by M&C Staff | February 01, 2018

Meet the members of M&C's third annual profile of dynamic professionals poised to make their mark in the meetings world. Every day, these 15 women and men put their fierce energy, passion and vision for the future to work for our industry. Here are this year's rising stars.

Account director / Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel

When you're on the golf course, picking the right club sometimes takes a backseat to picking the right brain, as Patrick Colomer did when playing alongside the vice-president of sales for The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Spring, W. Va., where Colomer worked as national sales manager in 2009. He credits his fairway chats with the executive as providing valuable advice that helped propel him to his current post in the storied Sheraton New York Times Square.

A native of Florida, Colomer, 36, began in the hotel industry as a sales associate at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach, and he also spent time managing group sales for Highgate Hotels' northeast market before heading to the Big Apple.

The challenge for group sales in 2018, Colomer says, will be staying on top of all the technological advancements in the meetings industry, which he believes will be a key driver. "For New York City, group sales is a very competitive game for big box hotels like mine," he notes. "We have a big influx of new supply, and we have a huge transient market that groups have to be booked against. It is going to be a tough, interesting year."

For the past few years, Colomer has volunteered for iMentor, a nonprofit that pairs professionals with college-bound students coming out of high schools in low-income communities. When he isn't honing his golf game, he also serves as vice president of membership for MPI's Greater New York Chapter, to which he was recently appointed president-elect, a three-year gig beginning on July 1. Now, he finds, people are picking his brain.

Producer / AgencyEA / Chicago

As a recent college graduate in the meetings industry, Patrick Crosson's dream job was to work for the Professional Convention Management Association. "I never expected to get it so quickly out of college!" says Crosson, 28, of the PCMA event-manager position he landed. After a brief stint at an association in Washington, D.C., Crosson was off to Chicago, where he helped to plan major events for seasoned event professionals.

That dream led to another. After two and a half years at PCMA, Crosson's professional ambitions led him to the Chicago-based AgencyEA, where he's a producer of innovative event experiences and leads teams of as many as 16 people. Noting his swift career trajectory and admirable leadership qualities, PCMA named him one of the organization's "20 in Their Twenties" this year.

Networking is a huge part of Crosson's life: His involvement with PCMA began when he was president of the association's student chapter at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., which led to that early career boost.

Networking has yielded much more than job opportunities. "It's about creating a community, too. Industry professionals become the people you see all the time; they're like family," he says.

Crosson brings that same philosophy to his volunteer passion: He is founder and chairman of the board for the Chicago chapter of Stonewall Sports, a nonprofit sports league for the LGBTQ community and its allies.

As for his career aspirations, he continues to nurse some big dreams. "I'd love to work for Apple, Google or the Olympics -- those big brands that really do amazing things and change our industry as well."

Events and operations manager

Director of operations / Green Sports Alliance / Portland, Ore.

Twin passions for sports and the environment are a winning combination for the careers of Katie Culbert and Kelley Martin. The duo works for the Green Sports Alliance, which promotes sustainable practices among some 500 member sports organizations and venues around the world. They coordinate all of GSA's events, including its jewel, the Green Sports Alliance Summit.

Martin (pictured), 35, a former collegiate tennis player, spent 10 years as an environmental scientist until she decided to channel both her loves of sustainability and sports into a profession. Culbert, 39, landed at the GSA after working as an event manager for the Rose Quarter (a complex that includes the Moda Center, home of the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers). "Being sustainable is how I do things personally, and I try to incorporate that into the events," she says.

The eighth annual GSA Summit will be held in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta this June. The event has welcomed up to 800 people from member sports teams, stadiums, athletic conferences and leagues, along with a mix of eco-friendly vendors. "Sports is nonpartisan, and climate change should be nonpartisan as well," notes Martin.

The two also help members arrange individual events, such as a vegan night hosted by the Pittsburgh Pirates to focus on food recovery and donation. "I definitely see us on this path forever," says Martin, "making sure our events are green, and getting that message out."

Director of sales / Moloney & Kelly / Dublin

His title might be director of sales for Dublin-based Moloney & Kelly, a destination management company founded in 1970, but Michael Dalton is quite possibly the Emerald Isle's biggest unofficial tourism ambassador.

"There is so much to see and do in Ireland, that it really isn't a question of why someone should visit, but why they haven't yet," says Dalton, 31. Castles, horse-riding through the wilds of the Connemara, a visit to the set of Game of Thrones, Dalton has done them all.

