And Then There Were 20

Author: Christopher Durso       

“Kids today” have always gotten a bad rap, whenever “today” happens to be. Boomer kids were spoiled and rebellious, Gen X kids were spoiled and slackerish, Millennial kids were/are spoiled and entitled, and Gen Z kids are — well, have we agreed on anything yet? Maybe spoiled and screen-addled?

Meanwhile, here comes PCMA’s 20 in Their Twenties program — supported by the PCMA Education Foundation and Visit Seattle — to once again blow away whatever generational stereotype you’re nursing. Chosen by a committee of industry veterans and previous 20 in Their Twenties winners, the latest class of honorees are dedicated, focused, and inspired by their work on business events — everything kids aren’t supposed to be today, yesterday, and probably tomorrow, too. “Each year we continue to be inspired by the passion and insights these individuals bring to the business-events community,” said Deborah Sexton, PCMA’s president and CEO. “It is our honor to recognize the excellence of these emerging innovative leaders.”

Candidates had to be 29 years or younger and employed full time in the business-events industry, and to demonstrate ways they consider themselves to be industry leaders. Winners received complimentary PCMA membership along with registration to both PCMA Convening Leaders 2018 this month and the 2018 PCMA Education Conference in June. They’ll also be honored from the stage at Convening Leaders.

But we’ve got the goods on all of them right here — in their own unspoiled words.

Alexandra Adsit

ALEXANDRA ADSIT, CMP, CEM

Meeting Planner, Association of American Medical Colleges

Washington, D.C., USA

What do you like most about your job?

I enjoy continuing to enhance our team’s fine-tuned planning process, to incorporate current climates and trends while planning an exceptional learning experience for our attendees. All of the project management and multitasking required to balance projects and budgets, contracts, and details keeps me engaged and looking forward to coming to work.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

Heading home from our annual meeting a few years ago. The meeting ended too late to get home that day, so a few team members went to dinner at an awesome restaurant in Chicago and all flew home the next morning together. It was so much fun just relaxing and visiting with everyone, knowing that the meeting had been such a success.

Where would you like your career to go?

My dream job has always been to be a part of the operations and planning of the NFL Super Bowl, but regardless of where I go in my career, I want to foster an environment of motivated and passionate colleagues that I could continue to grow with, learn from, and be a support system to as they grow in their own careers.

Chloe Armstrong

CHLOE ARMSTRONG

Events Executive, Melbourne Convention Bureau

Melbourne, Australia

What do you like most about your job?

I love Melbourne, and my job allows me to showcase this amazing city to people that may have never considered Melbourne as a business-events destination. It’s given me the opportunity to work with people from all over the world. Working for a bureau gives me so much variety, and I love that no two days are ever the same.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

The day I was told that I’d been selected to be part of PCMA’s 20 in Their Twenties class of 2018. I work with a very supportive team; however, I think it’s quite easy for young professionals to doubt their abilities. So to receive external recognition like this was an extremely proud moment for me. I’m looking forward to the new connections that I will make as a result of being part of this program, and the knowledge that I will take away that will help me grow and progress within my career.

Where would you like your career to go?

I want to continue to expose myself to as many aspects of this industry as I can. There is still so much for me to learn, experience, and improve upon. It’s through constant development of my skills and knowledge that I’ll continue to reassess where I want to be within this industry and what I want from my career. Our industry is constantly evolving, which makes a long-term career in business events all the more exciting.

Sina Bünte

SINA BÜNTE, DES

Events Manager, International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA)

Amsterdam, Netherlands

What do you like most about your job?

I’m very much a social person who enjoys meeting new people and getting to know other cultures. It gives me a clearer perspective about how the world works, and to be living and working in one of the world’s most prominent social and cultural melting pots — Amsterdam — amplifies this innate thirst. I feel very lucky as well that my job provides me with the opportunity to travel and see more. I get to meet many of our members several times a year, and so to me, they become like my own ICCA family.

