Leaving a Legacy: Bill Reed Shares Career Lessons

Author: David McMillin       

The chief event strategy officer at the American Society of Hematology and former PCMA chair looks back at his 25-year-old self — and forward to the next generation of attendee engagement.

Bill Reed Headshot

Bill Reed

The events industry talks a lot about legacies — the lasting imprint that meetings and conferences leave behind in host destinations. In addition to highlighting those impacts that continue to make a difference for communities around the world, PCMA is proud to celebrate the individuals whose leadership will continue to resonate for future generations. More than 100 meeting professionals and suppliers have joined the PCMA Education Foundation’s Legacy Society, a group with CMPs, CAEs, MBAs, and other distinguished acronyms attached to their names who have planned contributions to the industry’s future in their wills or estate plans.

In the first installment of our Leaving a Legacy series, Bill Reed, FASAE, CMP, chief event strategy officer at American Society of Hematology, shares his thoughts on what he learned from his career bumps, who played critical roles on his career path, and why he’s excited for the future of business events.

What advice would you give the 25-year-old version of you?

I would advise my 25-year-old self to keep being a hard-charging professional but make sure to carve out time and room in your life to find and date someone really special. One’s career achievements can be sweeter if there is another person as your partner in life. That may sound corny, but it is my truth.

What has been the biggest surprise twist in your career? Are there any unexpected turns that you wouldn’t have predicted when you started in the industry?

The bumps in your career can be a treasured gift if you embrace them and figure out what they were designed to teach you. We all make mistakes, and it can be easy to get mad at yourself or others, or possibly retreat into shaded light. The first step to enrichment is taking accountability for what you did or did not do to put yourself in the position. What I have learned is that tough times are okay, and that we all come out of the other end enriched by the experience, painful as it may be at the time. What does not kill us will always make us stronger!

The bumps in the road gave me a chance to stop, assess, learn, and grow. I am so thankful for them in hindsight, and it has fueled me to do better. By its very nature, a twist means you are facing in a slightly different direction! You get to see something novel, and with a whole new perspective — remember to say thank you!

Who has had the biggest impact on you in the events industry?

There are so many people who have had an enormous impact on me, but I can’t cite who has had the biggest impact as an absolute. I will highlight two people who were introduced to my career experience at the just right moment. I was a convention services manager at a large convention hotel and was lucky to be assigned to work with James (Jim) Sweeney and Susan Katz and the American Dental Association at that time. What a team of leaders they were and continue to be. They helped me to see that I could expect more from myself and that there was a place for me beyond my current environment and role. In spite of the big gap between their iconic status and mine as a young whippersnapper, they made me feel like an equal contributor, a colleague, and a partner in doing excellent work. They encouraged my creativity, and they showed me that you can be a smart, driving businessperson while also being a kind soul.

Jim was the tough negotiator and one who did not suffer foolishness. He did what was best for ADA because that was his job, but he also showed interest in my/our needs in return. If you had the courage to face him head on, he revealed his big heart and keen sense of humor.

Susan was the person who corralled talent and brought out the best in all of the stakeholders through authoritative communication about goals and what needed to happen. She showed me the importance of understanding not only what needed to be done for an event, but moreover, why it was imperative. Knowing the why was an empowering awakening for me. Susan listened intently to ideas from anyone with a good one and could softly hint when your idea might need some more work in a nurturing way.

What they both modeled for me is that it is critical to have high standards, to think bigger and deeper, and to remember that no one person can be successful in our profession without others on the team. As leaders, they push others to grow, they pull you into the big picture, and they express genuine interest in people. We worked hard, shared lots of laughs along the way, and we did great work as a result of the trust and bond we formed then, and still enjoy today. They taught me about our industry, about myself, and lit a flame for me to carry inside of me for my entire career. That flame warms my heart at every opportunity I have to engage with them, and it always will. They are the image I see when someone mentions mentorship, leadership, and excellence.

When you look back on your involvement with PCMA, what stands out as your favorite memory or favorite event?

There is something consistent about each and every instance of my PCMA involvement — the relationship formed with those colleagues that are immediately around you. Regardless of the committee, the task force, the focus group, you have a chance to bond with a couple or few that are working alongside you.

For me, a pinnacle experience was the bond that was built on the journey to serving as PCMA chair. What means the most to me is the collegial “family” that formed between Chris Wehking, Ray Kopcinski, Mary Pat Heftman, and me. We succeeded each other serving as PCMA chair. Chris shared every lesson learned with Ray, who passed it all along to me, and then I could pay it forward with Mary Pat. It is not a formalized or required mentorship, but it came naturally because we each put ourselves outside our comfort zone and were rewarded by those closest to you when they offered guidance, support, and laughter when you needed it most. I cherished the four-year cycle because of them, and especially the PCMA “Starvation Tour” that occurred each Convening Leaders on Monday night when you serve as an officer for the organization. I bet we each still keep a few peanuts in our blazer pocket just in case we go for hours without food or drink!

The events industry is evolving quickly. What’s the biggest — and most valuable — change you’ve experienced in your career? And what most excites you about the next generation of meetings and events?

I celebrate that our profession has opened its mind regarding the evolution of one’s career by embracing the notion that none of us are stuck in a box and can’t try something new. Earlier in my career, an individual was placed in a silo and labeled as a “planner” or “supplier” or “third party.” You were either a blue badge or a green badge. Today, the transition between these is easier and more common. They are no longer assignments for life. I have found that when someone has done multiple roles, they have well-rounded perspective and insight.

The advent of the so-called business event strategist leverages a plethora of critical business skills. It acknowledges the importance of logistics and getting things executed well, yet harkens the opportunity to participate simultaneously in strategy, vision, and driving the direction for face-to-face and digital events by being a catalytic connector between purpose and events and business results.

As the industry has opened its mind about career evolution, Reed has opened the doors to a new host destination for U.S.-based organizations. Click here to learn how Reed organized ASH’s Executive Committee Spring Retreat in Cuba.

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