man wearing black sport coat and white dress shirtTrenton Becker, CMP

Director of Event Services, OVG360 | Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center

Motivating Force: Early on in my career, I knew that I wanted to work in the sporting events industry. Once I began my career at the convention center it opened my eyes to so much more that the events and hospitality could offer. I quickly fell in love with the industry and chose to make this my career path. Our company motto here in Dallas is to foster excellence through positive connections that unleash dreams, and I use this in my daily practice. Looking back, I have used this motto in my career progression and my motivation is to continue to learn and grow in this industry.

Approach to Supercharging Experiences: Being in the events and hospitality industry, sometimes we tend to forget why we do what we do. It is always for the customers because without events I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing with my career. As director of event services for Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, I hold firmly for the department to deliver exceptional customer service to all customers, both internal and external. By delivering at a high level consistently, our clients have high expectations of the level of service they will receive when they host their event in Dallas.

Hospitality Career Highlights: I’ve been lucky enough to work for the same convention center for the past nine years. I started out as an event coordinator, then was promoted to an event manager overseeing some of our largest events. When Spectra venue management took over day-to-day operations in April 2019, I was promoted to director of event services. I’ve been in my current role since then. I have been a certified meeting professional since 2017 and was part of the IAVM 30 Under 30 Class of 2017 as well. I’ve donated my time by being a part of the IAVM Young Professionals Committee since 2021.

Next Advance Pursuing: Growth always in all ways. My long-term goal is to eventually run my own convention center. We are building a new convention center in Dallas starting next summer which will present plenty of opportunities and challenges to learn from. Being part of this caliber of a project will only benefit my career long-term. It will be exciting to take our level of customer service into the new building and show customers why Dallas is the best city to host your next event.

man wearing black sport coat and purple shirtAndrew Damian

Senior Event Producer aka Event Architect, Imprint Events Group

 Motivating Force: The heart and soul of the Las Vegas event industry lies in a unique blend of personal passion and professional dedication. As someone immersed in this incredibly diverse and dynamic industry, I’ve discovered that the pursuit of excellence and the freedom to be ourselves as professionals is what drives us. Las Vegas, the world’s entertainment capital, inspires us to dream big and challenge what we all believe to be “the status quo.” Being part of this industry means embracing our authenticity and allowing it to shine through in every event we create. This diverse city provides an incredible canvas, and as professionals, we’re encouraged to infuse our unique style into each event. My motivating force is this: personality, individuality and being just you. We must remember that day-in and day-out, our clients and peers are all still just people—and we should treat them with kindness, empathy and professionalism.

Approach to Supercharging Experiences: One of Imprint’s core values is to, “Create what’s next.” That means for us to be ingenious and inventive. We create emergent and surprising experiences that others might shy away from. Aiming well beyond the status quo and everyday cookie-cutter problem-solving helps to supercharge our visions for refreshing and formative events. This unrelenting embrace of innovation means understanding and harnessing the power of the latest technologies, like augmented and virtual reality. Incorporating these into events immerses attendees in entirely different levels of engagement. Supercharging experiences also means utilizing analytic data to reevaluate “What are our clients looking for next?” and “Where is this industry shifting?”

Ultimately, boosting our event experiences entails pushing boundaries, shattering through barriers of normality in design and conceptualization, and creating new benchmarks of execution that leave our clients in awe of the capabilities and how they are achieved. That’s how we leave our IMPRINT on the events we do.

Hospitality Career Highlights: I’ve had the privilege of navigating an insightful journey marked by continuous growth and profound learning. Conventions, hotels, corporate events, event design—you name it.

Starting in the event industry is a challenging feat. You may often hear that our industry is one of the most demanding and full of some of the most hardworking people in the hospitality realm. Throughout my career development, I’ve been provided opportunities to design and execute events of various scales, from intimate gatherings to large-scale conferences. Each, in its own way, was a lesson in adaptability and resourcefulness as I encountered diverse challenges and honed my problem-solving skills.

