I am so proud to present to you the inspirational women chosen this year by their peers to represent the meetings industry. This group of women models the commitment to leadership that makes the hospitality industry a collaborative and innovative force for good in the world.

This marks the fourth year we have gathered a list of women who are out there disrupting the status quo, making sure everything works behind the scenes when the first attendee arrives and strategically calculating the impact after the last person has visited the buffet. These women imagine how the world could be better and make sure no one gets left behind. They are fighting to hand down an industry to our sons and daughters that is greener, safer, more effective and let’s just say it—more fun.

In the meetings industry, every role is essential. We are all indebted to the Visionaries, the trailblazers who paved the way for more women to be accepted as leaders. They are mentors, pioneers and boosters, who saw the future, and had the skills and courage to make it a reality. You also have to love the Innovators and Entrepreneurs, who embody change and progress, taking chances and raising the bar on what is expected. These inventive thinkers light a fire for everyone who works with them.

MoreThe Making of the Smart Women in Meetings Awards

Where would we be without the Industry Leaders and Stellar Performers, who bring their best game every day, rolling up their sleeves, solving problems and charting the way with confidence, foresight and finesse—not to mention some pretty impressive checklists. Our Rising Stars give me hope for a future led by smart, talented, hard-working professionals. Finally, I want to raise a glass to our Hall of Fame recipients. These women have been repeatedly recognized as true leaders and role models for all of us. It is an honor to be able to include them in this list.

These are not planners-come-lately, either. Our visionaries have clocked an average of 27 years in the industry. Most have been working tirelessly for more than two decades. Even our Rising Stars have been honing their craft for an average of seven years. Some plotted their path to the RFP-world; many fell into it. Almost all said they couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

3 Simple Things

I am a sucker for internet posts that promise to reveal the three “easy” things successful people do every day before breakfast. So, when I found myself in the lucky position of holding a spreadsheet with the email addresses of all these smart ladies, I couldn’t wait to learn their secrets. I asked them how they defined leadership in their everyday lives and what inspired them. Wouldn’t you know it? The answers were both simple and hard.

When I put their answers to the question, “What three words describe leadership to you?” through a word cloud app, the sentiment that popped out was “passion.” Our Smart Woman winners value authenticity, resilience and curiosity because they see these traits as the easiest path to victory for all parties involved.

Michelle Thornton, senior meeting planner for Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices, said, “I love creating experiences—from a regular meeting to an over-the-top red carpet, hospitality suite or incentive trip—we are all together at that one place and time, inspiring maximum desired outcome for the client and the attendee.”

Leading From Within

Many of these high-powered ladies said that the “boss” title is less important than the vision. They said being a leader requires “rolling up your sleeves” and “getting down in the trenches,” and “not asking others to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.”

Many thoughtful women cited their families as inspirations. For others, co-workers, clients and attendees made getting up and bringing their “everything” to the task at hand non-optional.

Christy Lamagna, master strategist and visionary for her company, Strategic Meetings & Events, said, “I share everything I have and learn everything I can. This allows me to teach, follow, mentor, learn, inspire and be inspired.”

Patricia Durocher CEO of Global Cynergies, echoed many Smart Woman perspectives when she said, “My goal is to be a servant-leader; I never ask someone to do something I wouldn’t do myself. I believe you need to build credibility and trust before others will follow your direction, and when you do, great things can be accomplished.”

“Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing friends and colleagues achieve their goals and dreams,” said Gabrielle Spanton, executive vice president of business development, Global Alliance, Hosts Global.

Lisa Vogt, an associate vice president at Celebrity Cruises, talked about her responsibility to her team: “My team is my top priority. I tell them that they’re my customers. My goal is to remove barriers and lift up each team member so they can work with courage and confidence, and are driven to succeed together.”

“I am constantly inspired by the stories and successes of my fellow women in the meetings industry,” said Carrie Abernathy, executive consulting officer with Association for Women in Events. “I am also inspired by the fabulous men that support and elevate women in business. Seeing these achievements and the real sense of community we’ve created keep me energized.”

Shannon Coldon, director of sales with Caesars Entertainment, summed it up: “Because I love what I do, I don’t mind working hard, and I bring passion and enthusiasm.”

Inspired Action

Some cited their faith and spirituality as a source of inspiration. Many said that once they found their sense of purpose, they became unstoppable.

Deirdre L. Clemmons, senior vice president of events and strategic partnerships for Airports Council International-North America, said, “We have an obligation to give back to our industry and make a positive impact on what we do professionally and personally. I’m not wealthy, but I’m rich with the ability to make a difference.”

“It´s not about money and it´s not about status: It’s about loving your life’s work,” said Karen L. May, owner of Scottsdale Private Event Venues.

Collaboration, listening, honesty and support were also common keywords. Christine Russo-Robertson, national sales manager at Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, shared this piece of intentional wisdom, “I lead through trust, open communication and always with an element of fun.”

“Trust is the gateway to empowerment, which lends to self-management and potential career progression. Equipping others to achieve their best result is leadership,” is how Ruth Fitzgerald, director of sales for Visit Spokane in Washington, sees the role of an effective leader.

Carolyn Pund, a senior manager at Cisco Systems may have said it the most succinctly: “Leadership is using your interpersonal skills to help others accomplish goals.”

The Servant Leader Way

Volunteering and mentoring also made the list of reasons to give it your all.

“Finding the combination of doing what I love, while giving back to charities I am passionate about, inspires me to be my best self and the change I want to personify in our industry,” said Linda Worthington, director of global accounts at HelmsBriscoe.

Also voicing the pay it back and forward sentiment was Kate Patay, chief strategy officer for her self-named consulting company. “A lot of smart women made a lot of smart choices to help further the reach of our collective voices, and I’m thrilled to have been a part of not only opening doors, but helping others through them, as well.”

That is not to say these women just spend their days holding hands and singing camp songs together. They are also fierce about chasing success. Niki Gross, managing director at Whitney Peak Hotel in Reno, Nevada, explained her leadership style this way: “I’ve always been highly competitive. The opportunity to create and grow a brand—in the face of numerous obstacles and naysayers—and then put together a team that is passionate about what we do and how we serve our guests inspires me daily.”

A Thank You Attitude

Gratitude was another shared sentiment. “We work in a dream industry,” said Amy Popper, senior marketing manager for Marriott International’s Convention and Resort Network. “We get to see the world, build meaningful relationships and make magic happen for our customers. I feel blessed to wake up excited for work—even before coffee—and to use my unique DNA to make an impact. I was built for this.”
One of the other common denominators was an understanding that the work these women are doing is bigger than themselves. They support their companies, their clients and their industry.

Marty MacKay, president of Global Alliance, Hosts Global, said, “I have a strong desire to elevate the meetings industry. It is important to me that we, as planners, are always improving what we do and educating ourselves and others on issues and trends. We have a responsibility to our stakeholders to present the best ideas and a responsibility to be the best partner we can be. It takes a village to pull off an event.”