Jeanine Allpress-Cliffe

Global Account Director, Wellness Retreat Facilitator, Practitioner, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts

Self-awareness, Joy, Compassion

 Aha Moment: The moment I saw the emotional and transformational impact an event or shared experience can have on an individual or group. I began noticing how burnt-out people in the event industry were becoming, even years before Covid. As a result, I decided to host wellness experiences (meditations, sound healing, etc.) to my clients. Clients shared the most amazing feedback, so grateful to have the time to recharge and be together in community. That was the moment I realized events could and should be so much more than the standard format and that we had a real opportunity to shift people in a deeply meaningful way.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? I joined Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, a company that truly values and encourages employee authenticity. Over Covid lockdown, I offered my clients remote wellness offerings by bringing in amazing practitioners from all over the world to offer mindful experiences over Zoom. We had horoscope talks, sound baths, hypnotherapy, meditations, intuitive readings, sleep specialists, nutritionists and more.

This was my own personal initiative which was embraced and encouraged by my company. I was able to show up with heart and authenticity for my customers who came away feeling more connected, calmer and transformed. Working for a company that encourages innovation and meaningful moments makes all the difference in one’s career.

Advice for My Younger Self: My advice to my younger self – do not be afraid to feel difficult emotions, especially fear. Fear is an emotion that our ego has typically developed to keep us “safe” from disappointment. I would encourage myself to allow myself to feel the fear and move through it. Bringing light to the information in the dark. I would also tell myself to trust my intuition more. There is often more value in those quiet intuitive hits than in the hours we spend trying to think our way through a problem. Most of all, I would tell myself to follow my heart.

Next Goal: I am currently curating beautiful wellness retreats at Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts around the world and locally in the Bay Area. My goal is to continue to grow this initiative so companies and planners are inspired to do the same for their customers and employees. We are  living in a very special time where people want to know their contributions have meaning. Through events, we have an amazing opportunity to curate moments that leave people feeling transformed, refreshed and inspired. When we connect authentically, our business, production and partnerships continue to organically grow, flourish and expand.

Jaclyn Bernstein, former DMCP

President & Owner, Empire Force Events


Aha Moment: Since the Event Production & Destination Management Company (DMC) I own was my 1st job out of college. I sought THIS profession (after being President of my class all 4 years in college.) It’s more to me than an industry and it has always been my home! 

After working here a few years from college and being heavily involved as a Founding International Live Events Association (now Legacy) member, I had to ‘own it’ (double entendre intended!), so bought it! 

With my big heart from Brooklyn, owning NYC’s Longest Independent & Locally Owned DMC, this is where I am supposed to be!

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Earning the RESPECT of others in our profession! 

This made me (citing a meaningful few):

  • 1st youngest ILEA International Board of Governor
  • Event Solutions Samaritan Service Winner for September 11th givebacks (Humbled to work the televised Memorial every year since the 1st)
  • On 1st season NBC’s The Apprentice – 1st episode featuring Events
  • Boy Scouts of America’s ‘Good Scout’ Hospitality Award – 3rd woman of 81 honorees, 39 years
  • Servicing NYC’s Health Department during Pandemic with our Event prowess building Vaccination Sites 1/2021–8/2022 –

Thank God for this opportunity to save lives, & our business.

Advice for My Younger Self: Remember – you came from tough times when you were younger, and you as your older self are still here!

Growing-up on welfare & food stamps, sharing a one-bedroom with your single sacrificing mommy – that’s what makes you who you are!

That will help you get through as you go through without a lot of stuff when you go through the financial downturn, family deaths, pandemic, etc.

You didn’t come this far to just come this far – you’ll Co-Found the Live Events Coalition of NY / NJ during the pandemic height to advocate and the industry and media will hear you – so keep doing! 

Next Goal: Continuing as an Influencer, Thought Leader, Speaker, and giving to this profession what it has given me – visibility and a voice! Ensuring that I’m seen and heard! 

I want Empire Force Events to do more Profitable Producing vs Potential Proposing…ensuring our utmost level of service and dedication (with matching pricing) is respected!   

While the usage of my resources, connections and personality is successful for the business so I can give those that helped build our Empire, as well as those helping rebuild from the Pandemic, all they want and need to ensure they carry on my & Empire’s legacy.  

