M&C's Top 25 Women in the Meetings Industry: In Their Own Words

For M&C's inaugural list of the Top 25 Women in the Meetings Industry, we asked these outstanding individuals to share the professional achievement they are most proud of, as well as how they would like to further make their mark on the meetings industry. Here's what they told us.

1. Carina Bauer

Proudest achievement: The launch of IMEX America was probably my proudest thus far.

Making my mark: Advocacy for the meetings industry -- both in the corporate and political worlds -- is one of the most important issues we face as an industry, and one that I would like to continue to campaign for.


2. Nan Marchand Beauvois
Vice President, National Councils, and General Manager, Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations, U.S. Travel

Proudest achievement: Achievement/satisfaction comes from being able to mentor future leaders for our industry. It's a way for me to give back to an industry that has been so good to me. Last week I was touring a group of high school students studying tourism/hospitality on the show floor at IPW in Orlando. It was so cool seeing the lights go on in their heads when I was explaining all the different opportunities our industries offer and they got to see that first hand. It's energizing!"

Making my mark: The Meetings Mean Business coalition has the potential to really galvanize and change our industry in so many positive ways. I want to continue to drive this coalition froward to achieving their goals. That would be a great legacy."

3. Tammy Blount
President and CEO, Monterey (Calif.) Convention and Visitors Bureau

Proudest achievement: I think the best part has been finding and mentoring so many young people over the years, and watching their commitment to the industry and their careers grow.

Making my mark: I am excited to be nominated as secretary-treasurer for DMAI -- that places me in queue to be the association's fifth woman chair. If we can continue to empower youth, encourage diversity and grow both the science of our industry as well as the acknowledgment of its importance -- nationally and globally -- I will feel good about being a part of that.

4. Rhonda Brewer
Vice President of Sales, Maritz Travel, and 2015 President, SITE

Proudest achievement: First, having the opportunity to work at Maritz for over 25 years and gain experience in most of the areas within the meetings and incentives division. These experiences have allowed me to learn from many incredible managers and grow personally and professionally. I am proud to be able to use all the knowledge and experience I've gained over the years to lead and mentor an amazing sales team.

Second is being elected to my current role as SITE president. From a global perspective, SITE has taught me so much, and the lifelong relationships and connections that I have made along the way are priceless. Signing the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct to raise awareness of human trafficking, implementing processes and educating our members on this topic, I know will make a difference on this 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.

Making my mark: At this stage in my career, I feel I have been blessed to work in this industry and want to continue to pursue my passion for connecting people and making a difference wherever I can. I have been fortunate to work with and get to know so many amazing industry professionals across the globe and want to continue to serve as a champion for incentive travel and a mentor for the next generation of industry leaders.


5. Sallie Coventry
Portfolio Director, IBTM Global Events Portfolio

Proudest achievement: I think it would have to be becoming managing director of W&O Event Management at age 32. I realized that such an achievement was daunting, lonely and of course a huge responsibility. I had a team of 35 and I was controlling budgets of some £16m annually. This experience showed me that the skills of leadership are nothing if you do not have the right team to support you, and in this industry the team effort is fundamental to the success of an event.

Making my mark: In my role heading up the IBTM events portfolio, I would like to be seen as a provider of support to help the industry in each of the regions we serve, to listen to their needs and to develop events that provide the platforms for what they want.

6. Karen Chupka
Senior Vice President, International CES, and Corporate Business Strategy, Consumer Electronics Association

Proudest achievement: Our launch of CES Asia. We had just wrapped up the largest CES ever and found ourselves months away from launching a brand new show in Shanghai, China. Most of our team members had never been to China and had never launched a show. In a few short months our team had to adapt and learn how to do business in a new culture all while building a show from the bottom up. There were language barriers and time-zone challenges, but everyone kept their focus and flexibility.

The launch was successful, with over 20,000 attendees and over 200 exhibitors totaling just over 103,000 net square feet of exhibit space. I'm most proud of it because it is hard to launch a new event let alone do so within 10 months (we announced it in July) -- and within six months of producing a record-breaking event.
Making my mark: I'd like to help our team continue to come up with new ideas for our customers. I'd be happy if, 25 years from now, both CES and CES Asia are breaking records!