One hurdle I’ve encountered is gaining credibility and respect in an industry often associated with seasoned experts. Establishing myself as a valuable contributor required a commitment to continuous learning and a proactive approach to networking. However, this has genuinely led to becoming one of the biggest highlights of my hospitality career.

Growth, experiences, and opportunities are such substantial driving forces for me in my career advancement. Every step of my journey has been a testament to my commitment to personal and professional growth within the hospitality and event industry.

Next Advance Pursuing: Looking forward, I’m eager to continue to understand what this industry has to offer for the latest and greatest events. The technological shifts, the innovative ideas, digging deeper to understand what our clients are looking for and what experiences we want to create for our attendees. At Imprint, we’re digging into trends and educating ourselves outside the industry to bring a more human experience to our client interaction. It’s important to remain authentic and real, providing to our clients comparatively against their personal needs.

woman wearing purple short sleeve button up shirtTiffany Emch-Potter

Director of Catering & Events, Zachari Dunes at Mandalay Beach

Motivating Force: Helping people bring their celebrations to life, especially if there’s a lot of collaboration! Being able to work with my team members and partners to make a difference for our guests and their experience is especially rewarding when we can make positive changes together. I am a born and raised Ventura girl so I take great pride in this community, it’s rich history and agricultural footprint, so when there’s an opportunity to make positive changes for the Ventura County Coast, especially environmentally as well as being able to support local businesses, it’s meaningful to me.

Approach to Supercharging Experiences: I love creating “wow” moments for our clients and their attendees, especially when it comes to food and beverage experiences. I always encourage our teams and local partners to go beyond their comfort levels and push the envelope on what we can achieve. I ask my team often, “What if we did this…?” Then, all of a sudden, we are doing things we’ve never done before and finding out what we’re really capable of, and when you combine creative thinking with great collaborative efforts you often get those wow moments you strive for. It is surprising what you can achieve as a team and in turn it improves what we’re capable of for our next event and opens the door to push the envelope a little further.

Hospitality Career Highlights: I’ve been fortunate to have a career full of highlights—from my time working in Las Vegas, my foray into luxury resorts and now my current role of developing the events team at a newly renovated and rebranded Hilton resort. Throughout the years, I have had the opportunity to work with some amazingly talented professionals who have pushed me to learn, create and grow beyond my comfort zone. Being a part of so many people’s stories has been incredibly rewarding. Working for months, even years, on program and event details and then the day comes when the tables are set and the doors open—you see the details on paper come to life. That is a rush! But, if I were to choose one highlight, my time at Hilton has been quite a career achievement. It is an amazing organization with so many opportunities for growth, support with career development and a great network of professionals I can lean on and brainstorm with. It really is like family.

Next Advance Pursuing: We continue to tell our story at Zachari Dunes, a recently rebranded property in a little less traveled area in Coastal California. It was crazy fun being involved in the renovation and being able to participate in curating our hotel’s story. Ensuring the success of this property is really all I can see in front of me now. I am very competitive with myself and have been challenged with certain goals since I started here and I can’t wait for the day I’m able to say that we’ve achieved what we set out to accomplish.

man wearing light blue short sleeve button up shirtEddie Fernandez

Vice President of Business Development, Skyworx

Motivating Force: My motivating force for working in the drone light show industry is driven by a profound desire to create unforgettable moments for people while prioritizing excellence in customer service and promoting sustainable entertainment. Each show is an opportunity to craft memories that will last a lifetime. The joy and wonder reflected in people’s faces when they witness our drone displays is a testament to the power of creating lasting memories. Alongside this, I am deeply committed to providing impeccable customer service, ensuring that our clients’ vision is not only met but exceeded in every aspect. Moreover, my passion for sustainable entertainment is a key driver, as I believe that innovation and artistry should be in harmony with environmental responsibility, contributing to a brighter and cleaner future for our planet.