Justine Broughal and Maryam Shariat Mudrick

Co-Owners and Managing Partners, Greater Good Events & Together Events

Intentional, Silly, Community-focused

Aha Moment: We both worked as Executive Assistants in our careers, and that opportunity to curate an environment and ecosystem for high performance felt natural and so aligned to our own values of care and creativity. Creating that environment for one person evolved into creating that environment for teams, departments, affinity groups and whole organizations. And the magic that is the behind the scenes planning is our favorite part – to stand in the back at an event and see people engaging with the material, celebrating being together, learning and communing with each other – that’s what it is all about for us.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Saying YES – even if we felt unsure, because we believed in the faith other people had in us. Imposter syndrome is a real thing and it continues even 20 years into this work. But we trust our community and our clients – if they give us an opportunity, it’s because they believe we can, so we should follow their lead (while asking some really thoughtful and clarifying questions along the way, of course.)

Advice for My Younger Self: We can’t promise things will always be easy – in fact, we can promise that there most definitely will be hard times ahead. But we can promise that if you keep yourself connected to caring folks, if you follow your head and your heart to pursue the next right step, you will always make it through the hard times. And when you meet your future business partner, leap in head first – you’ll both be better for it.

Next Goal: We are building out a suite of resources to make thoughtful and sustainable planning more accessible to all hosts, regardless of their budget. This open-source tool will be available for vendors, venues, organizations and individuals to review and support the growth and use of it as a standard for hosting mindful and environmentally-friendly events. So far we have been able to use this resource with clients across the United States and are expanding our reach into Canada this year! 

Danielle Campbell

Senior Development Specialist, Event Planning, Geisinger Health Foundation

Aspire to Inspire

Aha Moment: I always loved planning events. Previously, I was a corporate planner for corporate meetings. Although I absolutely loved planning events and traveling I wanted my passion for event planning to connect with a larger purpose. When I received a job as an event planner for the Geisinger Health Foundation, one event we had was dressing up as Frozen characters and going around our children’s hospital around the holidays.To see these children excited to see Olaf and Anna, I saw how raising funds from a Gala, Golf Tournament and other events can have a huge impact and provide better services to the communities and patients we serve. This was the moment I realized event planning can change the world for the better.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Learn from those that have been there and don’t be scared to make a mistake. I have been blessed with powerful female mentors in each position I have been in. I have learned so much about the industry just from learning from their approaches to events. I try to take something from each one of them. I have also been blessed with mentors who allow me to grow and make mistakes. Sometimes things work better than expected, sometimes they don’t. I have been fortunate enough to have leaders that have allowed me that creative freedom.

Advice for My Younger Self: No one is perfect. Sometimes the best experience is learning from things that don’t go as planned.

Next Goal: Long term goal would be to get my CMP certification. This year’s goals are to raise the most amount of money for our campaigns for our Janet Weis Children’s Hospital, Henry Cancer Center and Scholarships for the School of Medicine.

Kelly Cavers

Chief Sales Officer, Discover The Palm Beaches 

Passionate, Positive, Kind

Aha Moment: I started my career working for United Airlines.  I spent ten  years focusing on sales and product development for the MICE market. The industry and United were going through some very tough times such as 9/11, SARS and bankruptcy.  I accepted another position outside of the industry. After three months of working in another industry with a significant pay increase, I had an AHA moment. It does not matter how great the pay was, I missed the industry, the product I was selling, but most of all, I missed the  community of people.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? The one thing that made all the difference in my career has been embracing the leaders I have worked with who I have kept in touch with and turned into mentors.  Starting with JoAnn Bedrosian Ryan, followed by David Peckinpaugh, Brad Kent, Don Welsh, Marc Anderson and most recently Jorge Pesquera. Every leader challenged me in a different way and helped me to grow.  These leaders have been, and continue to be, a network of support for me.

Advice for My Younger Self: Leverage your past failures into future successes.  This is the advice I would give my younger self during tough times. Challenging times create opportunities.  You, however, need to be open to see the opportunities during the hard times. Be curious and ask questions.  Even in times of great success, reflect and learn on what you could do better for the future.  

Next Goal: Next goal is to focus on wellness from a personal and professional side.  When we talk about wellness, it is more than physical. It can be mental, environmental and financial.  As this is a key priority for our customers, I must remind myself and keep this a focus in my personal life.  I want to make sure I look at wellness holistically with mind, body and spirit.

Stephanie Glanzer, CMP

Senior Vice President & Chief Sales Officer, MGM Resorts International

Inspire, Grace, Leadership

Aha Moment: When I started in the meeting and event industry 24 years ago, I never intended it to be my career, but as opportunities arose along with the people I was surrounded by and the experiences I was a part of, I realized how fortunate I was that “this is what I GET to do!” The fact that our industry gets to bring people together to inspire, educate, network, collaborate and sell is very special.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? I embraced change and new opportunities, even though at the time it seemed scary and unfamiliar. When tapped on the shoulder to move out of roles I was comfortable and successful in, I didn’t realize how good those changes were for me at the time.

