M&C's Top 25 Women in the Meetings Industry

Our curated list of accomplished, influential female professionals

Carina Bauer

As CEO of the IMEX Group, Carina Bauer (pictured) oversees all aspects of its two most popular shows.

The meetings industry is powered by a number of extraordinary people -- many of them women. In this special report, M&C turns the spotlight on 25 high achievers, advocates and innovators who have helped to shape and strengthen our business. Here's what makes these women exemplary (listed in alphabetical order). To access their own reflections on their proudest achievements and future goals, see box at the end of this article.

> Carina Bauer
Carina Bauer, CEO of the IMEX Group, is a driving force behind the two largest global meetings exhibitions, IMEX Frankfurt and IMEX America, both of which have enjoyed year-on-year growth since their launch. In her current role (she joined in 2002 and has been CEO since 2009), Bauer oversees all aspects of the shows and continually enhances their offerings, such as this year's "Be Well at IMEX" wellness initiative.

Bauer is a keen advocate for the meetings industry, working to ensure that corporations and politicians know the value meetings bring to company bottom lines and global economies. She has served as chair of the marketing committee for Meeting Professionals International's European Meetings & Events Conference and currently holds positions on the advocacy task force for the Professional Convention Management Association, the SITE International Foundation board and more. (See M&C's video interview with Bauer at mcmag.com/intheirownwords.)

 > Tammy Blount
A rising star in the destination management industry, Tammy Blount serves as president and CEO of the Monterey (Calif.) Convention and Visitors Bureau and secretary/treasurer of the board of Destination Marketing Association International, placing her in line to be the association's fifth female chair. She is deeply committed to the growth and sustainability of destination management organizations, serving as co-chair of DMAI's Destination Next Task Force, an initiative launched to help DMOs survive and thrive in the future. Blount's proudest achievement is finding and mentoring young professionals and "watching their commitment to the industry and their careers grow."

 > Rhonda Brewer
Vice president, sales, for St. Louis-based global meeting and incentive giant Maritz Travel, Rhonda Brewer has seen her profile rise even higher this past year, when she became president of SITE, the Society for Incentive Excellence. From this post, Brewer is leading an industrywide awareness campaign for a cause she's been devoted to for years: ending child sex trafficking in the travel industry.

Brewer has been instrumental in SITE's signing of the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct and educating SITE's global members through meetings and webcasts about this widespread and disturbing global issue. "I am proud to be able to serve such an amazing organization and make a difference by rolling out a strategy that will follow SITE for years to come," Brewer told M&C when the code was signed. (See M&C's video interview with Brewer at mcmag.com/intheirownwords.)

 > Karen Chupka
The International Consumer Electronics Show has grown to become the largest global hands-on showcase of emerging innovation under the helm of Karen Chupka, senior vice president of International CES and corporate business strategy with the Arlington, Va.-based Consumer Electronics Association. Since Chupka took the reins in 2000, CES has grown from approximately 120,000 attendees to 170,000 in 2015, the largest show in the event's history.

Chupka has always been a strong proponent of supporting women in the industry: All of her direct reports on the CES strategic team are women, and fully 50 percent of the CEA senior staff is female. Not coincidentally, this past April Chupka was named winner of the International Association for Exhibitions and Events' Woman of Achievement Award for her outstanding leadership.   

 > Sallie Coventry
Just 32 when she became managing director of W&O, formerly a major events-management agency in the United Kingdom, Sallie Coventry oversaw a team of 35 and controlled an annual budget of more than US$25 million. In three years, she guided her key accounts to double-digit growth.

Coventry now heads up the Richmond, U.K.-based IBTM global events portfolio for Reed Exhibitions. She is guiding the group of shows through a significant transition period of name and format changes -- an evolution that, if successful, could prove an industry model for tailoring the scope of a trade show to the market it serves. Coventry oversees the former European Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings Exhibition, now IBTM World, as well as IBTM shows in Africa, America, Arabia, China and India, among other shows.

 > Lisa Sommer Devlin
While Lisa Sommer Devlin has practiced law since 1984, she didn't narrow her focus to hospitality until the early '90s. Today, as principal in the Devlin Law Firm in Phoenix, she creates standardized hotel contracts, provides legal training for hotel sales staff and handles meetings-related litigation for major hotel chains such as Hilton, Marriott and Starwood.