7. Lisa Sommer Devlin
Principal, Devlin Law Firm

Proudest achievement: While I am proud that I became a successful litigator at a time when there were not yet many women in the courtroom, I am more proud that I am now recognized as an expert in meetings industry legal issues. I love it when someone says, "Everybody told me that you are the person to ask about this issue." It's a wonderful feeling when people put their trust in me, and even better when I can help them solve their problem.

Making my mark: I have long tried to help make the industry less adversarial, and I hope to continue that process by educating industry professionals. If parties learn about each other's positions both legally and from a business perspective, they can create contracts that are fair and reasonable to both sides. I hope to advance that understanding in my writings and presentations.

8. Tracy Halliwell, MBE
Director of Business Tourism & Major Events, London & Partners

Proudest achievement: It has to be my MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), which I was awarded last year in the Queen's birthday Honours lists for services to business tourism. The Eventia Outstanding Achievement Award rates highly as well.

Making my mark: I think we still have a long way to go in gaining recognition as an industry in our own right, and that's because we're still very fragmented and cut across so many different sectors. The events industry drives significant economic growth and contributes so much to the business marketplace, but receives very little recognition. It's on this issue that I'm continuing to focus my time and energy. If we can gain government support for the business tourism sector, we can cut through the barriers that are standing in the way of future industry growth.

9. Ping He
Global General Manager, Asia Pacific, Maritz Travel Co.

Proudest achievement: That has to be the design of Experient's global-service strategy, Glocal, in 2003, which helped put Experient on the map. Maritz Travel's global strategy is also based on this concept. Compared to a brick-and-mortar model, Glocal allows us to effectively and efficiently provide global-service solutions to our customers. It makes us nimble in this ever-changing and competitive business world. It ensures that we focus on our customer needs, not on administrative efforts.
Making my mark: Together with my other two brilliant Global general managers -- Ben Goedegebuure and Eduardo Chaillo -- we have now finalized the development of our Maritz Global Meetings Network infrastructure by welcoming 25 best-in-class global partners to represent nearly 60 key countries. These hand-selected partners enhance Maritz Travel's ability to offer extensive regional knowledge, capabilities and cultural solutions to its clients. We want to turn our Glocal vision -- strategically global in reach, culturally local in expertise -- into a global reality as our strategy allows us to design and deliver effective global meeting experiences for clients anywhere, anytime.

10. Liz King
Founder, Liz King Events

Proudest achievement: We host an annual conference every year called Techsytalk Live, which I am​ most proud of. We started the event back in 2011 because Internet Week was coming up and we wanted to do something for the event industry. A panel didn't seem like a great idea since everyone else was doing it, so we decided to do a showcase on event technology. Over the years it has become a day-long educational event for planners to learn about how technology impacts the work we do every day.

It takes us several months to plan the conference and choose the right speakers and find the right companies to participate. However, all of the work has been worth it. I think that we have one of the most innovative conferences in this space, and we work very hard to find new ways to engage our attendees, think outside of the box in regards to event formats and provide education on a topic that is very important for our industry. We continue to innovate the event year after year, always looking for something new to make it even better, but I think we should be very proud of the event that we have created so far.
Making my mark: Being fairly new to the industry, it is a huge honor to be surrounded by people who have much more experience than me. In my short career, I have really tried to do what I can to connect our industry together and provide education for event planners to rise to the next level. There are some very great certification programs available, but the reality is that so many planners come into the industry with little to no experience.
I've always said that the best and worst thing about our industry is that there is a very low barrier to entry. Someone could decide today that they want to be an event planner, and they can have an event-planning business tomorrow. This provides great opportunities for people like me who wanted to get started in the industry and hadn't studied hospitality in college, but I think it also means that there are many people who flow in and out of our industry. Sometimes, this can pose a challenge for the industry as a whole.

I believe that our industry needs more experience overall and more education, so while formal certification programs are great, I want to contribute what I can to help provide more informal education for the planner who is learning on the go. Also, I really believe in collaboration and community. By helping to build a network of event planners who share their war stories and lessons learned, I believe we can raise the profile of our industry overall and create a more collaborative environment. If, at the end of my career, I can feel like I have done everything I can to make our industry better, I will be really satisfied.

