What makes a leader? Someone who can motivate and inspire people around a goal or an idea—yes. Someone who instills confidence in others and fosters a team or family sensibility—absolutely.
The 2014 industry leaders we recognize on the following pages have all these qualities. But they stand out and have achieved so much for several additional reasons: They promote and insist on excellence—in their organizations and companies, their goals, themselves and their expectations of others.
And, a defining characteristic of this year’s group is that they count hard work as a big factor in their success. Reggie Aggarwal, CEO of Cvent, says, “You have to be persistent and you have to work hard. You don’t have to be the brightest.”
We might quibble about the need to be the brightest. We do, however, salute these men and women for the mark they have made on our industry, and for the outstanding leadership they demonstrate every day.
Above: Reggie Aggarwal and Cvent employees at the New York
Stock Exchange on the day the company went public
Reggie Aggarwal muscles meetings on to Wall Street
For Reggie Aggarwal, CEO of Cvent, the meetings software company he founded in 1999 and took public last August, the awards and accolades keep coming. Last year alone, he was named CEO of the Year by Washington Business Journal, Executive of the Year by American Business Awards and one of the meetings industry’s most influential executives by Business Travel News.
Aggarwal with wife Dharini and daughters Kavya (left)
That show of success, plus Cvent’s hefty market cap of $1.7 billion, has boosted the meetings industry as well, placing it squarely in front of Wall Street and corporate decision-makers as a booming moneymaker with huge growth potential. Aggarwal and Cvent, in fact, have delivered the “meetings mean business” message to those who can move markets—and they’re paying attention.
“We’ve taken it to Wall Street,” Aggarwal says. “We’ve met with the majority of the largest investors in the U.S., investors who control $2 trillion of spending, people who control investor money, especially in the tech space. Meetings and events make up 1 percent of top-line revenue; this is millions of dollars. So executives and corporations are starting to listen, realizing how big of a category meetings and events are, and how important they are.”
Aggarwal, of course, is an enthusiastic proponent of more and better tech when it comes to meetings and events. He knows that not everyone in the industry shares his enthusiasm, however, and some find it at odds with the personal, individualized touch that has been a foundation of face-to-face meetings. But he’s adamant that the industry is ripe for disruption, that it is a natural evolution and that Cvent and other tech players in the industry are simply meeting demand.
“Tech can give you [individualized attention] and a better experience,” Aggarwal says. He points to three constituents driving the demand for ever-improving technologies: CFOs, CMOs—“both from Fortune 1000 companies”—and meetings attendees.
Aggarwal says technology helps the CFO zero in on such specifics as a meeting’s revenue potential and compliance issues, whether that be a dinner with clients or a three-day event. Through the cloud, it gives CMOs an easy way to integrate the list of attendees into the company’s marketing operation tool. For example, “It should automatically create a task to let [the appropriate person] know ‘Mary Williams from Johnson & Johnson is coming, and you need to get in touch with her,’” he says.
And attendees, according to Aggarwal, are perhaps the most forceful in demanding change. “They’re saying, ‘I’m showing up with pitchfork and torches because I want a mobile app; I don’t want to carry that three-ring binder. I’m demanding social. I want higher customer satisfaction and engagement. I’m going to this meeting for content and networking. How do you help me?’”
Cvent has met this demand by pushing aggressively into the mobile arena, which, as Aggarwal notes, allows for customer interaction not only before and after, but also during events. In addition to working on its own mobile products, Cvent acquired two mobile app developers last year—the first acquisitions in its 13-year history—as well as a ticketing technology company.
Is Aggarwal, then, building or breaking the meetings industry? He prefers to see things on a continuum. “You have to adopt technology to change,” he says. “At Cvent, we are enabling the change; it is a natural progression to get higher ROI and more automation. We are educating and pushing through brick walls and we’re pushing that technology curve. Generally speaking, tech improves things, and the meeting industry is no different. It is ripe for consolidation.”
Aggarwal says that in the process of changing the industry, he has helped raise planners’ profile. “Today’s planner is focusing on marketing, ROI and engagement. They have an audience with CEOs. I’m telling executives that their planners are like CEOs—they deal with emergencies and they’re handling marketing and sales. Planners are the CEO of that project—the implication is massive,” he says.
Some 12,000 organizations around the world now use Cvent software, for everything from event registration to venue selection to surveys. They include many big-name entities, such as Marriott, WellPoint and AARP.
The company’s rise, fall—and near-death—and rise again is part of the Aggarwal legend: Cvent grew too quickly and, facing bankruptcy in 2002, laid off 80 percent of its staff; Aggarwal, already unsalaried for two years and living with his parents, had to personally sign for the office lease. Prior to Cvent, Aggarwal had practiced law. He knew that if he went bankrupt no law firm would hire him.
But his core management team stuck with him, and Cvent clawed its way back up to profitability. Ten of the original 12 people from that team still work at the company, testament to both belief in the product and Aggarwal’s leadership.