Advice for My Younger Self: It sounds so cliché, but I am a big believer that challenges only make you stronger. As I think back throughout my career, there are many examples of obstacles that have made me into the leader I am today. My advice is to conquer them with perspective and understanding and no matter how difficult sometimes, try to stay positive and give yourself (and others) grace.

Next Goal: My next goal is to continue being an inspiration and mentor for young women starting out their careers in meetings and events and continue being a thought-leader and advocate for the industry.

Samantha Gutting

Senior Vice President, Chief Sales Officer, Branson Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce & CVB, Explore Branson

Grateful, Humor, Kindness

Aha Moment: In Branson, we are not only a CVB/DMO, but also a Chamber of Commerce and economic development arm for the county. 

Branson has one industry, tourism and hospitality. Our community was built by entrepreneurs, families, individuals, mom and pop businesses that dug deep to be successful.

I remember when I first was given the responsibility of the sales department. In looking at the numbers, the economic impact, it hit me – what we do makes a real difference, a potentially profound difference, in lives. When a meeting comes in town, people have jobs, moms and dads make money to afford a secure place to live for their kids so they don’t have to live in transient housing, seniors are able to work and fill in the gaps where a fixed income leaves holes. It drives tax receipts for better infrastructure, the quality of life and place of home for our residents and teens and college students are able to work in an industry that is unlike any other.

What we do is important – it’s not just a sales job.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Listen. Listen to what is said and what is not said.

Advice for My Younger Self: Listen to your gut, take your seat at the table and don’t doubt yourself.  Surround yourself with people who are genuine, secure in themselves and who do not tear people down. Listen to those who have gone before you and lift up those around you.  Character always rises, have patience.

Next Goal: Let’s go with the next two! Completing the CDME course and working closely with our community leaders to bridge any gaps. Work through any areas of doubt between stakeholders and the DMO to increase awareness that Branson is a world class destination, year round, and positively impact our community through education, housing and workforce development.

Roz Stuttley, CMP, CDE

Director, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Choose Chicago/Choose Chicago Foundation

Authentic, Kind, Inspire 

Aha Moment: Honestly, I have been planning a variety of life events all my life, literally since I was a child I have grown as a professional and as a woman over the past several years which continues to support the feeling of belonging in this industry. 

What One Thing Made All the Difference? I am naturally an introvert in an industry that is all about relationships. I have had to get out of my comfort zone on multiple occasions to build relationships, speak up at a meeting, learn new strategies and work across multiple departments. 

Advice for My Younger Self: This too shall pass. I started telling myself this phrase years ago when I would encounter situations that felt discouraging or if I experienced difficulty with a project or event. It’s the truth. We face all kinds of tests, but they are temporary. You live, learn and grow. 

Next Goal: C-suite SOMETHING – still trying to figure it out, but an advanced leadership role just may be in my future. 

April Harbour

Director of Event Operations, LEO Events

Passionate, Ambitious, Grateful 

Aha Moment: After finishing my interior design undergraduate degree, I took a 9-5 position at a staging and lighting company who happened to acquire several music festivals. I took the opportunity to explore my career path and I suddenly found myself in the middle of the desert for months planning a festival on a 300-acre farm with long days and little sleep. When the festival was over, I was hooked and put my mud boots back on to attend Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest and Beale Street Music Festival. Since then, I haven’t stopped producing events.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? I surrounded myself with highly experienced and quality industry leaders to absorb and understand their roles. In my analysis and study of them, I was constantly looking to streamline processes to maximize time and efforts for my team. I kept up with new trends and learned new skills because the truth is you need to be well-versed to adapt to all situations that arise as every show and event has challenges you may have never faced before, and your knowledge will help you be prepared for any obstacle. And lastly, love what you do.

Advice for Your Younger Self: Figure out what you want from your life and career – revisit it often. Network and find an industry mentor to set yourself up for success. Be curious, submerge yourself in your career and learn as much about your craft as you can. Hard times are inevitable and happen to every industry professional, but if you have a sturdy foundation, solid relationships, a strong work ethic and a positive attitude – you’ll sail past the adversity.  

Next Goal: My goal while managing my exponentially growing department is to successfully develop and mentor future industry professionals that have the same love and drive of events as I do for the fifty and counting events my team has this fiscal year and to watch them grow into industry leaders with their own shows and festivals to manage.  