Planners and suppliers alike flock  to Devlin's sessions at industry events and conventions, where she stresses one main message: The parties in hotel agreements need to communicate better at the start in order to avoid problems later.

 > Tracy Halliwell, MBE
The meetings industry celebrates its best and brightest with a number of awards, but it would be hard to top Tracy Halliwell's honor: The director of business tourism and major events for London & Partners was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen's 2014 Birthday Honours list, cited for her services to business tourism and meetings by Prince William himself.

Halliwell works closely with London's Mayor Boris Johnson and other city stakeholders to develop and build the British capital's business and events sector. The many high-profile events her team has handled include hundreds of programs in conjunction with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  

 > Ping He
A veteran member of the Maritz Travel and Experient teams, Shanghai, China, native Ping He was named global general manager of the Asia Pacific markets for the merged company in 2013. In this role, He develops strategic partnerships in that fast-developing region on behalf of Maritz, and provides cultural insights to enhance client-program experiences. She is credited as being the architect of Experient's global service strategy, as well as spearheading the establishment of the company's Global Sourcing Division. Outside her day-to-day role, the Chicago-based He has been an adviser to several DMCs in Asia Pacific and often speaks on global initiatives at industry events. In 2012, He was honored by IMEX and PCMA as the first-ever Global Meetings Executive of the Year.

 > Liz King
Liz King, founder of New York City-based Liz King Events, has become the go-to resource for meetings tech. In 2011, she created an annual one-day event to educate planners about the latest developments in the field, called #techsytalk Live, her proudest achievement to date.

King also has amassed a highly engaged audience online with more than 17,000 followers (and counting) on Twitter and her blog, techsytalk.com, which has won the #eventprofs Most Thought Provoking Blog and People's Choice awards.


> Jessica L. Levin, MBA, CMP, CAE
When Twitter began, Jessica L. Levin quickly embraced the medium, providing a steady stream of pithy, wise 140-character posts. She quickly made a mark as a smart planner with a firm grasp on social media's implications for the meetings realm. With a background in professional services, association management and business-to-business marketing, Levin teaches how to embrace social platforms as a way to build and bolster both corporate and personal brands.

"I want to be known as a fresh thinker who looks at what we are doing today, what makes sense, what doesn't and what we need to think about to make change tomorrow," says the president and "chief connector" for Edison, N.J.-based Seven Degrees Communications LLC. Levin also serves as president of the New Jersey Professional Services Marketers Association and director of community services for PCMA's Greater New York Chapter. (See M&C's video interview with Levin at mcmag.com/intheirownwords.)

 > Katherine Lugar
As president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association since 2013, Katherine Lugar has helped to grow membership to its highest point in its 100-year history. The largest trade association in the U.S. hotel industry now represents nearly half of the properties in the country.

Lugar also has advanced AH&LA's focus on advocacy. Armed with more than 20 years of experience in private-sector public affairs, she has helped place the organization at the forefront of industry discussions, such as the recent efforts to gain congressional support in the fight against the deceptive practices of online rouge vendors. In addition, she has spearheaded industry efforts to prevent human trafficking. Recognizing that traffickers might rely heavily on legitimate businesses such as hotels, she has led the charge at AH&LA to educate its members. The organization recently released guidelines to help hoteliers and their employees do their part to spot illegal activity and stop it in its tracks.

 > Heike Mahmoud, CMP
Heike Mahmoud has been working tirelessly to make Berlin a top global meetings destination since she first joined Visit Berlin as director of conventions in 2001. During her tenure, the German capital has doubled its meetings business and currently ranks fourth in the prestigious ICCA city rankings.

Mahmoud's footprint in the meetings industry extends well beyond her duties at Visit Berlin: She has served as vice president, meetings industry, and an executive board member for European Cities Marketing, where she was instrumental in organizing the first joint education initiative between ECM and Destination Marketing Association International, scheduled to take place this summer, and serves as committee chair for BestCities Global Alliance, a network of 12 global DMOs.


 > Nan Marchand Beauvois
A passionate advocate for the U.S. meetings and tourism industry, Nan Marchand Beauvois serves as vice president, national councils, for the U.S. Travel Association in Washington, D.C. In this capacity she oversees the National Council of State Tourism Directors, the National Council of Attractions and the Destination Council. She also helms the powerful Meetings Mean Business Coalition, the organization that was launched in 2009 by U.S. Travel to demonstrate the value of business meetings, travel and events to the U.S. economy.