From an organizer’s point of view, I really thrive on project management and project coordination. Working with an international team with various stakeholders to create great events has its many perks and challenges. However, nothing beats the adrenalin rush and pure excitement that I get to experience when I arrive on site and see all the months’ worth of preparations actually come to life. Watching the participants enjoying our events, gaining knowledge, and making new connections is a very gratifying experience.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

I’ve had many great moments, but if I have to mention one in particular, that would be the last day of our conference in Japan this year. I was tasked to see through the whole event alongside managing our department, the speakers, and local partners. With 150 participants, it was the biggest conference so far that I’ve autonomously dealt with. It was a very successful conference, and to receive positive feedback and clear confirmation about what a success it was from members and other stakeholders made me feel proud and humbled at the same time. Moreover, at ICCA we create events for both professionals who are new to the field and seasoned experts in the industry. This aspect makes it equally challenging and refreshing, since involving both audiences in the whole equation results in learning and deeper understanding of the industry we’re in.

Where would you like your career to go?

My ultimate career goal is to become an events designer: a professional consultant for companies and associations who can help improve their meetings strategy and offer fresh new ideas for increased engagement and interaction. I would like to be an expert in the latest technology trends that can be used for events in order to keep on reinventing.

Additionally, I’ve always enjoyed helping people. Having said this, I would also like to teach at the university level someday, especially in central Europe, where there is a lack of event-management courses at public universities. Lastly, I’d like to generate more interest in association meetings management and make this industry more attractive to students, who potentially will be the future leaders of our field.

Erica Critzer

ERICA L. CRITZER, CMP

Regional Director of Sales, VisitDallas

Arlington, Virginia, USA

What do you like most about your job?

My favorite thing about my job is that every day is completely different. Some days I may be conducting site visits with clients in Dallas and showing off the city, and other days I may be in D.C. giving a presentation or attending a trade show. There are many different aspects to my job and many different ways I can help my clients, and that is what I enjoy the most!

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

This is a hard one. First, I think I’d say being on stage at PCMA Convening Leaders 2018 in Nashville to receive this award — but since that hasn’t happened yet, I’ll choose another. One of my most favorite days was my first day on the job with VisitDallas. It was the first full day of Convening Leaders in Vancouver in 2016, and I attended our customer event that evening. This was before I had completed training, and I was meeting the entire team for the first time. The support and excitement from my new colleagues and from the clients was amazing. I was so excited (still am) about this new adventure and the city I was about to start representing!

Where would you like your career to go?

I really enjoy working for a CVB and I’m excited about the career path I am on. I’m looking forward to pursuing growth within VisitDallas in the years to come. There are many different aspects to our industry that I am interested, and therefore want to continue learning and see where my career leads me.

Patrick Crosson

PATRICK CROSSON, CMP

Producer, AgencyEA

Chicago, Illinois, USA

What do you like most about your job?

The people, followed closely by all the challenges I get to learn and grow from.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

I’ve had many! I feel like every time I close out an event, there is a sense of accomplishment and pride on having made it through. Those are definitely the best days!

Where would you like your career to go?

I’m not sure there is a specific path ahead of me. I prefer living a little in the unknown and choosing my adventure as the next step is placed in front of me. There are definitely lots of opportunities I’d like to have — working for a brand like Apple, Google, United, Major League Soccer, the Olympics — but also, I see my future going in a direction where I get to lead my own meetings team and share my own experiences to help my team grow as well. Who knows, maybe teaching is in my future one day!

Carmen Ferrari

CARMEN FERRARI, CMP

Content and Online Community Manager, RAI Amsterdam

Amsterdam, Netherlands

What do you like most about your job?

My position within the RAI is fairly new, which gives me lots of freedom to design my own work. Also, I work for different trade-show brands in different international industries.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

Hard to say, because every day is so different. I think it would be when the first event that I managed, around six years ago, successfully came to an end. It was my first accomplishment, and it felt great! 

Where would you like your career to go?