Wendy Haase, CDME

President/CEO, Travel Santa Ana 

Determined, Adventurous, Positive 

Aha Moment: I entered the industry blindly, not knowing what a CVB was or what they did. Immediately, I loved everything about the opportunity. It wasn’t until I lost my job and I was faced with “what’s next”  did I realize how much it truly meant to me and the lengths I would go through to remain where I belonged. This industry is special. Despite all of us being competitors, it’s the only industry I know of where colleagues share best practices. Whether you represent a first-tier city or a small town, you can find someone to offer advice.  

What One Thing Made All the Difference? I grew from my mistakes! Looking back at the times I faced challenges, I realize I talked more than I listened because I was so focused on proving myself. Now I believe I have the confidence to perceive everything with positive intent because I trust my knowledge and experience and I am not afraid to seek the knowledge and utilize the experience of others. Growing and learning takes a lot of self-reflection.

Advice for My Younger Self: Struggles and challenges are real! You are going to get knocked down, but YOU get to decide for how long. Take time to self reflect and recognize your role and how your reactions contribute to the tough times. It’s during the tough times when you grow the most.

Next Goal: To lead an amazing Travel Santa Ana team in developing an influential and impactful destination marketing organization. There is a tremendous amount of opportunity ahead as we continue to build this new DMO in a vibrant city that has so much to offer. Throughout my career, I have looked to others for inspiration – I would love for Travel Santa Ana to be an example of a DMO that immersed itself in the community and made a difference. 

Kristen Hicks, Cvent EMS

Event Specialist, Paragon Events

Organized, Pre-Planning Wins

Aha Moment: The meetings industry is what I enjoy. I did theater when I started my career, so this was a natural next fit for me. I enjoy working with clients to make their vision happen.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? The thing that made a difference in my career was when my theater professor in college took the risk and allowed me to run the show as a stage manager for the shows from freshman year on. It set me on a path of loving live events.

Advice for My Younger Self: I would tell myself not to be too hard on myself and to keep pushing to your personal next goal. Each step in your career is a learning experience and each mistake you make is just a way to make you even better next time.

Next Goal: I am pursuing being more of a leader with the team I am in and helping to train. I am also pursuing making time to live life and working to create exceptional events.

Gerilyn Horan

Vice President, Group Sales & Strategic Account, Hilton Worldwide Sales, Hilton

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’”

― Hunter S. Thompson

Aha Moment: As many of us do, I fell into the hotel business. I was in college and needed spending money so a friend got me a job at the local Hilton as a restaurant cashier. After stints at the front desk, concierge and food and beverage, I landed in the sales department. I loved the client engagement, winning business and collaborating with various hotel departments to create a successful event. From there I went to The Waldorf Astoria in New York and I knew I was home. I didn’t intend a career in hospitality, but it gets into your bones!  

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Listening to those around me. I’ve had the good fortune to lead teams and build leadership teams and I love that everyone has something different to contribute. Diverse voices and points of view help to ensure you consider all angles of a topic and come to a more well-informed decision. We all have our skill sets and our gaps.  Surrounding yourself with people that fill in yours is important.  I love nothing more than to say “what a great idea, I hadn’t thought of that, let’s noodle it.” Sitting around a table (or Zoom call) and debating a topic with smart, passionate people is energizing and that collaboration has contributed to my success.

Advice for My Younger Self: Advocate for yourself! When I was coming up, I thought if I just did a good job and worked hard someone would notice and promote me.  I wasn’t as planful about my career growth as I could have been. I always knew what role I wanted next and fortunately I had good leaders to guide my career. But, I could have been more intentional about what I wanted and been a better champion of my successes and how they set me up for growth.  Women in particular often don’t want to sound braggadocious, so we don’t amplify our accomplishments. We need to be our own biggest cheerleaders!

Next Goal: I love the role I am in now and feel very fortunate to get to work with a tremendous team with a ton of heart and a company I am proud of.  Any way I can continue to contribute to our mutual success I’m all in!  I am also very committed to helping the next generation of women leaders find their path.  It is so exciting to see more women reaching the C-Suite and coaching our current leaders to their next opportunity is highly rewarding.  In my personal life I’m involved with a few organizations that connect high school and college students with women leaders to understand the many options in front of them today. 

Donna Hubley

Vice President, Field Sales, Encore

Competition, Fearlessness, Adventure 

Aha Moment: Once I realized that the meetings and events industry had just as much excitement and energy as the entertainment business, I knew this was my home. My career goal when I was young had been to work in movie special effects, but here I am. There was one moment during a short stint in Monaco when I was breaking down an event until 3 a.m., moving heavy equipment from a boat dock into the hotel and then had to be back in the sales office at 7 a.m. Most people would be worn down but I was energized by it.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Recognizing I could thrive just being my authentic self was a game changer. When I was a young manager, I thought I had to show up in a very corporate way. Eventually I decided to just be me because the company trusts me, I trust me, and my team trusts me. The fun in my career came once I knew I could just be me. That also encourages others to be themselves and creates an environment of belonging. Ultimately, we all want to feel like we can be ourselves at work, and that’s how we can be our best.