11. Jessica L. Levin, MPA, CMP, CAE
President and Chief Connector, Seven Degrees Communications LLC

Proudest achievement: This one is easy. Writing and publishing Perfect Pairings: The Art of Connecting People in February 2015.

Making my mark: I don't really think about it in terms of making a mark. I want to see people evolve and continue to bring new ideas. 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.


12. Katherine Lugar
President and CEO, American Hotel & Lodging Association

Proudest achievement:  It's been an incredibly journey running the American Hotel & Lodging Association for the past two years as we've revitalized the association, energized our members and advanced our agenda on issues that matter to the hotel industry.

In just two years, we've doubled our membership, refocused our attention on advocacy and scored significant wins. Whether we've led the charge on fighting extreme wage initiatives hurting our employees and employers or enlisting Congressional support to stop deceptive practices of rogue online vendors who trick consumers when booking hotels online, to preserving per diem rates around the country or securing reauthorization of Brand USA and the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, AH&LA is having a profound impact in Congress and the Administration on behalf of our members.
And it's just the beginning. We have a packed agenda and many important issues before us and I'm excited about the future of our industry and AH&LA.

Making my mark: My job is to ensure that our members' voices are heard on Capitol Hill and in the White House and in state and local capitals around the country. The hotel industry has a powerful and dynamic story to tell. It's a story about good paying jobs, with benefits and more importantly a fast-track to higher positions and the chance to live the American Dream. Ours is an industry of small business owners, with nearly half of general managers and executives having started their careers in entry-level positions. That's why we need to do all we can to protect our businesses and our industry from challenges that threaten our ability to grow and create jobs and allow our employees to flourish. Until that story becomes part of the consciousness of every lawmaker in the country, I won't consider my job done.

13. Heike Mahmoud, CMP
Director, Conventions, visitBerlin

Proudest achievement: Berlin plays a key role as a top global congress destination. We doubled the number of congresses, meetings and events and the number of congress participants as well. According to the ICCA rankings, we started with 61 congresses in 2001 and increased the number of international association congresses to 193 registered events. Furthermore, we created a strong network with our local partners in Berlin and our representation offices in New York City, London and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Making my mark: Berlin still has lot of potential for meetings. Working on new developments and innovations for our customers will be one important step. Bringing clients and partners together, creating new platforms for knowledge transfer and business opportunities is my main focus. My involvement in the BestCities Global Alliance and the partnership with PCMA is one example; I'm hoping to further develop the cooperation between the European Cities Marketing and Destination Marketing Association Inter­n­ational.

14. Fiona Pelham, HON, DBA
Managing Director, Sustainable Events and Positive Impact Events

Proudest achievement: Chairing ISO 20121 is the moment I am the most proud of in my career so far for two reasons: First, I was the youngest female ISO chair at that time, and breaking any gender or age barriers is always inspiring. Second, ISO 20121 is a standard that gives the event industry a framework to follow so every event can have positive economic, environmental and social impacts. This standard will continue to make a difference in the world, and I'm proud of the legacy it will have.

Making my mark: I'm passionate about people creating their lives the way they want them to be. My aspiration is that people will see, from my career, that it's possible for everyone to make a difference with their lives, grow their leadership and enjoy the journey.

15. Pat Schaumann, CMP, CSEP, DMCO, HMCC
Director, Professional Development, Health-Care Sector, Meeting Professionals International

Proudest achievement: That my children, Michael and Marissa, have followed in my footsteps. They could have followed their father into the law field -- my husband is a Circuit Judge -- but they chose the hospitality field, as did my son-in-law and my niece. Marissa is a project manager for Maritz, and Michael is director of business development for Plannernet. I hope that what I have done in my career has affected their work choices.
Making my mark: I want to continue to define my career with innovation. In addition to updating my book and launching the new My Compliance Wizard app, I am continuing to evolve the Healthcare Meeting Compliance Certificate program that I developed and then sold to MPI. The program just had its 500th recipient; 25 of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world have sent planners or compliance directors/attorneys through the class, and 16 countries have been represented. We launched in Krakow, Poland, in February, followed by Frankfurt, Germany; and we have two upcoming classes in Belgium and Copenhagen, Denmark. And I am currently designing a new CMP health-care training program for MPI, which will launch in August at the World Education Congress.

