100 Women Who Inspire Us: Industry Leader

Meeting Planning

Sue Alexander, senior director of meetings, marketing and membership, American College of Phlebology

Inspiration: I am continuously inspired by the amazing evolution that transpires when individuals and groups “shift” to better address problems, situations and challenges. We live in a dynamic and ever-changing world; we need to be equally dynamic and strategically responsive in our solutions and thinking. That inspires me to be a better person.

Superpower: Listening beyond spoken words to find the right pearl of wisdom that opens new paths for thinking and creating.

Action Item: The meetings industry has a unique opportunity to bring people together. As professionals, our responsibility is to strategically coach our groups to address discord and seek consensus: choose to be positive, choose to be inclusive, choose robust compromises, and actively make conscious and conscientious decisions as a way to grow and stay relevant. It is in the details: make each day count, see the extraordinary within the ordinary, and discover ways to positively influence—often from behind the scenes. By dropping these pebbles into the water, I hope the ripples that touch those around me make an impact on their lives.


Jorah Anderson, group director of sales, Miraval Group

Inspiration: I’m inspired by the mystery of this big beautiful universe, the smell of an approaching thunderstorm in the desert, courage/game-changers, the colors in a sunset, community, phosphorescence, random acts of kindness, heat-lighting.

Superpower: I’m like Stan Lee. I help develop other people’s superpowers.

Action Item: I help introduce meditation, intention-setting and mindfulness to corporate groups. I’m particularly skilled at helping people develop to their full potential. I try to constantly share humor, positivity and light with everyone I encounter (and I don’t let the water run when I brush my teeth).


Alex Carvalho-Lukachova, senior meeting planner, Kaiser Permanente

Inspiration: My team. I am fortunate to work with an amazing group of women who are incredibly talented, creative and supportive. Every day I come into work, I am inspired to go above and beyond and help my team shine.

Superpower: Prioritizing. It’s not as sexy as moving objects with your mind or seeing into the future, but it is a skill to maintain the kind of schedule we maintain as women in the meetings industry while balancing home life. Regardless of work load, travel, PCMANCC association work, my priority is my family, being there for kids’ soccer games, school functions and, of course, being at home spending quality time with family.

Action Item: These are trying times, and exciting times as well—movements like the Women’s March and #MeToo are proof that society has reached a tipping point when it comes to social inequalities towards women and minorities. I am happy that I get to witness this change in my lifetime. I am raising my kids to become caring, respectful young men, who understand that that equality between women and men should be the norm, not a right you have to fight to retain.


Janine Chicourrat, general manager, Portola Hotel & Spa at Monterey Bay

Inspiration: The employees of our hotel inspire me the most. We have been under construction for the past nine years, including a major remodel of the Monterey Conference Center next door. Through all the construction, our employees never complained. Staff truly stepped up, and I am so appreciative of every one of them.

Superpower: A combination of being born with a super-high energy level, being an eternal optimist and having the support of a wonderful family and husband. Whenever my energy is low, my husband is there to prop me up. To top it off, he has a great sense of humor and never lets me take myself too seriously.

Action Item: Run for President…just kidding. I’ve been fortunate enough to work for an ownership group supportive of our green initiatives and willing to invest in the hotel for us to become LEED-certified. We will continue down this track and contribute in a small way to help the environment.


Wendy Drake, president and CEO, The Webster Group

Inspiration: The tireless and selfless efforts of the many charitable organizations I have been honored to support. Over the past 20 years, I have been truly blessed to get to know the wonderful individuals behind the missions of these organizations and causes. Nonprofit volunteers and staff continue to inspire me to be a better version of myself. I am also often inspired by my travel experiences. I love visiting and learning about different communities, cultures, history, music and art, both in the United States and abroad.

Superpower: Ability to remain calm in unexpected situations. I believe in maintaining poise and confidence no matter what—last-minute changes to a script before an event or a venue change less than 12 hours before go time. Keeping calm enables me to thoughtfully and resourcefully address the emerging situation. Leading by example teaches and encourages my team to act similarly. There is no task a poised and high-performance team, working in concert with clients and partners, cannot accomplish, despite unexpected roadblocks or scenarios that may arise.