Approach to Supercharging Experiences: Our approach to enhancing experiences with drone light shows centers on the fusion of cutting-edge technology, artistic creativity and a commitment to leaving a lasting impact. We believe in harnessing the full potential of drone technology to elevate events and create moments that transcend the ordinary. It starts with a deep understanding of the client’s vision, their audience and the event’s purpose. Our team meticulously designs each show to create a story authentic to your event. The display transforms an event into an immersive and breathtaking spectacle that is personal to each event.

In addition to the aesthetic aspect, we prioritize safety and precision in every performance. Our team of skilled technicians and pilots ensures all proper safety requirements are met, providing peace of mind for our clients. We are passionate about sustainable entertainment and take great care to minimize environmental impact. By using energy-efficient technologies and adhering to responsible practices, we can achieve spectacular results while preserving our planet. Ultimately, our approach is about pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with drone light shows, inspiring awe, and igniting emotions, all while fostering a greener, more sustainable world.

Highlights of your Hospitality Career: Our drone light shows seamlessly integrate with the hospitality industry, catering to both hotel properties and meeting planners. For planners and properties, these mesmerizing displays elevate guest experiences, providing a unique attraction for special events, weddings, and conferences. The visual impact of our shows aligns perfectly with the industry’s need to create unforgettable moments. Plus, our commitment to sustainability resonates with environmentally-conscious programs, making our entertainment option a win-win for all.

Next Advance You are Pursuing: Our next advances in our productions are a game-changer. By doubling flight times, we unlock new uses for extended marketing campaigns and multi-show programs. Longer flights will allow us to provide our clients with even more value through additional performance time and more complex storytelling. Our company is also exploring ways of integrating different elements into productions to create immersive experiences allowing the productions to be experienced in a more intimate way.

woman with blue hair wearing pink dress shirtSusan Giambalvo, CASE, DES

Account Director, Global Association Sales, PGA National Resort

Motivating Force: Customer Service is in my blood. From my first hospitality job at 16 to my current one, I continue to enjoy meeting new clients, identifying their needs and providing curated solutions to ensure they have amazing experiences. I wake up every day motivated to make new connections, learn more about taking our industry in new directions, and engaging with the future generations to teach them “old school” personalized service philosophies.

Approach to Supercharging Experiences: Elevating my client’s experiences is my #1 goal. Asking questions to uncover hidden needs will allow you to delight your clients in many surprising ways. I recently asked a client who their opening speaker was going to be. He was so excited to tell me about her, as she is one of our military’s most decorated female officers. He happened to mention she has a service dog and her husband who would be traveling with her also did. I wanted to make sure all four of my special VIPs had an amazing experience—so I moved them to our best suite on the first floor (which has a patio overlooking the golf course and was near the doggie relief area) and bought them doggie cookies for their evening turndown service. I never forget that little gestures go a long way.

Hospitality Career Highlights: I have had the fortune to work for some amazing companies while earning numerous awards over the years, but one highlight that I am most proud of was earning my CASE from PCMA. It had been many years since I was in University and studying and testing was something I thought was behind me. I had just accepted a senior sales executive position with Marriott and earning your CASE was mandatory to retain your senior status. After studying all summer and passing all the section tests, my entire class flew to Chicago for the final exam. Did I study enough or too much? I was very nervous as my new job hinged on me passing. A few weeks later I received a call from Richard Green, who at the time was vice president of association sales and industry relations with Marriott, and not only did I pass, to my surprise I received a perfect score! He told me how proud he and the Marriott leadership team was of my accomplishment. To truly understand how Association work has helped me create amazing partnerships with my clients and as their advocate, I can help them create memorable and successful meetings and events.  #LifeTimeLearner

Next Advance Pursuing: The next big thing I would like to pursue professionally is to create focus groups of planners and suppliers to establish new “norms” in the RFP and proposal process. The next big thing I would like to pursue personally is learning how to speak Italian.

woman standing in front of pink background wearing black coat and shirtAnastasia Grinaldi

Senior Sales Manager, Access

Motivating Force: The opportunity to be a part of something greater than myself and contribute to an industry that is inspiring, transformative and collaborative.