16. Debi Scholar, CMP, CMM, CTE, GLP, SMM
Coach and Mentor

Proudest achievement: My PricewaterhouseCoopers team and I embarked on a significant, yearlong, intensive Six Sigma SMM project that I presented to leaders as an opportunity to drive consistency, reduce risk and optimize budgets. We brought together critical stakeholders from several departments at a time before SMM was well known in the industry.

It was an intense challenge, but with incredible leadership and coaching from my leader, Kathy Murray, and unwavering support from the CFO, we succeeded and presented compelling results: We recognized 25 percent savings in the first year, reigned in all rogue spend outside of the program, built trusting relationships with the C-level leaders, developed new meetings policy, enhanced the use of our meeting management technology, streamlined processes and implemented a new resource model that I personally developed because it was so confidential.

It wasn't easy to change a large company without a mandate, but it was extremely rewarding to revolutionize a large organization, educate colleagues and become a Six Sigma Green Belt. Moreover, I was the first to combine virtual meetings within the same team as the in-person meeting planners, long before other people considered virtual meetings as a critical SMM component.

Making my mark: I plan to implement a global SMM with my current team members, continue to teach and offer guidance as an SMM coach and mentor, and finalize the edits of three other books that Susan Losurdo and I wrote two years ago. 

17. Deborah Sexton, FASAE
President and CEO, Professional Convention Management Association

Proudest achievement: Nurturing a behavior of risk-taking and innovation, for both PCMA and our members. Through this behavior we have positioned PCMA to be recognized as an industry trailblazer. Two examples that I'm most proud of are our early adoption of hybrid and digital events, and the education we have provided through our own experiences and our pursuit of open-space learning environments, which has grown and evolved over the past five years.

Making my mark: It's not "my mark," it is PCMA's, which is supported by staff, volunteer leadership and all of our members. What I aspire for PCMA is to sustain and further grow our position in the marketplace as the leading source of senior level education, resources and experimentation, supported by our proposition of risk-taking and innovation. To further support this, our leadership is currently progressing through a yearlong visioning exercise. It's pushing us to look into the future and consider how we continue to be relevant -- particularly as both our members' and their own attendees' expectations and behaviors are rapidly evolving.

18. Fay Sharpe
Managing Director and Founder Shareholder, Zibrant, and Founder, Fast Forward 15

Proudest achievement: In 2005, I created the Zibrant brand, through the bringing together of a number of agencies. Zibrant is recognized as being one of the leading events and venue find agencies in the U.K., with a portfolio of global clients.

Making my mark: I would like to expand the Fast Forward 15 initiative into an ongoing annual program. With the inaugural launch in March 2015, the initiative has been incredibly well received by the U.K. industry, and we already have global members in the LinkedIn Networking Forum. Ultimately I would like to see the whole program become a global opportunity offering mentoring to events professionals and graduates on a larger scale.
Charity and giving back are also personal passions for me, and I am a trustee of the Muscle Help Foundation, as well as supporting other charities as a business. Each year I embark on a charity event with the Zibrant team, which have included the Scottish Coast to Coast Challenge, a bike ride from Derby to Paris and sleeping rough. Moving forward, I am fully committed to working to further increase our charity goals.

19. Martha Sheridan
President & CEO, Providence-Warwick (R.I.) Convention & Visitors Bureau

Proudest achievement: Several years ago, under my leadership, our agency formed the Rhode Island Sports Commission, which is now a division of the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau. Since its inception, the RISC has secured dozens of high-impact, high-profile sports events for the state of Rhode Island and continues to be an economic powerhouse for the entire region.

Making my mark: I hope my mark is felt each and every day in the form of job retention and creation for Rhode Islanders. 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. The profound impact that my agency has had on our state's economy, culture and quality of life will be felt for years to come.

20. Tracy Stuckrath, CSEP, CMM, CHC
President & Chief Connecting Officer, Thrive! Meetings & Events

Proudest achievement: I am most proud of having left corporate planning to start my own business, focusing on educating our industry and others on how to accommodate dietary needs. I've created my own niche, helping the industry understand the legal, ethical, and financial implications and opportunities in meeting the personalized needs of attendees.

