,
operational cutbacks and sweeping layoffs have decimated entire
planning departments. At the same time, a growing movement by
in-house procurement specialists to contain costs has marginalized
the responsibilities of some in the meetings arena.
So why do some planners survive, even thrive, year after year
with the same company in such a difficult milieu? To find out what
skills it takes to have staying power in today’s volatile business
world, M&C spoke with seven very senior corporate meeting
planners, who together have more than 125 years of experience.
Their companies employ thousands globally, generate billions in
revenue annually and span the spectrum of American industry from
health care and food services to technology and electronics.
These veterans agree that business acumen and unwavering
standards are a must for staying in, and ahead of, the game. So,
too, are a willingness to embrace and implement change and a
cutthroat approach to driving cost savings.
Taking the initiative
Four years ago, Marsha Willett, CMP, decided her company
stood to benefit greatly in cost savings and data analysis if it
moved to an online meetings registration system. Nobody had asked
her to undertake the task, but “we had to keep up with the growing
number of meetings we were doing,” says Willet, who for the past 14
years has served as director of corporate events for Santa Ana,
Calif.-based Ingram Metro, a $23 billion worldwide technology
In fact, Willett and her staff of 15 found themselves
arranging 500-plus meetings and events a year often as many as
seven per day. So she looked at third-party providers and
benchmarked Ingram Micro’s needs against online registration
systems in place at other companies. Nothing fit well enough, so
Willett and the company’s IT experts put together the
specifications for a system that was customized to meet their
“The program includes specialized reporting to more easily
customize requirements for special events, a scheduling function to
manage multiple meetings that run concurrently, and assigned
seating for dinners or programs for five nights in a row,” says
Willett. “Controlling the seating arrangements promotes more
networking and, for VIPs in attendance, encourages more strategic
Finally, a broad range of training sessions was devised, put
into the system and rolled out to Ingram Micro’s 11,000 employees.
“It was imperative they understood how important the system was to
the company in managing meetings,” Willett notes.
The system has indeed proved important to the tech firm. Aside
from enjoying the functional improvements noted above, says
Willett, “We benefit from a sizeable cost and time savings.
Automating our planning process also lightens our workload, so we
can concentrate on more important things like negotiating hotel
contracts and meeting content. We are very pleased with the
Stepping forward to demonstrate expertise and devise
solutions, rather than waiting on a directive from senior
management to implement change, highlights an employee’s vested
interest in his or her company, Willett says. And as a result of
her efforts, she adds, “My company sees my department as
instrumental in driving the corporation’s objectives and
controlling costs that help achieve their goals.”
And it doesn’t end there. Every year Willett and several IT
gurus analyze new technology developments. “If we find something we
think will be beneficial, we incorporate it,” she says.
Beyond being on the cutting edge of technological solutions,
Willett also has turned her department into a profit center. “We
have executives who bring us business. They will talk to a
customer, and then the customer will ask us for help in planning an
event which we will do and we charge them for it.”