Action Item: I will continue to engage and encourage my family, colleagues and others to understand the importance of continued growth through learning, whether through education or volunteerism. If we don’t continue to learn from each other through school, volunteerism, networking, professional organizations or other activities, we will remain stagnant and be unable to affect change.


Amy Frazer, director, Chicago regional sales, Experience Columbus

Inspiration: I look for that inspiration in everyday things. This could be a book, a speaker or even a commercial. My mind picks up on minuscule details and my thoughts start to transform them into tangible ideas I can apply to whatever I’m working on at the moment. Quotes are a very common source of inspiration. Each week I pick an inspirational quote and write it on a chalk board for my kids. When I first started doing this, it was met with endless eye rolling, but now they really enjoy it, as well, and even help me select the quote of the week.

Superpower: Creativity. I love the part of my job where I can be creative and make memorable and unique experiences for my clients.

Action Item: The most important action any woman can take right now is to empower other women. Women have always played a vital role in the meetings industry, and we are making progress in promoting women into leadership positions, but there is still so much more to be done. Even if your own aspiration is not one of leadership, we can still support and empower other women. You don’t need a title next to your name to be a leader. I want to continue to be a mentor to other women and to encourage them to be confident, so that they can reach their own personal goals.


Erica Gibbons, regional president, Hosts Washington DC, Hosts Baltimore and Hosts Chicago, all Hosts Global members

Inspiration: As a leader, I’m inspired when young members of my team speak up, seek innovation and show ambition. It gives me immense joy knowing I’ve created a culture where they know they are heard and can make an impact by employing their ideas.

Superpower: Charisma. I love engaging others in meaningful conversation, finding fun no matter the circumstance and making unexpected friends (especially in our industry which is filled with so many interesting people!).

Action Item: In a book shop in Paris recently, I read a hand-scribbled note that said, “Love with rampant generosity.” We live in a time when kindness, openness and understanding are more important than ever—that means small actions go a long way. Loving those around me (especially those very different from me) generously, by showing understanding and kindness, are small but powerful ways to create contagious change.


Melissa Gogel, vice president of marketing, tourism and communications, Visit Phoenix

Inspiration: Resiliency inspires me, whether it’s from fellow humans or our animal companions. Seeing another being overcome obstacles that often seem insurmountable reminds me of the importance of living in the moment and approaching life one day a time. I feel lucky to work in the travel industry. It’s a gratifying business (and also resilient). We get to help people live their best moments and find new sources of motivation.

Superpower: Finding solutions. Rather than just saying “no, it can’t be done,” I try to look for answers through thoughtful discussion and compromise.

Action Item: If kindness and empathy are actions, then that’s my answer. Hopefully, we’re on the cusp of real and permanent change in the world. As far as we’ve come, there’s still much more to do. It’s simple, but I believe treating others with decency and understanding are the keys to making the world a better place.


Miranda Ji, vice president of sales, Business Events Victoria and Victoria Conference Centre

Inspiration: I am inspired by stories of success—people who are passionate in what they do and how they overcome challenges. I try to apply what I learn every day, to grow as a leader. Each day I feel energized by the collective results of my team, working hard and achieving our goals together. To know we did something well and enjoyed ourselves while doing it, to help others, and to know I am appreciated—that inspires me.

Superpower: Effectively communicating with other people. Engaging people in conversation to develop understanding, which leads to trust, openness and, inevitably, more meaningful relationships.

Action Item: Now is a critical time for the tourism industry to focus and take action on achieving sustainable growth. Our industry growth will have a huge impact in our existing world economy, culture and environment. We need to be aware of the potential effects of “over-tourism” and implement action now to create a restorative, sustainable tourism industry to preserve our planet and communities. In Victoria, we have begun work in this direction by creating an Impact Sustainability Travel & Tourism Conference to provide avenues for collaborating and making plans for a sustainable future.


Mariles Krok, senior director of meeting sales, Visit Anaheim

Inspiration: My family, they are the reason for everything I do. My grandpa migrated our family here to the United States from the Philippines to pursue the American Dream. My mom was a single mom who worked hard to raise me, always ensuring that I had everything I needed. And, of course, my husband and kids. My husband and son served/serve in the military, as well as law enforcement and public safety, and my daughter is graduating from UCLA this year. They motivate me to be the best person I can be.