Beauvois is general manager for U.S. Travel's Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations, a national forum for destination professionals that aims to help them better market and grow their destinations.

 > Fiona Pelham, HON, DB
For grassroots efforts to get a foothold in an industry, concerned people need to step up to the plate and make themselves heard. Fiona Pelham, whose expertise in sustainable meetings has propelled her onto the meetings industry's main stages, has done that and more. In 2005, she launched the nonprofit Positive Impact to provide education to support an earth-friendly events industry; she also serves as managing director of Manchester, U.K.-based Sustainable Events Ltd.

"For years I was a Girl Scout leader, and I saw how community events make a difference," says Pelham. "So for me, it makes sense that every event should have a positive impact on the local communities and environment."

Pelham is the voluntary chair of ISO 20121, an international standard that provides a management system for event sustainability, inspired by the practices used at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. In January 2016, Pelham will become the international board chair for MPI.


> Pat Schaumann, CMP, CSEP, DMCP, HMCC
When it comes to planning meetings in the health-care industry, Pat Schaumann wrote the book -- literally. Her Breaking the Code to Healthcare Compliance, now in its third edition, is the standard text on which certification courses in the field have been based. She also serves as director, professional development, health-care sector, for MPI.

Having worked for years as a planner, in 2009 Schaumann founded the International Medical Meeting Planners Association. Two years ago, MPI purchased IMMPA and its burgeoning health-care compliance certification course, devised by Schaumann; between July 2014 and the beginning of this year, more than 300 people took the course.

Schaumann also is working to fill the technology void that addresses the ever-changing codes and planner reporting requirements. She recently teamed up with BusyEvent Mobile to release My Compliance Wizard, an online resource of codes, regulations and laws in 196 countries.

 > Debi Scholar, CMP, CMM, CTE, GLP
One of a handful of experts whose names invariably are mentioned in any discussion of strategic meetings management, Debi Scholar helped to define SMM programs and was an early champion while a meetings director at PricewaterhouseCoopers and a committee co-chair at the Global Business Travel Association. She further pursued this effort in conjunction with her own Scholar Consulting Group, and then as a meetings director with American Express.

Scholar has remained at the forefront of SMM education as a coach and mentor. Since accepting the role last year of global leader and director of virtual meetings for a major pharmaceutical company, she has continued to serve the industry in her spare time by volunteering to help associations, corporations and suppliers with their SMM efforts. She has authored four books about meetings and events.

 > Deborah Sexton, FASAE
For some 30 years, Deborah Sexton (second from left in photo) has worked tirelessly for the meetings and conventions industry, for the past decade serving as president and CEO of the Professional Convention Management Association in Chicago. Previously, she was president of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau and earlier ran her own marketing consultancy for hotel management firms.

In her role at PCMA, Sexton is the leader of a prominent 6,500-member organization with chapters throughout North America, but her influence extends even further. She is a ferocious advocate of education, both within and about the industry. PCMA's own events serve as experimental testing grounds for a variety of education formats, while Sexton has been a vocal industry advocate via the Meetings Mean Business Coalition. When she talks, people listen.

 > Fay Sharpe
Fay Sharpe is the founder and managing director of Zibrant, one of the largest meeting firms in the U.K., and recognized by Britain's The Times in 2014 and 2015 as one of the best 50 places for women to work. Sharpe's commitment to raising women's role in the industry extends beyond her own boardroom: She launched Fast Forward 15, a mentoring initiative for women seeking careers in meetings. Endorsed by several industry organizations, the program selects 15 women (150 applied this first year) and pairs them with senior women in the industry for a year (mentors include Sharpe's fellow Top 25 list honoree Sallie Coventry).

Sharpe created Fast Forward 15 because "though 70 percent of our industry is made up of women, only 25 to 30 percent hold senior positions." She intends to open it up to international participants next year.

 > Martha Sheridan
Martha Sheridan is Rhode Island through and through. She grew up in the state, graduated from its eponymous university and early in her career worked at the Providence-Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau. This was followed by a six-year stint in sales at the Newport County Convention and Visitors Bureau before she returned to the PWCVB in 2006, now as president and CEO.