Approach to Supercharging Experiences: With an ever-changing industry, there is a driving force that always has me thinking of new ways I can be innovative, creative, bold and offer new intentional experiences to my customers. With that, I believe to supercharge any experience you cannot lose sight of the values you live by as an event professional when it comes to truly delivering on the experience you’re selling. For me, it’s the “why” and using that as the foundation of any service or event and building on that in an intentional manner. Being an event professional, you are constantly challenging yourself to reach new heights, integrate global trends, use advanced technology and think boldly to create meaningful experiences that spark lasting memories.

Hospitality Career Highlights: I am fortunate to share that most of my professional career, which has always been in the hospitality Industry, has been spent with one company. Unfortunately, the pandemic’s effect on this industry caused me to step away from a role I spent 5 years immersing myself in. I had only known Access when the pandemic hit. Finding work in the hospitality industry during the pandemic was challenging yet rewarding. I chose to look at this as an opportunity to broaden my talents as an industry professional, which in turn, would help in the advancement of my career. Fast forward to January 2023 and I was asked to return to Access and take over as senior sales manager for one of our most prominent in-house partnerships. I believe it’s through the impact of my time previously spent with this company, my dedication to my team, my passion for the purpose and my love for this industry that I was asked to return and manage this exciting opportunity.

Next Advance Pursuing: My goal for the coming year is to focus on building my brand as an industry professional and taking my career to the next level. I always strive to lead with kindness and transparency to build strong and lasting relationships and with those I have the pleasure of meeting. Through recently joining the incredible association SITE, attending industry events, volunteering, and being present in the industry, I hope to make my mark and continue to contribute to the industry we all know and love. The best is yet to come!

woman wearing black dress shirt with colorful polka dotsCindy M. Hartner, CSEP

Vice President, Global Sales, DMC Network

Motivating Force: The meetings and events industry as a group makes each one of us so much better than we would be under our own power. There is an energy in our industry that pushes us beyond what we think is possible, or what others tell us is impossible. Our professionals want to lift people up rather than hold them back. That is why I thrive among these amazing people. It compels me to be one of the people who motivate others to step up and be their best selves for the future of our industry.

Approach to Supercharging Experiences: I believe that to supersede the success of our past experiences we must evolve and do more than delight and entertain our guests. In a post-pandemic era, we have to find a way to connect each guest with something designed just for them. We have to dig deeper, ask more questions, and create experiences designed more specifically to the goals of the event. Then we must be intentional with every element that makes the cut. We have to keep asking “why?” Why do we need to do it this way?

Hospitality Career Highlights: I fell into this industry by accident, much like many of my peers. I started out teaching high school theatre and was convinced by a mentor that meeting and event planning was something I could do (and make a little more money!) I began by selling catering at venues and moved further into meeting and event planning. I became successful and pushed past all my goals because I was having so much fun, and my competitive itch was being scratched. When each new job was offered, I took a leap of faith because I wasn’t sure I could do it. But I was surrounded by industry pros and mentors who knew that I could and pushed me forward.  I served on the boards of MPI and ILEA and eventually served as chapter president in both organizations. My fondest memories and biggest successes were the programs that teetered on the brink of disaster, that required us to figure out answers without the clients and guests ever knowing. I am grateful for all the people who forced me beyond what I thought I was capable of. In every leadership role I held, I strove to leave each team, each place, each organization better than I found it. My hope is that I inspired others to take risks and believe in their ideas.

Next Advance Pursuing: I’ve recently been promoted to global sales team leader, and I love it! We are fortunate to have the best people on our team and a board of managers that allows us to be our best selves. They encourage us to be bold and take risks, and they give us the resources we need to be successful. I want to grow to be a better mentor and leader and this role gives me the opportunity to do just that.

man wearing white linen shirtRoberto ‘Rob’ Leyva

Account Executive, MC&A DMC

Motivating Force: Relationships. Connecting. Supporting. Assisting. Creatively solving ‘problems’. Collaborations. Teamwork. Another aspect is being part of a team that just works. I’ve been very fortunate in my Hospitality career to only have had a couple of not-so-good experiences. However, the awesome teams I’ve been a part of have all outweighed the others.