Advice for My Younger Self: Confidence is everything, but there are a few manifestations of it that I’d like to share. Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s literally going to make you better. Don’t be afraid of uncertainty. Listen to your inner voice and you’ll land where you’re supposed to be. Believe you will do great things, and you will. My grandfather always said I was destined for greatness. His confidence in me kept me going, even in moments when I didn’t have confidence in myself. He has passed on now, but I have a tattoo of his signature on my inner wrist as a reminder.

Next Goal: Oh, there are many! I will be working on assisting the Women of Encore business resource group in recruiting more female technicians. My day job is sales, but this is a huge passion project for me based on the origins of my career as a tech. As the executive sponsor of the Pride Business Resource Group, my goal for our group is to create partnerships with LGBTQ+ youth community centers in Orlando, Dallas, Las Vegas, Miami and New Orleans by the end of this year. And my personal goal is to finish my screenplay. I don’t want to give away too much, but the genre is existential humor.

Cheryl Jamall

Chief Experience Officer & Covid Compliance Officer, ACJ Meetings and Events

Live Your Life

Aha moment: I was tasked to manage a conference after two employees from the meetings department were let go, and I was the membership manager. I was asked by the executive director; can you do what they did? I replied, yes but better. I realized that the most key component of meetings & events is providing exemplary customer service. I have always believed in creating lasting memories. Once that meeting was a success, some 35+ years ago, I was hooked and have never looked back as I have now successfully executed more than 450+ meetings & events. 

What One Thing Made the Difference? The one thing I have done that has made all of the difference in my career is that I have always been a friend and encouraged others while sharing knowledge and insight. Additionally, I introduced my daughter to the industry and that is the highlight for me. I feel so proud when I connect with a colleague and they say, “is Amani your daughter… OMG she’s great!” She’s shrewd when it comes to contract negotiation. I know I have a legacy in the industry. She is the “A” in ACJ Meetings & Events.

Advice for My Younger Self: For my younger self, when you encounter tough times, take a moment. Pray, stop and breathe. Practice the pause before you respond whether it’s a few minutes, an hour or a day. Take time for yourself – don’t work 7 days a week, 15-20 hours a day. Stop and enjoy the roses. Do not just see them, take time to smell them as you move by. Life is short, take advantage of the destinations you will see, fly in a day early or stay a day after. Most importantly, live your life to the fullest and do what makes you happy.

Next Goal: My next goal is to launch our Women’s Leadership Summit for senior industry professionals which will be held in August 2024. The Women’s Leadership Summit will be a celebration of women in the meeting & hospitality industry. The 3-day event will advance careers and launch friendships that will change lives while helping women invest in their future. I want to continue growing ACJ Meetings & Events as we have recently expanded internationally and position ACJ Meetings so that I can turn the reins over to my daughter in the next 5-7 years and look towards retirement.

Christine Lawson

President & CEO, Discover Santa Clara

Honesty, Commitment, Compassion

Aha Moment: When I was a teenager, my mom’s friend opened the first B&B in my hometown of Berkeley, CA.  I worked there after school and on weekends, doing everything from running the front desk, cleaning guest rooms to serving brunch. I loved everything about it – seeing people from around the world coming to experience a different reality, making them feel comfortable and watching them interact with each other.  I just fell in love with the whole ideology of hospitality. I came back after college so that I could continue to be part of the process of creating a great experience. I’ve been in the industry ever since.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? From my earliest hotel jobs, I have always been the person to raise my hand when the higher-ups were looking for someone to take on a project.  That meant that I was often burning the candle at both ends, but it also gave me access to different aspects of the business and experiences far beyond my initial position. It also allowed me to interact with senior executives, learn from them and see how projects grow from concept to reality. By being willing to take on something extra, I was able to grow and advance much more quickly than if I had just stayed in my lane.

Advice for My Younger Self: Take a deep breath, trust your instincts, take risks and enjoy the ride.

Next Goal: If you haven’t guessed, I am a certified workaholic. I love my work, I always have.  My next goal is to pursue a true hobby. I have built strong professional muscles. Now I want to match that with a hobby that feeds me personally. I’m exploring things like painting and pottery, activities to calm my mind and tap into my creative side.

