Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

July 29 2012

Susan Iris

Alicia Leonard

July 30, 2012

Susan began her career in the meetings industry by responding to a job posting for the meetingsdirector with a health care association. She wasn't really sure what that was, but the description made the position sound interesting.  “They were a bit behind in replacing the person who was leaving, and I was the only person who could start the same week of the interview.  I spent every night and weekend for the next two months reading every back file available – it was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.”   

After a four year stint and wishing to expand her horizons, Susan decided to see what it was like on the other side, shifting from buyer to supplier.  “I spent a good portion of my career running the U.S. operations for the Canadian Tourism Commission which culminated in moving to Vancouver in 2009, as Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, to oversee the global strategy, brand, and marketing communications for the 2010 Winter Olympics.  After I returned to the States I launched a next-generation strategy and marketing solutions company – Navigate - with two long-time colleagues.”

Susan is a passionate advocate for our industry and a true believer in the value of face-to-face. “Meetings are where ideas are born, alliances are made, discovery is shared, and innovation is nurtured.  As a planner, I saw the positive impact an effective annual convention had on our members and their industry - the collaboration it encouraged, the energy it cultivated.  As a supplier, working with customers to create the optimal environment for the best outcome meant that we were an essential partner in the overall success of the meeting.  Coupled with its potential for evolution and growth, and the passion of the professionals who drive it, this industry is a very dynamic place to be.”

Through all her career accomplishments, such as her role in creating the strategic partnership model now used as an industry standard, she hopes the best is yet to come. “Throughout your career you continually create, test, revise, expand, and achieve, often because you are inspired by the people and opportunities around you.  The work done today keeps adding to the foundation for future successes.  Underpinning this is always the quality of the professional and personal relationships I have been so fortunate to make along the way.”

The people that have most influence Susan’s career are her parents, though she’s not fully certain they yet understand what she does. “My father for his integrity, business acumen, and vision, my mother for her creativity, and ongoing encouragement to color outside the lines - have had the most impact.  Both of them are part of that rare group of people who truly live their beliefs, something I try to honor every day.”

Outside of work, Susan enjoys the leisure side of our industry, travel, sports, food and wine, the ‘shore’ (not that version), and she is a voracious reader, with usually 3-4 books going at once...  “I am a huge fan of audiobooks - just finished listening to a wonderful version of  The Art of Fielding a coming-of-age novel about a small college in Wisconsin by first-time author Chad Harbach, then the two on my Kindle that are currently getting the most attention are a really engaging business book, Taking People with You by David Novak, and my beach read is Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  But my favorite thing is still spending time with family and friends.”

With all her noted career achievements, interests, and awards, what you may not know about Susan; she was a high school mathlete.  “As the current Secretary-Treasurer of the PCMA Education Foundation, it finally comes in handy.”

My PCMA
“My first ‘real’  job was  as a  Director of Meetings. As you can imagine,  I was spending most of my waking hours trying to understand what I was supposed to be doing.  Recognizing this was not a sustainable solution, I asked colleagues if there was somewhere I could learn more – and consistently received the same answer – PCMA.  The association I worked for did not financially support staff participation in professional organizations, so I paid my own way to my first PCMA meeting.  It’s still one of the smartest investments I have made in my career.  Between the networking and the education, I gained the knowledge and the confidence to not only to do well, but also to look for new challenges.  It’s given me the opportunity to watch and learn from some of the most talented and dedicated professionals I know, serve in leadership capacities that have elevated and honed my skills, and give something back to future professionals. “

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