While at college at the Dundalk Institute of Technology, Dalton pursued a business degree with an emphasis on event management. He enjoyed the required lectures so much that he decided to get as much hands-on industry experience as possible. After scoring an internship with Atlanta-based Corporate Meetings & Events, he entered the destination management business, where for the past seven years he has relished crafting events for clients.

"I love every minute of it. We get to work with amazing clients and create the most magical events and programs," says Dalton, who also wears another hat as global sales ambassador for Hosts Global, a worldwide alliance of more than 50 DMCs representing over 300 destinations, of which Moloney & Kelly is part.

A former member of the SITE Young Leaders committee and a 2014 recipient of the SITE Foundation's David Riddell Memorial Scholarship award, Dalton also is the newly elected two-year president of SITE Ireland for 2018 and 2019. "I always learn so much from people within the SITE community," he says. "Taking part in boards and committees has given me the opportunity to work with suppliers, clients, competitors and industry friends."

Trade show, meeting manager / Qfix / Avondale, Pa.

Like many of this year's rising stars, Nanci Gage's route to meeting planning meandered, including stints as controller of a manufacturing plant and doing sales and marketing for a hotel, before becoming trade-show and meeting manager for medical-device firm Qfix. She is responsible for organizing the company's 50-plus annual events, including trade shows, strategic meetings, symposiums and special projects. Her greatest satisfaction, she says, is in serving the company's end users.

"Everything I do is ultimately for patients and making their treatment more effective or making them more comfortable as they go through treatment," Gage says. "I also love interacting with all the marvelous clinicians, cancer centers and researchers." When she's not traveling for the job (she estimates she spent just 60 days at home last year), Gage enjoys spending time with her four children and two dogs, and she plays a mean game of golf.


Program manager, global program management services / Meetings & Incentives Worldwide Inc. / Chicago area

After graduating from DePaul University in 2008 with a double degree in international studies and French, Shannon Gehringer snapped up a job working for SITE Global headquarters in Chicago. Her first task? Organizing the incentive-travel association's booth at industry events like EIBTM in Barcelona, Spain, and IMEX in Frankfurt, Germany. She has since moved on and is now program manager of global program management services for Meetings & Incentives Worldwide, a Chicago-area meeting-planning company. But Gehringer remains involved with SITE.
"Over the years I've taken on leadership roles with my local chapter, and the global SITE Young Leaders committee, because I know the power of the network," says Gehringer, who currently is SITE Chicago's director of administration. In her "real" job, she thrives on partnering with hotels and cruise ships to find the right venues for client programs, knowing that adaptation is the key to a successful event.
"The best part about the incentive travel industry is the relationship between my job and human connections," says Gehringer, a long-time distance runner who is gearing up to tackle the Paris marathon this spring. "As a planner, I have found myself in unique, unpredictable situations that just couldn't be replicated in other industries. I've learned the value of troubleshooting difficult situations from any attendee at any moment."

Meetings, events and travel procurement analyst / Informatica / Redwood City, Calif.

Launching a strategic meetings management program can be a daunting task -- and prone to failure. Marjan Ghaffari, 39, not only initiated that process, she built it from the ground up, with no initial executive sponsor or budget. Less than two years later, she's running a successful, funded SMMP for her company, in partnership with American Express, and rolling it out globally.

"Our procurement for meetings and events was nonexistent when I came aboard," says Ghaffari, the meetings, events and travel procurement analyst at cloud data-storage company Informatica. "They created a new role for me. I learned about SMMP through one of our vendors.

"It was really discouraging at first," she adds, "because others in our industry were paying for their programs, and I didn't have a budget or much support from upper management. But my own managers were very supportive of me starting this program."

Ultimately, Ghaffari -- who is still a department of one -- sold upper management by touting the cost savings, risk mitigation and technology benefits of an SMMP, using a cost-neutral model whereby meeting owners book hotels with a commissionable room-night commitment through Amex, completely offsetting the program's cost. The results bear that out: Informatica realized 20 to 25 percent in cost savings in the first year of the program.

Ghaffari, who cites industry veteran and SMMP expert Kevin Iwamoto as a key mentor when it came to navigating challenges, is now making a name for herself in the same field. Iwamoto has asked her to share her experiences multiple times as a participant on industry panels, and her expertise continues to grow: She is in the process of launching an extension of the program for Informatica's Asia offices.

"The challenges are no longer so great," she says, "which is really fantastic. I've had people reach out to me to ask if the program is global yet."