"I hope my mark is felt each and every day in the form of job retention and creation for Rhode Islanders," says Sheridan, who also served as president of DMAI. "With each event we book and every visitor we convince to visit, hardworking members of our hospitality industry are able to support their families and their community."


> Tracy Stuckrath, CSEP, CMM, CHC
A speaker, consultant, hospitality and events industry trainer, and president/chief connecting officer for Thrive! Meetings & Events, Tracy Stuckrath's true calling was born from personal experience. Upon discovering she was allergic to yeast, Stuckrath successfully eliminated it from her diet. Her next challenge was to eat heathfully  when traveling for the events she planned, a task she eventually mastered.

"Few planning and F&B professionals know how to address the needs of people with dietary restrictions," says Stuckrath. So she now works to educate venues and planners on how to do that while serving safe, delicious and nutritious food for all at events.

 > Shawna Suckow 
As a veteran independent planner Shawna Suckow spotted an industry void: an organization where planners like herself, with at least 10 years of experience, could gather to discuss their experiences, further their industry knowledge and share best practices. In 2008, she launched the Senior Planners Industry Network, which today counts 2,400 members and 12 branches in the U.S. and Canada.

Suckow extended her footprint last year, when she founded The Hive Network, a community where veteran suppliers connect with planners, followed by her 2015 launch of Empty Suitcase, a portal that gives planners ideas for simple goodwill projects by listing goods needed by charities all over the world. "We've brought baby supplies to Bloomington, Minn., toys to St. Louis and eyeglasses to Nepal," notes Suckow with deserved pride.

 > Megan Tanel
Promoting and raising awareness of the exhibition industry is the raison d'etre for Megan Tanel, vice president of exhibitions and events for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers and a 20-year veteran of the organization. In her role, Tanel oversees all of AEM's 12 trade shows and show partnerships in the U.S. and around the world, including AEM's flagship show and the largest show of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, CONEXPO-CON/AGG, which draws some 130,000 attendees.  

In 2014, Tanel served as co-chair for the inaugural Exhibitions Day event on Capitol Hill, where 100 trade-show organizers and exhibition-industry leaders convened to promote the economic and business value of face-to-face meetings and events.


> Melissa Van Dyke 
As president of the Incentive Research Foundation in St. Louis since 2009, Melissa Van Dyke helms an organization that produces some of the most prolific and influential studies and education for the incentive industry. She has been a strong advocate and ambassador -- speaking at industry events, authoring blogs, creating a robust LinkedIn community -- for this vital arm of the meetings community.

Van Dyke's background prepared her well for her present role: At Maritz Inc. she was a consultant for the employee engagement practice and also held positions in product development and business technology solution management. Under her watch at IRF, the foundation's research and education footprint has tripled.


 > Lisa VanRosendale
In her 25-plus years in the meetings and exhibitions industry, VanRosendale has produced trade shows, road shows and conferences around the globe. Today, as senior vice president, client development, for international brand experience agency FreemanXP, her mission is to get clients to embrace cutting-edge -- and measurable -- attendee experiences. VanRosendale says she thrives on exploring nontraditional events to ignite new ideas, and considers her gig as TEDActive presenter one of her proudest achievements. She also founded Women in Marketing, a group that offers networking events with senior-level women in the industry to encourage best practices and collaboration among top female leaders.

 > Nancy J. Zavada, CMP 
A love of the outdoors and its inhabitants as a child started Nancy Zavada on her road to becoming one of the meetings industry's top experts on green meetings. Twelve years ago, she and her then-business partner, Amy Spatrisano, CMP, co-founded the Green Meeting Industry Council. In 1994, Zavada launched the Portland, Ore.-based planning firm that is now MeetGreen, which offers planning services and tools to help organizations cut waste, lower carbon footprints and more. MeetGreen's toolbox includes the MeetGreen Calculator, which helps planners benchmark the sustainable elements of their gatherings.

Of her path, Zavada says, "Helping event professionals find easy solutions to some of the more difficult sustainability challenges has long been a passion of mine. I hope to keep the momentum going and help others so they don't have to reinvent the wheel." 

Online @ mcmag.com
M&C asked all Top 25 Women in the Meetings Industry about their proudest accomplishments and what they hope to achieve in the future. Read what they had to say at mcmag.com/intheirownwords.