How Young Planners Are Revitalizing the Meetings Industry

15 young professionals to watch

Jillian Roksvaag opener

Jillian Roksvaag, 27 (pictured in Santorini, Greece), loves her job in sales with American Express Meetings & Events. "It's more about relationships than it is about the product," she enthuses.

They're young, bright and dynamic. They offer fresh perspectives, innovative ideas and energy to spare. They're the members of M&C's second annual selection of young professionals who have already made their mark on the world of meetings and events -- and are poised to do much more in the years ahead. Come meet the future of our industry.

Sales manager / Fairmont Château Laurier / Ottawa, Canada

Lydia Blanchard began her career at the Fairmont Château Laurier, working in various departments and learning how a hotel operates. "I said, 'I want to be in sales. How do I get there?'" she recalls. To that end, Blanchard spent three years at the NAV Centre in Cornwall in Eastern Ontario, where "I had to find a way to show clients why this was a destination for them. I learned how to attract citywide sporting events."

During this period, Blanchard made her mark with the Ottawa Chapter of Meeting Professionals International with her fundraising abilities, and she was named the winner of MPI's 2016 RISE (Recognizing Industry Success and Excellence) Award for Young Professional Achievement. Despite her rapid success, she missed working at the Fairmont.

Last year she returned to the hotel, sales chops in tow, and today she manages the markets of the greater Toronto area for corporate and association clients, as well as international association events. She also sits on the board of MPI's Ottawa chapter as vice president of communications.

One of five children raised by a single mother who had to rely on welfare to get by, Blanchard is thrilled by the opportunities for far-flung travel her career offers. "A bucket-list item of mine is to get to Australia," she says. "I've had a fascination with the accent since I was a kid."

Speaker and show founder / Women Empower Expo / Boca Raton, Fla.

At just 25, Alexa Carlin is a successful speaker and co-founder and now sole owner of the Women Empower Expo, but she's faced some heavy challenges getting there. During her senior year in college, she had a near-death experience involving septic shock -- and a 1 percent chance of survival. The incident led to years of soul-searching and her start as a motivational speaker on topics such as overcoming challenges and harnessing the power of positive thinking.

"I began healing myself and trying to be positive," she says. "I started speaking for free and was discovered by an agent six months later."

One thing irked Carlin when she spoke to women's organizations in Florida: The groups rarely connected with each other. So, she worked with a colleague to create a different type of women's conclave that would allow attendees to interact on a more meaningful level. The first Women Empower Expo took place in Fort Lauderdale last October and welcomed 2,400 people; the second is scheduled for the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D.C. on May 27, featuring tracks on business, wellness, personal development and more. About 100 sessions run throughout the day, and participants enjoy a fashion show featuring real women, not models.

"People are surprised by how confident I am," Carlin says. "While I'm nervous about future events, you have to focus on what you can do to make sure it happens, instead of focusing on those limiting beliefs."


Senior director, sales / Etouches /Philadelphia

Julie Green Davis has a mission to bring the younger generation into the event world. "I really believe the meetings industry is a family," she says, "I want to get the youngest members more involved, and bring them together with the seasoned individuals to help them grow in their careers."

Davis signed up with Meeting Professionals International before she even worked in the meetings industry. As a salesperson for a technology company, she had become intrigued by the events business while attending conferences. She subsequently leapt from that tech job to tech positions in the meetings industry, working for companies such as Lanyon and MeetingMatch before landing with Etouches, a multi-faceted meetings management platform.

Davis also is now board director of member recruitment and retention for MPI's New York chapter, where she not only actively recruits members, but makes sure the chapter connects with newbies via social media or email, and encourages them to come to events.

Now living in Philadelphia, Davis helps to recruit for local chapters there, too, both for MPI and PCMA. She also co-founded and serves as vice president of the Walnut Club, a network by and for women professionals in the Philadelphia area. "I like to call myself the networker of the events space," says Davis. "I want to make sure I'm always connecting people."


Vice president, meetings and incentives / AIC Hotel Group / Miami

Kevin Edmunds is a true child of the meetings world. When his parents met at an industry event in Chicago, his father was the publisher of Incentive magazine (now part of Northstar Meetings Group, M&C's parent company), and his mother worked in sales for Hyatt Hotels. As Edmunds nears his fifth anniversary at the Miami-based AIC Hotel Group, a family-owned company with a portfolio of five properties and another six in the pipeline, he believes he has found his niche.

"I have a passion for travel, but finding the right amount of exposure and the right avenues for my company are what I really love about my job," says Edmunds, who heads a team of seven.

A sports fan who played basketball in college, Edmunds is now married with a young son and a baby girl on the way. He just began a four-year term on SITE International's board of directors that will last until 2020.

"After working as the chair for SITE'S young leaders program for two years, and then as chair for their global conferences in India and Panama, I was happy to be elected to the board," says Edmunds, who always has his eye on improving AIC's game. "I want our team and my hotel group to be an area of information for what's going on in the industry."

Sustainability manager / Freeman / San Francisco

Having completed a double major in environmental studies and economics at the University of Redlands in Southern California, Jessica Paige Glenn found just the right niche at event marketing/management firm Freeman. As a LEED green associate and a specialist in corporate social responsibility, she is charged with boosting sustainability for about 10 shows each year, including the U.S. Green Building Council's Greenbuild and CES, the giant tech show held in Las Vegas each January.

As one in a department of two, Glenn works hard to reduce the environmental impact of clients' shows. For this past November's Greenbuild, she helped find a supplier that could produce a recyclable plastic film to cover all the tables. "I know it's not a huge or exciting or glitzy thing, but I love little steps like that," she says. "If it looks the same and costs basically the same, why not? Being eco-conscious shouldn't cost more; it's a reallocation of the budget."