I love the change in focus that I made with my career change recently. In six years I’ve moved from the events-management to the event-marketing side, and I really hope to eventually end up in a creative-director position.

Idil Findikoglu

IDIL FINDIKOGLU

Marketing Manager, Kenes Group

Amsterdam, Netherlands

What do you like most about your job?

I really enjoy working with a wide range of people on daily basis. At Kenes Group, I’m a part of the Global Market Development team, and we are responsible for initiating brand-new meetings, which are called “Original Events.” We explore many different fields, and I’m at the center as internal and external stakeholders’ liaison. Each project is unique and needs different expertise; therefore, I work closely with external experts, including clinicians, researchers, and industry professionals, to gain the best insight for each field. Additionally, Kenes has a lot of internal expertise — I leverage company know-how for meeting architecture, business intelligence, and much more.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

For Original Events, we work on determining the most viable business-entry models, and build the event concepts based on detailed research and analysis. Each green light for an event kick-off makes my day, as all the hard work we do comes to life!

Where would you like your career to go?

The events industry is going through a transformation where technology and digital communications are changing the way we organize events. In response, traditional roles need to adapt and be more agile. Therefore, my career goal is to be an adaptive event professional, leveraging and benefiting from all the changes in the industry. Eventually, I hope to become a leader in the industry who is able to see the big picture. With my knowledge of sales, marketing, operations, and more, I look forward to bringing excellent events to life.

Karin Hagemann

KARIN HAGEMANN

Head of Convention Bureau, Montreux-Vevey Tourisme

Montreux, Switzerland

What do you like most about your job?

I love that the industry is so dynamic and that there is no boring routine. Every day is different, and I get to interact with people from different backgrounds from all over the world. I also have the feeling that people working in our industry are passionate about their job. How exciting is that? Another aspect I also really appreciate is how open we are. I have never heard of another industry where you can pick up the phone and call a “competitor” to ask for advice or to discuss an issue. This is something I really value.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

I have had different highlights so far. Of course, winning business is always nice, or hosting a successful event. But maybe if I have to choose one day, I might go for my current promotion as head of the convention bureau. It meant a lot coming from my company, but it meant even more knowing that my team, my colleagues, and partners supported it.

Where would you like your career to go?

At the moment, I think I am the luckiest person on the planet, as I’ve found my dream job. I actually just reached one of my goals of becoming head of the convention bureau. I need to rethink my long-term goals, but my short-term and medium-term goal is to have a strong and happy team, and to be successful at my current job. I love the meetings industry and would not want to change industries in any foreseeable future. My ultimate career goal is to have a job that makes me happy, that I am passionate about, and to work with dedicated and passionate people.

Caitlin Hume

CAITLIN HUME, CMP

Business Events Manager, Risk and Insurance Management Society Inc. (RIMS)

New York City, New York, USA

What do you like most about your job?

My favorite part of my job is the amazing people I get to interact with and meet on a daily basis. Every new hotel, new city, and new meeting I have planned has connected me with even more talented hoteliers, excellent hospitality professionals, and intelligent, driven, and passionate members across all industries. It is such a gift to learn from my attendees, whether it is the risk professionals we work with now or the medical, government, technology, and public-health professionals I have planned for in the past. I leave each meeting in awe of what my members do! As planners, we are very lucky to have exposure to the best of the best in each industry, and to walk away from each meeting knowing you helped move an industry forward.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

Although there are many great moments, the best day was finishing my very first citywide. I will never forget that feeling of pride and personal accomplishment. My former manager took a big chance on trusting me with an important client, and, with the guidance of some amazing mentors, I was able to deliver and execute a big, complicated program to my client’s satisfaction. Watching the attendees leave the last session with big smiles and so much enthusiasm for what they learned, and hearing my client’s message of thanks, still gives me goose bumps. There is truly no better feeling than “wow, I actually did this!” It was the day I fell in love with the industry and realized I had found my calling.