Superpower: Intuition. Day to day, I’m methodical with my decision-making, but when the opportunity to “go with my gut” presents itself, it has always served me well, and helped me to get where I am today.

Action Item: I invest a lot of time speaking at local universities about our industry. I have enjoyed keeping in touch with a few students and have been delighted to help mentor them along the way. I am committed to supporting equality with my peers and supporting other women in advancing their careers in and outside our industry.


Lisa Meller, managing director, Meller Performance Events Group

Inspiration: The people we touch and the lives we enhance! Since my days of study and training in my “first life” as a cancer research scientist, I’ve always wanted to be a light in some way to the world—making a difference and bringing about positive outcomes. I reinvented ways to do that through people and relationships. My “cure” is in the smiles on attendee faces, in the satisfaction of the event owners and other stakeholders, and in knowing that I helped to bring about something greater that could not have been done alone. As an athlete, coach and mentor, I have found that inspiring others and seeing them succeed inspires me.

Superpower: Broccoli and a decent, bouncy diving board! I’m high-energy, active and competitive, so my inner 12-year-old needs an outlet—the power of play! For personal balance, I enjoy coaching, training and competing in springboard and platform diving.

It keeps me sane and energized. I have also learned to use my dive time as a means of keeping myself challenged; it’s been a very helpful skill to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Managing fear of the unknown, obstacles, personal boundaries and limitations are as relevant in dive as they are in life. I think we’re all shooting for grace under pressure, control in the eyes of danger, and the pursuit of perfection (while accepting incremental improvements and even setbacks).

Action Items: Last September, I left my previous position as director of events for an agency to start my own firm—so that I could focus on empowering organizations to design and run more meaningful, successful events. I’m pursuing two relatively new, challenging certifications in event design and Lean Six Sigma for Meetings. I will continue to share my passions as a means of inspiring adult women, especially, to dare to dream, to continue to play, and to keep stretching and growing.


Jennifer Patino, CEO, Hosts Global

Inspiration: I’m inspired by the people in our organization that I serve–watching their growth, their willingness to accept the baton and explore what is possible and seek innovative solutions that improve the value of our services and the experience created for our customers.

Superpower: I’m fearless. (I’m also very resourceful which allows me to be fearless)

Action Item: I’m passionate about making a difference in the workplace, our industry and the world. I have the advantage of a platform (and the heart of an activist) to recognize and empower others to make a difference–for their families, communities, company and ultimately our world.


Diane Schroder, global project manager, ConferenceDirect

Inspiration: As I get older, the ability to make a difference, and help a new generation connect with their dreams, is what gets me out of bed each morning.

Superpower: Dream-maker! There is no client that doesn’t have a picture in their minds of what their event should look like. I’m fortunate to be able to work on logistics for each event and have built a team of suppliers that works together to make those dreams come true.

Action Item: I’m a large proponent of building personal connections. Through my networking, events and publications, I strive to build my own connections and assist others in building their networks, too.  People just need to connect, get to know each other on a personal level and be kinder to one another.


Susie Townsend, senior vice president, Visitor Experience, Visit Indy

Inspiration: My children inspire me daily. Matt, at 27, is a technical sales engineer working in Silicon Valley. My daughter Becca, at 19, is a freshman in the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. Since day 1 at college she has been involved and engaged with the University and the Business school, volunteering for worthy causes that are important to her all while maintaining a 3.9 GPA and still having fun.

Superpower: While superpowers should probably be reserved for those who are trying to find a cure for cancer, or helping to save the world through feeding the poor or helping the homeless, I do manage a big, full life. I am raising two children (mostly as a single mother) and staying engaged in their lives while managing a very active and fulfilling career. Being able to move up through the company that I have worked for has been a great joy. I have been involved in projects and events I never even imagined I would touch such as the Super Bowl, 7- NCAA Men’s Final Four Basketball Championship Games, Big 10 Football Championships, and other industry events such as U.S Conference of Mayors, RCMA, PCMA and the upcoming MPI WEC conference. Engagement in these events have helped me build the expertise in my field and have provided me great satisfaction.

Action Item: I continue to teach and preach tolerance, acceptance and understanding of others. Instead of looking at how we are different we are we need to look within ourselves to find our common ground.