Denise McGinn, CAE

Founder and President, Association Guidance 

Empower, Teamwork, Positivity

Aha Moment: I immediately felt at home in the meetings/hospitality industry. The very nature of the people that gravitate to this industry makes you feel like family. It’s a close network of hotels, convention and visitors bureaus, convention centers, AV providers, speakers, consultants, and more.  We share a common bond of trying to make every attendee feel safe and to have a positive experience.  In that effort we share a deep bond and make lifelong friendships.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Starting my business 30 years ago (this month) was a defining moment in my career. It gave me the opportunity to not just work on meetings/events in one industry. I have the opportunity to work on events in multiple industries. Depending on who they are and what they do, or for the educational outcome they are interested in, each has their own historical background that can dictate what is done. Although events are just one of the services my association management company offers, it is one of my favorites because of the locations we go and the people we meet.

Advice for My Younger Self: To better enjoy your work and allow for plenty of white space.  Work/home life balance is key to eliminate burn-out. You will be better able to solve complex problems with a clear head.

Next Goal: On a personal level, I’m working on my photography skills. While I prefer to take nature photos, I’ve also been working on taking better event photos, (including award winners, trade shows, keynotes, etc.) that we can use for marketing purposes.  I’ve invested in taking part in photography workshops and have joined some photography clubs.  

On a professional level, I’m in the beginning stages of investigating the possibility of turning a 501(c)3 organization that does not have members into a membership organization.  It would require changing their bylaws and how they currently operate.  And, would result in several different new income streams.

Meagan McGuire, CDME

Vice President, Business Development, Explore Seattle Southside 

Curiosity, Experimentation, Connection

Aha Moment: I began my career at the world-famous Museum of Flight in Tukwila, WA, where I had ambitions of becoming an exhibit designer. I never intended to work in the events industry. But I learned that helping planners create memorable events involves aspects of my two favorite things; learning how others see the world and providing impactful service. Each event was different depending on the goals of the organization and the culture of the attendees. I enjoyed surprising planners with creative ways to engage their attendees through the Museum exhibits and seeing their success at the conclusion of the event. 

What One Thing Made All the Difference? I have been with Explore Seattle Southside for nearly a decade. In the beginning, I tried to mold the meetings sales and services role into a position that simulates what larger Destination Marketing Organizations do, like fitting a square peg into a round hole. I was listening too much to the ‘supposed to be’ voices. Refocusing our goal to think more about how we can support the people we have the power to support, such as our hotel partners and meeting planners, has reframed our approach, changed our messaging and mission, and has proved more beneficial to our partners and the planners we assist.

Advice to My Younger Self: I would suggest to my younger self that she take a step back and try to see things from a position that allows for a less granular viewpoint. And to ask herself, what does she have control of, what can she just let go, and what can she do that would make the most impact on the success of others?

Next Goal: I have recently been recruited to co-author a textbook on hospitality and tourism. I am incredibly honored for this opportunity and feel the chance to influence the younger generation is a significant responsibility that I am ready to take on. The nature of this business has evolved so rapidly over the last decade that I feel we are in the midst of a hospitality revolution. It is my hope that the next generation of professionals will approach their careers with an inherent desire to understand others’ worldviews and then use that knowledge to sculpt an environment that builds more meaningful connections between people.

Jenna Nelson

President, Maverick Events & Consulting 

Grow, Connect, Elevate

Aha moment: I very intentionally pursued a degree in Event Management and have been working in the corporate events industry for 15 years. I believe in the power of events to grow businesses, build brand awareness and connect with audiences. I have always felt a strong connection in the event industry, but seeing how my colleagues and peers rallied together during the pandemic to preserve and elevate our industry truly cemented my belief that this community is one of the strongest there is.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Opening Maverick Events and Consulting has been an amazing transition. My goal is to help more businesses understand the value of events and event marketing to grow their businesses. By doing this, I hope to be able to help more businesses become brands, and drive more growth to the event industry overall. 

Advice for My Younger Self: There really aren’t any rules. If the standard model doesn’t work for you, do it differently. Just because it hasn’t been done that way before doesn’t mean you can’t change it. Every experience- good or bad – takes you down a specific road that only you have traveled. That unique set of experiences and lessons are what set you apart and drive your value. 

Next Goal: I’m working with a client to create and produce high-touch, VIP travel experiences focused on specific wine regions internationally. These are education focused trips with unparalleled experiences like nothing else currently available. I can’t wait to see these launch later this year!

Anna Marie Presutti

Vice President, Okura/Nikko Management Company

Steadfast, Reliable, Motivated

Aha Moment: When I realized I was having a blast at work. I have made long lasting friendships with colleagues, customers and vendors. I definitely learned that when a job is fun, it’s not a job!