Where would you like your career to go?

Who knows where my path will take me! Isn’t that part of the excitement? This industry has so many amazing, diverse opportunities. There are chances to work all over the world and with all sorts of professions. Wherever it is I might land, I hope I continue to get opportunities to showcase my expertise and deliver awesome events for my clients and their attendees.

Chloe Lai Hsu Huei

CHLOE LAI HSU HUEI

Medical Conference Producer, Medical Conference Partners

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

What do you like most about your job?

I love connecting people together. My role as the middle person allows me to communicate with all the different parties involved in making a conference happen, from the committee, convention bureau, vendors, and venue officials, to the suppliers, speakers, and delegates. Through this, new professional relationships can be built for future endeavors, and this could very well have a significant impact on our industry here in Malaysia.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

It is great to have successfully organized a conference with my team members and take it beyond the client’s expectation. I can’t pinpoint specific moments, but there have been many that have a wow effect on the client. It’s a small gesture to add a personal touch to a situation, but it’s these things that show a client how dedicated you are to your role and profession.

Being the only Asian who won this PCMA award puts into perspective how dedication and effort can make an impact. Client testimonials and supportive feedback from team members were what pushed my nomination through. When you know that clients appreciate your help and team members appreciate your guidance, it pushes you to strive for excellence.

Where would you like your career to go?

Short-term goal: I would like to experience working on conferences abroad to gain more knowledge and learn about different strategies and gain insight into the global approach of organizing conferences. One thing I’ve learned from this industry is that exposure is everything. When thrown into a situation, you learn a lot about yourself, but more than that, you learn about others and their point of view. As professional as the conference industry is considered, it is still a people business, and that is what I want to tap into.

Long-term goal: I hope to bid for more international conferences to be held in Malaysia, promoting my country as a destination with rich culture and unique scenery for international delegates. This enables us to work hand-in hand with industry players such as convention bureaus, vendors, suppliers, and venue officials to boost the local economy and create more job opportunities for our local community. I would also hope to guide, train up, and share my knowledge with young talents who are interested in business-oriented events. By this way of encouragement, I hope to contribute to a sustainable business-events industry in Malaysia.

Annamarie Luccarelli

ANNAMARIE N. LUCCARELLI

Associate Meeting Planner, Harborside

Trenton, New Jersey, USA

What do you like most about your job?

Coordinating logistics and working with members is personally a rewarding career for me, and I am blessed to work for an organization that supports my passion. Every day I not only get to continually work with an incredibly talented group of individuals, but I also get to do what I love.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meeting industry so far?

What I would consider to be the best day(s) and most rewarding in the meeting industry for me would be when senior leadership and/or a member of our board appreciates and understands the extent of planning and final execution of a meeting or conference. We all can relate to the amount of time and work that goes into producing an event/conference, and acknowledgement from them is just the icing on the cake to know all of your hard work is valued.

Where would you like your career to go?

I would like to see my career continue to grow through education and experience. I personally feel that education is key, and with the ever-changing industry, you can never stop learning and improving. Eventually, I hope to be able to confidently and efficiently manage my own conference team.

Samantha Mele

SAMANTHA MELE

Proposal and Product Developer, JPdL Destination Management – Canada, A Hosts Global Member

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

What do you like most about your job?

I enjoy sharing my passion for my hometown and all the amazing opportunities the city offers. From unique venues spaces, to the incredible activities or the 8,000 restaurants located in the heart of the city, I truly feel that Toronto’s possibilities are endless! [I’m] a proposal and product developer, [which] lends itself to be a destination expert, which I wholeheartedly embody. I love the creative process of curating impactful Toronto programs for our clients. I am privileged to have developed a solid network of suppliers who are inspired to collaborate on events that challenge the status quo. As many will say, the ultimate reward is being on site to witness the magic come to life!