Deidre Wetelainen, vice president of sales and services, Visit Rochester

Inspiration: Risk—starting something I have no idea how to finish, witnessing people go for something new. I find the most compelling inspiration simply in the exercise of creating something out of nothing.

Superpower: Emotional intelligence and complex problem-solving. Both have allowed me to navigate the social complexities of the workplace, lead and motivate others, and excel in my industry.

Action Item: Focus on strengths rather than weaknesses. Remain openminded to discover things that other people might not know, because they have tunnel vision. Remind myself there is value in the journey, not just the destination.


Shelley Williams, director of sales, U.S. portfolio and Atlantic City, Caesars Entertainment

Inspiration: Progress—always a step in the right direction.

Superpower: Transparency. I am an open book with no self-agenda except to support and get things done. This allows for open dialogue and brainstorming with clear communication and expectations. It has allowed me to earn my seat at the table in the industry with trust.

Action Item: I will continue to advocate for more leadership roles for women in our industry. Together we will develop a better service culture and better products; and foster better understanding when we are all represented equally at all levels.


Lina Farrell, account director, US Markets, Business Events Toronto

Inspiration: My daughters, 17-year-old Yasmine and 14-year-old Amber, inspire me every day. When I look at them, I see young women who can and will achieve anything that they set their minds to. My drive in life is to provide inspiration for my daughters and to show them that their hard work, dedication and determination to succeed will help them to achieve their dreams, whatever they might be and that nothing will stand in their way.

Superpower: Without a doubt my superpower is my determination and ambition. I learned very early in my life that if I wanted to make anything of myself, both personally and professionally, it was in my hands to make it happen. This drive has helped me to get to where I am today and keep me focused on my long-term goals.

Action Item: We work in an amazing industry that has the opportunity to bring the world together to learn from one another, share new perspectives and grow. I will continue to promote a culture of inclusivity that celebrates diversity and the differences in our world.


April Ellerbe, director of sales, Durham Convention & Visitor’s Bureau

Inspiration: I’m inspired by the power of self-expression. I believe that each of us has something to say, and through my own experiences, I’ve learned that nothing feels better than letting the world hear it! Whether it’s expressed through writing, design, the act of using our gifts to help others, or even through a simple show of compassion, expressing oneself earnestly is an inspiring display of self-empowerment and self-love. I would consider myself a bold individual who definitely gets a kick out of standing out from the crowd. After all, why should we try to blend in or hide our individuality when we were uniquely created to stand apart; to let our light shine so that others will know that it is okay for them to do the same? And so, I find myself inspired by the power of one revealing who they really are, and how the courage displayed through that simple act inspires others to do the same. Being true to yourself is a mantra I deeply believe in.

Superpower: Faith and positive thinking. The spiritual foundation I stand on has taught me that with faith, what may appear to be seemingly impossible is achievable! As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Action Item: I’m committed to being my authentic self in everything I do! I believe that we are all unique; one of a kind and purposefully created to leave our mark on the world. When you offer your true, authentic self in the pursuit of exploring the full range of who you can become, you find your place in the world. Authenticity gives way to self-empowerment, creativity, and a fearless commitment to advancing progressive change in our society. Mahatma Gandhi once said: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” If I change myself; how I think, how I feel, and the decisions and actions I take, then I can also change your world!


Cheryl Kilday, president and CEO, Visit Spokane

Inspiration: I draw my inspiration from the community that I serve. My work positively impacts residents and businesses because visitors are spending time and money. Welcoming visitors is inspiring and satisfying. It gives me great pleasure to support charities and local businesses beyond what our residents can achieve on their own, the community development that improves our quality of life, and the cash registers ring expanding prosperity in our region. Playing a pivotal role influencing policy makers to consider the visitor experience in how our community works and promoting the best of Spokane to visitors is rewarding.

Superpower: I squeeze out more minutes in the day than is humanly possible. I participate in more programs and conversations than seems plausible, yet I still manage to not only be with my family every night, but be present.

Action Item: I believe in the power of laughter and its contagious effect on others. At this time in history, we need more laughter to combat the negative and dark attitudes that, left to fester, could divide our society.