Approach to Supercharging Experiences: One of my favorite aspects of this role and industry is meeting new vendors. So, I will take any opportunity to go to as many networking events as possible. Scroll through my Instagram, TikTok. And the best resource, word of mouth! Plus, just being out and about on my personal time seeing what catches my eye. I do have an interior design and construction management background, so one my favorite things is playing with space, recreating the same ol’ space into a new feel/vibe.

Hospitality Career Highlights: Realizing that my career in this industry actually began way back in the mid/late ‘90s when I began interning with Clear Channel Communications in San Diego as part of the Street Team, then working my way up to events coordinator. Then, I stumbled back into this industry back in 2014 when I relocated to Las Vegas from San Francisco. Next would be being brought on with AFR Furniture Rental, which still holds a significant place in my heart. AFR will always be my ‘home’. Always. Then, my entrance into the DMC world, when I was ‘poached’ from AFR. Since then, I have been hooked!

Next Advance Pursuing: If you’re referring to my next reiteration in this industry, that’s a great question. I just started with MC&A back in Jan 2023, so right now, my focus is rebuilding and re-establishing myself and my career. The pandemic did a big one on me and forced me to leave San Francisco for my hometown, San Diego. It took me almost three years to land somewhere that feels good and that’s where the focus is.

man wearing white shirt and blue sport coatJason Lum, CHIA

Customer Success Manager, Soundings

Motivating Force: I am motivated by people, namely helping others maximize their potential. I have been fortunate enough to experience the hospitality industry in many different capacities. Graduating during the Covid-19 pandemic, I found myself with limited opportunities in the traditional job market. This led to my discovery of freelance work through Soundings. This experience was transformative for me, allowing me to harness my skills and passions in a flexible work environment. My own experience as a freelancer coupled with a drive to help others led me to my current role as customer success manager. Now, I continue to be inspired by our mission to extend professional freedom to others. Our freelancers make my job worthwhile, giving me the chance to get to know them and help them find opportunities. I believe everyone deserves the chance to carve out a unique career path for themselves.

Approach to Supercharging Experiences: A strong community is crucial when supercharging experiences. At Soundings, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the most driven, talented individuals both within and outside of our organization. At the heart of our service is the belief that people are the driving force behind exceptional experiences. Our team uses innovation and the cultivation of meaningful relationships to successfully provide work opportunities for our talent. By making synergistic matches, we not only ensure the success of our customers but also foster a community of talent who are motivated and agile. Ultimately, we are in the business of people, so our success is measured by the success and happiness of those we serve.

Hospitality Career Highlights: My journey in the hospitality sector has been anything but traditional. Early on in my career as a hotel management student, I had a narrowed perspective of what the industry held for me, but my professional experiences opened me up to the vast opportunities the hospitality industry has to offer. From hosting lavish parties in a rooftop restaurant to multiple celebrity interactions as a front office agent, and even dabbling in the world of freelancing; I’ve experienced the industry’s diverse facets. These experiences have equipped me with a unique perspective and one of my greatest strengths—adaptability.

I owe my confidence and knowledge to the industry leaders who have mentored me along my journey. They have encouraged me to lean on my strengths, to trust myself, and to be a life-long student – always learning and evolving over time. I truly value the relationships I’ve cultivated throughout my hospitality career.

Next Advance Pursuing: Recently, I was promoted to the role of customer success manager and I could not be more thrilled. As I step into this new role, I feel a stronger sense of confidence to continue providing opportunities for talent and a high level of service to our customers. I also hope to uplift young people who are still in school or have recently graduated in order to demonstrate that their existing experience is valuable, and to help them understand the benefits of freelance work.

