Kathy Miller may have wound up “hopping onto the meetings and events industry,” but she’s managed to carve out an important role in the field as the owner and president of Schaumburg, Ill.–based Total Event Resources and president of the 2012–2013 Board of Governors for the International Special Events Society (ISES), whose 5,000 members represent more than 50 different disciplines, including event producers, communication companies, event designers, entertainment producers, linen experts, and marketers. She shared with Convene why coming up from “the school of hard knocks” and continuing education have been critical to her success?
Where did you get your start?
I started in the industry 35 years ago with Hyatt Hotels as a secretary, and then worked my way up through sales, marketing, catering, convention services, and the travel industry. When I left Hyatt, I was the director of sales and marketing for two of their hotels and then decided that there was probably something different out there [for me]. I ended up kind of hopping onto the meetings and events side of the industry and did everything from meeting planning and management to event and entertainment production. And then 16 years ago, I started my company out of the necessity to spend some time with my two small children and husband at home - and I’ve grown my business to be a 10-person company that has managed meetings and events all around the world.
I’m very passionate about growing our industry and looking at it from a strategic level. As you know, the last four years haven’t been easy in our industry, that’s for sure. But I believe the shift in the global economy is giving us the opportunity to have a voice in the industry in that we’re showcasing the industry as a real profession. In my mind, we’re in the business of making meetings and events matter. On the international special-events side, we obviously have that same strategic mission - so that it’s no longer about placing linens and centerpieces and making the room beautiful, but more about what’s the strategy behind why you do an event.
What do you see for the special-events industry moving forward?
I see a greater need for teams working in a collaborative environment, because there are not many companies out there in the marketing special-events field that happen to have one-stop shopping. When I started in the industry 35 years ago, the special-events industry was in its infancy. There were a handful of people that I saw coming into our hotels and producing events and helping people put together their meeting from beginning to end. I didn’t come in through a degree in communications or marketing or event management. I came in through the school of hard knocks, a strong work ethic, and learning on my own.
I firmly believe in continuing education - I just finished a program with Goldman Sachs and 10,000 small businesses where I received a scholarship here in Chicago for entrepreneur companies. We were educated for five months on owning a business, and even though I’ve [owned my own business for] 16 years, it was incredibly valuable. My point is that there is so much more competition because at the entry level now are people in the corporate world who were meeting planners, lost their jobs, and now have become independent or have hung their shingles to become a small business.
And now [job website CareerCast.com] puts out the top 10 most stressful jobs list, and event coordinator is number six. People didn’t even know what event coordination was 20 years ago. It’s grown and changed, and that’s the good side. We’re recognized now as a profession.