What One Thing Made All the Difference? I took a chance.  Picked up at 21 years of age, moved to a different state, took a job with a new employer – and that one decision ultimately led me here. 

Advice for My Younger Self: Don’t fall in love with your mistakes – everyone makes them, yours are no worse than someone else’s.It’s ok to make a mistake, just try not to make the same one twice. 

Next Goal: I’m working on acquisitions of new hotels. Landing one is hard but when the deal is inked, it’s all worth it. Then on to the next! 


Pina Purpero

General Manager, Hyatt Regency Salt Lake City

Authentic, Focused with Laughter

Aha Moment: I met a Hyatt recruiter in College, and the way he explained the hospitality industry with service oriented care, dynamic creativity, and the ability for continued learning and growing, I was hooked and applied for a position right out of college and never looked back. In my 26 years with Hyatt, many guests, planners and colleagues have reaffirmed my decision and confirmed that this was the right industry for me.  

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Early on in my career, I knew I wanted to become a General Manager and consciously treated every position I had like an interview for the next position I wanted. That approach kept me focused on bringing my best self to work each day with intention and care. I tried not to confuse movement with progress and was thoughtful in my choices and from that opportunities came my way, along with impactful mentors and friendships that guided and supported my career. 

Advice for My Younger Self: When you feel uncertain, when you feel uncomfortable, don’t shy away, don’t tap out, stay in it and good things will come.

Next Goal: I just reached one of my biggest goals – opening a new hotel. We are three months in, and so, my goal continues to foster and build a culture of care and mindfulness. The true pinnacle of the goal as we establish this new hotel, is pursuing moments of delight that bring joy for our colleagues and to our guests.   

Rachel Russell

Assistant Director, Field Marketing, EY

Authentic, Optimistic, Driven

Aha Moment: At the University of Southern California, I knew I wanted to pursue marketing, but I didn’t stumble upon the event and meeting industry until I started working at Deloitte. My first large event was supporting Deloitte’s sponsorship of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. While working onsite and attending the Opening Ceremony, I had an Aha moment. Looking at the thousands in attendance, I realized that bringing people together and creating a sense of community was my passion. I have continued to view the meetings industry as a home ever since.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? After seven years at Deloitte, I worked at a start-up called Even that later became ONE, a fintech unicorn backed by Walmart. The company gave all employees a professional development stipend, and I started focusing on my personal brand. I completed an executive education course at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, applied and won six awards, was a guest speaker on three webinars, built a personal website, expanded my network on LinkedIn, and contributed insights for 12 event articles. Investing in myself was the best decision for my career and led to even more opportunities.

Advice for My Younger Self: Things frequently go awry at events. However, attendees are usually none the wiser if the planner handles these uncertainties calmly and confidently. At this point in my career, I have dealt with lost packages, fire alarms, and double-booked venues, and I’m sure there are only more surprises in the future. I have learned to embrace the unknown and focus on what I can control. It is important to be flexible and find a way to deliver a positive experience for attendees, even when the unexpected happens. 

Next Goal: I recently started a new job at EY as the program manager for the Entrepreneur Of The Year® Greater Los Angeles awards. Founded in 1986, the program has recognized over 10,000 entrepreneurs throughout the US and has expanded to nearly 60 countries globally. I am focused on delivering a top-notch experience for the entrepreneurial ecosystem within the Greater Los Angeles area

Martha Sheridan

President & CEO, Meet Boston

Passion, Integrity, Fun

 Aha Moment: As a young director of sales in Providence, I played a key role in selling the newly opened Rhode Island Convention Center. It was an exciting time for the city as we watched the building emerge from what was once a blighted corner in downtown. We had to develop a new sales strategy to promote the smallest state’s capital as a viable convention city. We had limited funding, but we banded together as a team and community to present a citywide package that was appealing, affordable and accessible.  We were scrappy, creative and ultimately successful and I was hooked.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? In 1997, I was a top candidate to take over the Greater Providence CVB, but decided to leave the organization when I did not get that position. I spent seven years working in Newport, Rhode Island, developing my leadership skills and establishing a strong network of industry colleagues. When the Providence position became available again in 2006, I applied and was appointed CEO. I spent 13 years building an incredible team that accomplished great things, elevating the city’s profile as a premier northeast destination known for arts, culture and cuisine. Taking a break from the organization changed my trajectory.