Also, I seek to challenge myself to think outside of the box when it comes to processes within our organization. I’m excited to explore the potential of Artificial Intelligence operationally, ensuring we stay at the forefront of innovation and efficiency.

man wearing blue sport coat, white dress and blue tieAurelio Pinedo, CMP

Conference Services Manager, Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel

Motivating Force: I love being part of the process that brings people together. There is definitely something special and meaningful about seeing people happy, excited and engaged in an event that I helped plan. It’s always inspiring to see these events in action after working on them for weeks or sometimes months. 

Approach to Supercharging Experiences: First, being adaptive is important. Every client and event that I work with is unique. They all have different objectives that they are trying to meet. I’m honest, flexible and treat every meeting planner with respect. I make every effort possible to adapt to the needs of the planner and the event. In addition, attention to detail is central in my approach to servicing a meeting/event. Every detail matters on the BEOs, group resume, and diagrams. The event details are essential for my team and for the success of the event. It’s my goal and it’s my job to make sure the event details are communicated to the operations team to prepare them for success. Lastly, I try to have fun. Being a CSM can be stressful with tight deadlines, budgets and high demand. However, this type of work doesn’t always have to be so serious. I have fun building relationships with meeting planners, guests and my team while on the floor of the event. It’s fun to engage with different personalities and be available to assist anywhere I can.

Hospitality Career Highlights: I always wanted to be a conference services manager since I started in the hospitality industry. I worked hard as a coordinator for several years. Then one of my favorite directors hired me as her CSM. It was an amazing learning experience and I was able to put my management skills into action. Next, I wanted to get certified as a CMP. It was not easy to get. I had to read two textbooks, earn 40 clock hours of continued education specific to the events industry, and then I had to pass a 3-hour exam. I passed the exam and now I’m a CMP. It feels great to have the recognition and credibility as a professional in the industry. Finally, I always wanted to work for Four Seasons, the brand with the reputation for being the best in luxury hotels. I got an opportunity to work at the Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel and have been with them for almost two years. The hotel is one of the most iconic properties in the Four Seasons collection. It has the best location in Beverly Hills just off Rodeo Drive. The meeting spaces are beautiful and unique.

Next Advance You are Pursuing: I’d love to task force as a CSM at other Four Seasons properties in the future. I think that would be a lot of fun and would be an amazing learning opportunity. I also would like to mentor future CSMs. I enjoy training and sharing what I’ve learned over the years.

woman wearing black sport coarKelly Truitt, CMP, DMCP, M.S.

Director of Sales, Terramar Southern California, A DMC Network Company

Motivating Force: Right out of college I was hired in the DMC space not fully knowing I was finding my home in the industry on my first job. I loved the idea of being a part of conferences and conventions but not planning the content of the meetings. I wanted to facilitate connections through fun, such as a reception, a team-building activity or an excursion. Now, nine years later I am still living my dream of sharing my city with visitors while also facilitating experiences that connect people!

Approach to Supercharging Experiences: Southern California is a wonderfully popular destination for both groups and leisure. So, many attendees have visited the area previously. I love to create experiences that are a bit off the beaten path and encourage exploration beyond the known. I’ve taken my love of the unexpected and put it into each of my proposals and conversations with clients so their attendees won’t experience the same old things. By getting guests out of their comfort zone, they are more open to making new connections with people they may not have befriended before which is my motivating force. As a bonus, when attendees go home, they tell their loved ones about these experiences and then more want to come for their next conference in Southern California!

Hospitality Career Highlights: I’ve been so fortunate over the years to work on some very influential programs—and make history with some—but the highlight of each is the friendships I make with my coworkers, vendors and clients. All of my memories of the events I’ve done are tied to these friendships. In addition to making friendships along the way, traveling is one of my hobbies and with Terramar I have been able to incorporate it into my career and see many of my clients on the road.

Next Advance Pursuing: Our partnerships and relationships are everything in this field, so my next advance is to pursue more meaningful relationships with my hotel partners as well as third-party clients, which has quickly become a growing market since the pandemic with many companies outsourcing their meeting planning. It’s been great to see the evolution of this industry and I can’t wait to learn more about what we as a city can offer to our clients and how we can better partner with both hotels and clients.

Back to 2023 Catalyst Award winners homepage.