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

Our team uncovered a distinctively unique venue. However, calling it a venue is a stretch, as it was an architectural detail at the top of a financial building downtown. It boasted incredible views of the CN Tower, which offered our client a literal once-in-a-lifetime experience. It required an abnormal rental request and creative partnerships to transform it into a functional event space for a VIP client. Nearly everyone in our office tried to persuade my colleague and me to remove it as a venue candidate. I held firm to the decision to show the client and allow her to decide. The client loved the space! She thought it was so innovative. She embraced the challenges and the inventive solutions. The feeling of triumph engulfed my body. It was the affirmation I needed, a humble confidence boost to keep persisting on things I believed in, to keep dreaming the impossible. Later that evening, I filmed my 20 in Their Twenties video submission.

Where would you like your career to go?

I would like to take on a managerial position that leads a passionate team of event professionals. My long-term goal is to grow into the role of VP of events. In addition, I would love the opportunity to teach students enrolled in the hospitality and tourism programs offered at our local colleges. I have always enjoyed mentoring throughout my personal and professional career. I want to help inspire the next generation of dreamers who will continue to shape our industry!

Cahal Mowery

CAHAL MOWERY, CMP

Director of Sales, Visit Denver

Denver, Colorado, USA

What do you like most about your job?

Creating unique experiences for clients and attendees.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

Having the opportunity to host emergency personnel and storm victims in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

Where would you like your career to go?

To become a leader at a DMO/CVB.

Brittany Saylor

BRITTANY SAYLOR, CMP

Senior Meeting Planner, Right Hand Events

San Diego, California, USA

What do you like most about your job?

No two days are the same in this industry. As a third-party planner, I love that I have the opportunity to work with many different clients on a variety of events, from corporate conferences and trade shows to nonprofit galas. I love the variety and the craziness of managing multiple programs at once.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

Every day that I am on site and managing a program is the best day for me. There is nothing like being on site and seeing all your hard work come together to create an unforgettable experience for your attendees.

Where would you like your career to go?

I’m currently living my dream job, and with that, my ultimate goal is to continue to learn and grow and advance myself, both for personal development and benefit and for my clients.

Barrie Schwartz

BARRIE SCHWARTZ

CEO/Founder, My House Social

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

What do you like most about your job?

I love having my finger on the pulse of the culinary scene across the country. The wave of inventive culinary entrepreneurs (serving their creations as caterers, as pop-ups, from food trucks, and beyond) is unstoppable, and I’m able to empower some of the best to grow their businesses by introducing them to audiences they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Getting connected to the private events industry can change these chefs’ businesses (and lives), and I love being a part of that.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

One of my favorites was this past summer. Working directly with NOLA-based destination management company BBC, we curated the dessert component of a 6,000-person reception for Beachbody’s national meeting. We worked with six local chefs and restaurants to offer a smorgasbord of the best desserts New Orleans has to offer, including beignets, caramel bread pudding, sno-balls, and artisan ice cream. The event was held at Mardi Gras World, one of our favorite venues in the city, and the photos of the whole night are totally epic. Projects like this are my favorite to work on, because we get to really go for it with customization and handpick the perfect specialty chefs for the occasion from our roster. The sky’s the limit!

Where would you like your career to go?

My House Social continues to grow nationally and is the go-to resource for all things food in the private events world.

Allie Shebek

ALLI SHEBEK

Associate Director of Experience Design, AlliedPRA Arizona

Chandler, Arizona, USA

What do you like most about your job?

I love that every day is a new experience and a new challenge. I’m a lifelong learner, and I know I’ll never be satisfied doing the same thing day in and day out, so this is truly a dream job for me! Working for a destination management company, I’m tasked to stay at the forefront of event trends and what’s new and hot in my destination. I love exploring my city in search of the next big thing, and flexing my creative muscles to design a completely unique experience for my clients and their attendees.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

Aside from the day I received the 20 in Their Twenties’ call? My best day in the industry so far was a few months ago, watching as over a year of hard work culminated in one of the most incredible events I’ve experienced. I’d poured my heart and soul into creating custom experiences for this group, to completely transform a blank desert venue into a Moroccan paradise. Countless collaboration sessions with our client, colleagues, and supplier partners culminated in a perfect event that our client and attendees raved about. It was so rewarding to see this vision come to life, and to see it executed flawlessly on site!

