After 33 years with the same company, Heidi Welker — senior vice president, business development and industry partnerships, Encore Canada, previously Freeman Audio Visual Canada — announced her retirement. Convene reached out to Welker to learn about her career path and what she has planned for her next chapter.
What was your first job in the industry?
I was actually a licensed customs broker and custom cleared associations’ and exhibitors’ materials for temporary (bonded) entry into Canada.
Did you fall into it or did you seek out a career in the events industry?
I did not seek a career in this industry. I doubled my salary when I moved to Toronto as a licensed customs broker. My goal was to work in Toronto for five years and move back to my hometown. That never happened because I fell in love with Toronto and decided to stay.
Did you have any mentors along the way? Who has been your role model in the business world and how did they help you?
The year was 1987, and the gentleman was John O. Maxwell, president and CEO of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC). We were on a shuttle bus sitting next to one another, and he asked me how I liked my position with a former employer. I said I was ready for more of a challenge. That evening I got a phone call in my room wanting to set up a meeting to discuss whether I would be interested in a director of marketing position with TELAV Audio Visual Services (before being acquired by Freeman and most recently PSAV/Encore). My first job with the company was producing an internal and external newsletter as well as selling audiovisual services for the city-wide conventions held at the MTCC. As years progressed, I became vice president of marketing and then in 2017, I was promoted to senior vice president of business development and industry partnerships. I should also mention that sales and business development was always a role included in my portfolio, goals, and objectives. I have had numerous mentors throughout my career, many of whom were industry colleagues, former bosses, and PCMA Foundation board members.
What have you liked best about the events industry?
My colleagues’ passion for the events industry and my relationships. I have made so many great friends. I’ve traveled a lot in my career and so many of my closest friends from around the world I consider family. I think the people that work in the events industry believe in both professional and personal relationships. We rely on one another in both the good and bad times. I can call on any of them for advice and direction. I have learned so much about being a better person and fulfilling my personal and professional dreams through my amazing discussions with people. We all learn from each other!
When did you become involved with/started actively volunteering for PCMA?
I have volunteered for PCMA from the get-go. As soon as I joined in the 1980s (then it was called JCMC) I became a volunteer. I was a founding chapter board member when the PCMA chapters were created in the early ‘90s. And I have been involved ever since. My many volunteer efforts on numerous committees (including the Awards Committee, Corporate Planner Committee, Network for the Needy, Annual Meeting Committee, etc.) led me to chairing the Awards Committee, co-chairing the Convening Leaders Education Committee in Vancouver, and my current role (final third term) on the PCMA Foundation Board. I was also an active board member and president of Canada East Chapter in 2013 and 2014.
Do you have any lessons learned that you’d want to share with someone just starting out in the events industry?
I have a few. First and foremost, being genuine and trustworthy is the foundation for earning the respect of one’s leaders and colleagues. Secondly, conflict resolution is as much an opportunity as a challenge. We all must respect each other’s point of view and at times we must agree to disagree. That said, negotiating common ground is an important leadership and networking skill and one I continue to work on. I have peers who are exceptional at doing this well, so I draw on them to help me improve. I encourage you to do the same.
What do you think this industry will look like after the COVID-19 crisis passes? What lasting effects do you think there will be?
Pre-COVID, I wondered what the new normal would look like, I wondered about what new skill sets were required by the business events community, I wondered about how revenue models will change, and I wondered how the role of technology will evolve and change. I think customers are now embracing technology that has been around for some time. We are finding enhanced ways to use this technology. And we are all stepping out of our comfort zones to find new strategies in our business environments. All that said, I am seeing measurements and controls in place for us to start congregating again. We are all in this together and we are a resilient bunch of business event strategists. It will take time but as an industry we will get through this and be stronger than ever!
What are you most looking forward to doing in retirement?
I see my retirement from Encore Canada as the time to repurpose and embark on a journey seeking new opportunities. This is also a good time for me to spend more time with my family and friends.
Do you plan to stay involved somehow in the industry or start an entirely new chapter?
Encore Canada has asked me to stay on in an advisory capacity. I am delighted to do so. I also look forward to continuing my role to represent Encore as an ambassador in my current board and committee appointments with the PCMA Foundation, Meetings Mean Business Canada, and Business Events Canada. These are critical stakeholder groups and innovators for our industry and I hope to continue to play a role in contributing to their growth and success.
Anything else you’d like to add.
This past June, I celebrated my 33 years with the company. I know it is unusual to be with a company for that many years. I am one of the lucky ones because of the great people I worked with, the trust my bosses placed in me, and the fact that my role continued to evolve over the years. I can honestly say that I loved my job! Nonetheless, I am looking forward to my next adventure and my passion to continue making a difference remains unchanged.