Making my mark: I love this question since I have so much more I want to do with this platform. First, I'd like to work with industry organizations to standardize how we collect dietary needs of our attendees. Second, I'd like to incorporate that dietary knowledge base into each of the industry's certification programs. Third, I'd like to work with more hotels, catering companies and other food-service providers to standardize ingredient identification and notification for event attendees. And finally, I'm working on a technology to help both attendees and food-service purveyors to identity what can and cannot be eaten at an event based on their needs.

21. Shawna Suckow
Founder, SPiN Network

Proudest achievement: Overcoming my paralyzing fear of public speaking was a huge accomplishment for me. I used to get sick to my stomach even if someone I knew was about to take the stage! Whenever a new SPiN branch would launch, I was asked to come and speak. After several launches, I started to dread it less. Then one day, I decided I actually enjoyed it. Today, I can't imagine not having professional speaking as part of my career. It was a huge milestone when I began to speak internationally. Today, I've spoken on five continents -- still waiting on Australia and Antarctica! You just never know what opportunities this industry has in store for you.

Making my mark: Along with some industry colleagues, I just launched emptysuitcase.org. It's a portal to educate planners on goods needed by charities all over the world. Planners then can incorporate a simple CSR project into their event by asking their attendees to throw a couple items into their suitcase to help a charity wherever the group is headed. They can upload their success stories to the website afterward. Imagine how a simple act can impact people all over the world by sharing a little of our own abundance.

22. Megan Tanel
Vice President, Exhibitions and Events, Association of Equipment Manufacturers

Proudest achievement: I don't know that I've achieved that moment yet. I believe I have many more years in this industry and hope that any impact I may have is wrapped around my entire career. I also don't view what I do as a solo act. I work day in and out with a team of extremely talented people on our staff as well as within our membership, our event attendees and exhibitors, and our dedicated suppliers. I feel very honored to be the IAEE chair this year but again see my role as part of an overall team that includes the staff, the board and the membership.
Making my mark: I hope to continue bringing greater awareness of the value of exhibitions and events: that they are a viable and important part of achieving marketing objectives for products, brands and services; that our industries help support the country through economic opportunities and jobs; and that we do so on a business-to-business platform.

23. Melissa Van Dyke
President, Incentive Research Foundation

Proudest achievement: I subscribe to the statement a great mentor gave me: "A good team beats a great person every time." I am so proud of the great team we have built within the IRF and the 50 papers we have been able to complete in the last six years alone.

Making my mark: My vision for the industry is the same as it is for IRF Vision2020: a unified industry that collaborates and shares for maximum impact, universal research and education resources that are embraced by businesses everywhere, and university support that allows us to train and build the incentive event professionals of the future. I will do everything I can to see this vision come to life.

24. Lisa VanRosendale
Senior Vice President, Client Development, FreemanXP

Proudest achievement: Being selected to speak at TEDActive. I have been attending the TED Conference for over five years; this a pivotal ingredient for staying fresh and relevant for customers. I'm "half Burning Man and half TED" because I also make it a point to explore nontraditional events to ignite new ideas. Attendees are changing, and we need to stay on top of how they are engaging to ensure programs empower collaboration and problem-solving.

Making my mark: I want to help change the industry's perception of a salesperson. She listens to clients, is on the road for clients, and learning, exploring, attempting, and revising plans and processes to help them be more successful. A good salesperson listens to, fights for and educates the customer. I would like to show the industry that being a good salesperson is a career choice, and I'd like to continue to train the next generation of salespeople so that they can respect others in this field and collaborate more openly with peers to ensure the ongoing success of face-to-face marketing.

25. Nancy J. Zavada, CMP
Principal, MeetGreen

Proudest achievement: Starting the Green Meeting Industry Council to support the needs of industry professionals. During the early years in event sustainability, it was difficult to find information, education and vendors. GMIC provided a resource to help connect and educate those wanting to hold more sustainable events. Today, it is much easier to produce environmentally responsible events, and I am proud to have played a small role.

Making my mark: There is still much work to be done. Helping event professionals find easy solutions to some of the more difficult sustainability challenges has long been a passion of mine. Teaching and learning go hand-in-hand, and I firmly believe we, the event community, can do this together. I hope to keep the momentum going and help others so they don't have to reinvent the wheel.