Where would you like to see your career go?

The sky’s the limit! I absolutely love my company and see a bright future ahead with AlliedPRA. My biggest goal is to be continuously challenged to learn and grow in my career, and to stay actively involved in industry organizations. I also have a passion for live music, so perhaps one day in the future I’ll be able to put my name on a large festival or other music-centric event such as Bonnaroo (my personal favorite).

Kyle Smith

KYLE SMITH, DES

Digital Event Strategist/Information Systems Manager, Conference Consultancy South Africa

Johannesburg, South Africa

What do you like most about your job?

What I like most is that there’s never a dull moment or boredom — I’m continuously growing [since I’m] faced with new challenges and opportunities. There are so many skills to hone, so I’m always learning; I’m constantly exposed to new industries, information, places, and people. At a business meeting or event, I’m always at the forefront of where the future is discussed and decided on.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

There are always great days happening when you are in the business of creating experiences. For me, the best experience and day has to be the day I became the first Digital Event Strategist in South Africa; and secondly, being selected as part of the 20 in Their Twenties class of 2018. These are special moments for me, because it was a testament to the fact that dreams through hard work do come true.

Where would you like your career to go?

I’ve always been fascinated with [outer] space. It would be great to be part of the team that has the first meeting or event on Mars. “Interplanetary Event Strategist” has a nice ring to it. For me, the most important thing is to make a difference in this lifetime, having contributed and leaving it in a better place than I found it. I hope to fulfill this in my career in any way I can by bringing people together.

Sara Stehle

SARA STEHLE, CMP

Conference Manager, International Association of Fire Chiefs

Fairfax, Virginia, USA

What do you like most about your job?

I love the people I work with. Both my colleagues and our attendees are down-to-earth, ready-to-help-out people. They are why I enjoy my job so much.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

Our annual conference was held in Charlotte, North Carolina, this past July. Thursday is by far the busiest day: general session, division lunches, education, and this year, the grand opening of the exhibit hall. There was a buzz in the air, and after listening to bagpipes, sirens, and thousands of people connecting with each other, it was a great feeling to be part of a team that creates these kinds of experiences.

Where would you like your career to go?

I would love to be in the C-Suite some day (a nod to my time at the National Association of Corporate Directors). It would be great to become a COO in the future, but I am open to any opportunity that comes my way. I love the meetings industry and want to help it grow and thrive. If I am able to do that, I consider my career to be successful.

Andrew Sykes

ANDREW SYKES

General Manager – Atlantic, FMAV

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

What do you like most about your job?

Our clients, working through unique challenges, and creating solutions to help them achieve their event goal.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

The most exciting day/project I’ve had the chance to be involved in was our pitch to the Halifax Convention Centre in August of 2016. It was a team effort from our best in every office in our company, and truly represents the value we offer as a team to our clients. It was a real showcase of both creativity and technical execution. 

Where would you like your career to go?

My ultimate goal is to hold a senior-management position at an organization in the live-events and convention market.

Rasheena Wilson

RASHEENA WILSON, CMP

Meetings and Exhibits Coordinator, American Society of Nephrology

Washington, D.C., USA

What do you like most about your job?

The most exciting part of my job is my interaction with people. Being able to coordinate with vendors to achieve my organization’s goals is one of the most rewarding benefits of my job. I also enjoy being part of a team that values the needs of both the organization and our members.

What’s the best day you’ve had in the meetings industry so far?

Receiving my CMP was the best day of my professional career. It’s something that I always hoped for. It solidified that this was the career path for me.

Where would you like your career to go?

I would like to be a university professor in the next 15 to 20 years. I hope to share the knowledge and experiences I gained from the industry with the next generation of planners.