Advice for My Younger Self: Don’t be afraid to fail!  My first major initiative when I started my job at Meet Boston was to dramatically change our funding model. This effort required gaining support from the MA Legislature, Governor’s Office, Boston and Cambridge City Councils and the hotel community. Many told me it could not be done. Some outright opposed my efforts, but I persevered.  I knew it could fail but I kept pushing. My younger self would have been reluctant to even try this, but my more mature self knew that the benefits would be game changing.

 Next Goal: Meet Boston is on the path to firmly establish Boston as a premier global destination. Our new funding model has allowed us to develop a new narrative about our historic city that tells authentic stories about our diverse population, eclectic arts and culture offerings, and dynamic culinary scene. As a host city of the 2026 FIFA World Cup we will not just tell, but SHOW the world that Boston is a city that never rests and continues to evolve. We and our host committee will provide an extraordinary and unforgettable experience that will benefit the city and Commonwealth for years.

Jennie Strahan

Director of Activities, The Westin Dallas Stonebriar Golf Resort & Spa and HEI Hotel & Resort

Be Here Now 

Aha Moment: As a corporate wellness leader, I discovered how properly planned and executed events could bring everyone from an organization together and immediately land them on the same page, with the same intimacy as a team building offering, the emotional connection of a one on one, and the same information exchange as a meeting all while bypassing egos and titles. I have witnessed “lunch and learns” where everyone – entry level associates and CEOs – were brought to tears by the moving talk of an American Heart Association heart attack survivor. That’s creating an environment where change can occur within a person & an organization. 

What One Thing Made All the Difference? Thankfully, I learned early on to “QTIP” –  Quit Taking It Personally. This single principle made my career feel less like “work” and more like compassionate service. Being able to quickly identify triggers, float out to 30K feet and see my reactivity in action, drop my desire to defend my position, listen to others with genuine empathy and stay in the present moment – it has revolutionized my satisfaction with my work and lessened my suffering in general.

Advice for My Younger Self: When fear creeps up it is a challenge to keep your priorities in alignment with what truly matters to you. Life is here to challenge you – not to make you happy. Allow reactivity to dissolve and take your time in responding. Align your life with your values and allow compassion for your mistakes. With time you will see those experiences are what will make you a compassionate servant leader in the future. Harvest the wisdom you have gleaned from your suffering and you will truly be able to serve others! 

New Goal: At work and at home, my goal is in giving up my desire to complain. Whew! It is challenging sometimes.Complaining is a fruitless desire of the ego that drains my precious energy and keeps me from presence. I’m challenging myself to stay aware of my desire to gripe.  I keep a gratitude journal, I meditate, and I take the guidance of my mentors to help me stay congruent in my thoughts, words, and deeds. My goal is to enhance and improve the energy of the room with my positive and loving presence – isn’t that what gatherings are all about?  

Melissa Vilders

Head of Events Experience and Strategy, HXM, SAP

Realism, Grateful, Growth

Aha Moment: My first role in France was in the sports event industry. I loved it, and it made me feel alive seeing our hard work come to life. After a few years in sales, I knew I needed to go back to events. The endorphins that are created when you see the fruit of your labor come to life are like no other. At an event, there is always one instant where I truly take it in and just watch the smiles of the attendees. It always fills my heart and spirit with passion and excitement. Event management is home, a chaotic and dysfunctional home at times, but home nonetheless.

What One Thing Made All the Difference? I remember when I started my career at SAP in Global Events and my boss at the time called to say she was giving me more responsibility. I was thinking I was not ready, but she knew I was. Having someone trust you makes all the difference in the world, the incredible people that have officially and unofficially mentored me and challenged me. I have been incredibly blessed to have incredible role models in my career. Role models are not always people that you want to be like – sometimes they are exactly what you don’t want to be like, yet you can still learn from them in other areas and learn what you do not want to replicate.

Advice for My Younger Self: I would tell my younger self to embrace and lean into tough times. Tough times are not something to shy away from. It builds resilience. While at the moment you don’t see it as a blessing, it is. The strongest people have overcome the hardest struggles. I would also tell her to not let the cold world make her unkind. Everyone is fighting personal struggles, so be empathetic, always. Someone always has it harder than you, so stay humble and grateful in your struggles. Lastly, I would tell her: You got this! This is where you grow and find yourself – keep moving forward!

Next Goal: I have multiple goals that I’m pursuing in my personal life as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. One of the main ones is to be more present in each of these roles. It is hard to play multiple roles in our life while also growing a professional career. We bring our whole self to work, but do we bring our whole self in the area outside of work?

Professionally, I’m aiming to learn and keep on growing. The event industry is different now, especially with the economic downturn. My goal is to take the impossible and make it possible.