Joanne Winter, executive director, Meeting Professionals International (MPI)–Arizona Sunbelt Chapter and Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) – Arizona Chapter

Inspiration: My mother, Peg Winter, is my biggest inspiration. She really is the reason I am in the association management industry. She was one smart business woman who mentored me and taught me everything I know. Even though she has long been retired, her strength and wisdom still inspire me to this very day.

In my position overseeing at least 600 meeting/hospitality industry volunteers and leaders, I get my energy and inspiration from seeing my members achieve their goals, both in their professional and their volunteer roles. And nothing makes me happier than seeing both associations recognized for their successes. MPI-AZ and HSMAI-AZ are both award winning associations–honored numerous times locally and internationally. There is such satisfaction in not only seeing hard work pay off, but knowing that our best practices have been adopted by many other associations.

Superpower: Relationship building. I am in this position because of my love for our members and a passion for the meetings and hospitality industry. In my 30+ years, I have been blessed to have the opportunity to do what I love, and out of it, I have built numerous life-long relationships and friendships. I love introducing people to the benefits of being a part of our association community and also connecting people to each other.

Action Item: We need to remain optimistic, yet realistic, when planning our association programs and events. As the economy, industry landscape and member demographics change, we need to be flexible and innovative when it comes to our member needs. If we provide them with the right tools and resources to do their jobs better, and more efficiently and professionally, we can make an impact on the world.

In addition, social responsibility and community outreach is a key initiative with both associations. We make sure we do our part to help change the world by supporting projects that deal with world issues such as hunger, poverty, disease and abuse. Partnering with various charitable organizations through volunteerism and monetary support is one of the reasons our members are engaged and involved.


Wendy Laugesen, director of marketing programs, MarkLogic

Inspiration: I work with some of the smartest people I’ve ever known on one of the most amazing products I’ve ever marketed. My fellow Marklogicians inspire me daily to be the best planner possible to help build awareness within our industry and educate our customers through our external events. In addition, they inspire me to produce top-notch internal events that help inspire and enable them in their jobs. I know my head of sales’ favorite drink, so guess who gets a Diet Coke amenity? Our senior vice president of engineering puts together amazing keynote presentations, so of course I ensure the stage set is worthy of his slide deck. Simple or complex, I love the comradery and teamwork I experience daily and leveraging it to bring events to the next level.

Superpower: The ability to leap two banquet chairs in a single bound? OK, maybe just 1 chair. On a serious note though, I think it is my ability to stay on top of the millions of details involved in events. We have a hard job with a lot to think about and no two events are the same, even if it’s an annual event. As event profs, I think we all have this ability to herd cats, sort through details, and bring it all together onsite in a nice, beautiful bow.

Action Item: To grow both in my career and personally. This industry evolves constantly, so I try to attend events, listen to webinars and read articles to ensure I’m staying on top of trends and event technology. This is a renew-my-CMP year so I’ll also spend the summer ensuring I’ve met all the requirements to maintain my meeting professional certification.


Casandra Matej, president, Visit San Antonio

Inspiration: I enjoy being around people who push me to think differently, creatively and proactively. I’m inspired by risk, in particular. How can we do something as an organization, or an industry, that pushes us to unexpected heights? I’ve been fortunate to be around, and encouraged and nurtured by, some incredibly talented people, many who possess a great intelligence balanced by strong humility. It drives me to be a better person, professionally and personally.

Superpower: Juggling–metaphorically speaking. As a CEO who is also a mother and wife, I find myself tackling life each day with several things in the air at all times–business appointments, kids’ activities, personal time. My strength is being able to prioritize, compartmentalize and take action in tactical way.

Action Item: I am at a stage in my career when I really want to give back to the industry. I serve on the board for the U.S. Travel Association and am the current chair of the Texas Travel Industry Association. I believe that by serving in this capacity, I can impact the tourism industry and our world in a meaningful way. I’m also highly involved with Boysville–A Texas Home for Boys and Girls. Child safety and wellbeing is important to me, and Boysville provides a nurturing family environment for children in need. By supporting Boysville, I am able to make a broad impact by focusing on a key issue I care about.

Lastly, and more personally, I’m a mom. I believe it’s important to expose my children to many things including the travel and the tourism industry and civic engagement. By doing things like taking them with me to vote, talking about my work and attending San Antonio’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. March as a family, I’m hoping to influence the next generation in a positive way.

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