“You have to create a vision and [team members] have to buy into it and take the risk,” Aggarwal says. “We had a core group of founders who had to believe and have passion. I hired a great team, and we had a long-term view—too many entrepreneurs have a short-term view.”
He feels strongly that hiring the right people is absolutely critical. “I’ve done 10,000 interviews in my lifetime, so I’ve gotten pretty good [at it]. Get the trunk of the tree straight and everything goes right after that,” he says.
Cvent now has 1,450 employees around the world. Aggarwal interviews candidates for almost all management jobs, and for all high-level positions. He still goes to universities to recruit. “I take a day to go and give a presentation and interact with candidates,” he says “Not many CEOs go down to universities to recruit, and I think it has a big impact.”
Aggarwal tries to spend a few months in Delhi, India, each year, where Cvent has replicated its U.S. business and corporate structure with 800 employees to service global clientele and clients in India. This year, however, he had to cut his stay short, because his wife, Dharini, is pregnant with their third child.
Family has been a disruption in Aggarwal’s life—but definitely in a good way. He married Dharini, a former vice president at the Bank of America, in 2005. Their first child, Anya, now is 7 and another daughter, Keva, is 2. In June the couple will welcome a son.
“There are sacrifices, especially when you’re CEO of a public company. I work a lot of hours,” Aggarwal concedes, adding that it’s sometimes difficult to balance his professional and family life. He says that his family’s challenge during the next year is to find more time to travel together.
That Aggarwal, who has said he never slept and worked tirelessly to bring Cvent back from the brink, found time to even meet and marry Dharini is surprising. “The biggest challenge was still living with parents at age 33,” he recalls, laughing. “Logistically it wasn’t easy to entertain with the proper etiquette. To build a healthy business you need to build a healthy ‘rest of life.’”
Aggarwal admits that even though he has stepped off the various boards he served on and curtailed all other activities so he can concentrate on his family and work, at the moment Cvent takes more of his time. “We’re in the highest growth period we’ve ever been in and we’re trying to transform the meetings industry globally. So right now the balance is more toward the company. I’ve cut [back on] everything except my family,” he says.
Clearly, he is not content to rest on any of those laurels so recently bestowed. He’s in a race—with time, competitors and himself. While Cvent has grown into a dominant player in the meetings industry, Aggarwal now has an eye to expand it into consumer events, such as concerts, festivals and sporting events.
His baby, Cvent, is poised to take over the world. There’s no time to relax.
“I’ll always be paranoid,” Aggarwal says. “We’re the market leader today. That doesn’t mean we’re the market leader in five years. We have to continue to keep executing with the same rigor and passion, because if we don’t, there’s another company in a garage that will. We’re always trying to get better; we’re never satisfied.”
Starwood’s Dave Marr thrives on mastering the unfamiliar
During his 30-year career in the hospitality industry, Dave Marr has earned the reputation of a hard-working, innovative leader who thrives on challenges, but it’s unlikely many of his colleagues realize the extent to which this passion carries over into his personal life.
“A lot of people see me as very professional, very buttoned up, but I love to do all kinds of things that are challenging,” says Marr, senior vice president of brand management for Starwood’s North American Division. These include recently running in a marathon, scaling a 1,200-foot cliff in Peru—and even learning how to use a trapeze.
“One of my daughters, Ashlyn , started going to a trapeze school in New York, and I decided to go with her,” Marr says. “Once you get over the fear of doing it, you get caught in an adrenaline rush. It’s a blast!” His others daughters, Erika, 15, and Audrey, 10, joined in the fun, making it a family activity.
Marr’s eagerness to learn the trapeze mirrors his energetic approach to challenges he encounters in his professional life. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in business (with a focus on marketing) from the Whittemore School of Business at the University of New Hampshire, he moved up the sales ladder while working for Hilton hotels for five years on the East Coast, including the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.
“I was happy working for Hilton, but I also was interested in the regentrification that was happening at Times Square, which had been a seedy area,” he says. “To me, the area seemed like a diamond in the rough. The New York Marriott Marquis was a new hotel there, and I decided to make the jump to work for it because I felt that it needed me more than the Waldorf-Astoria did.”
Marr spent more than 12 years with Marriott International, serving as the director of sales and marketing at the New York Marriott Marquis and market director of business strategy for the company’s 10 hotels in New York City. He left in 2001 to become regional vice president of sales and marketing for Starwood’s hotels in New York City—for generally the same reason he joined Marriott.
“I was looking for a new challenge,” Marr says. “I enjoyed Marriott, but it was pretty conservative, while Starwood was a startup company with an entrepreneurial spirit. I thought they could use a guy like me.”
His hunch proved correct: Two years after joining Starwood, Marr was promoted to regional vice president of sales and marketing for the company’s 35 hotels in the Mid-Atlantic regions. He later served as vice president of sales and field marketing for its hotels in North America before assuming his current role, in which he is responsible for the wide range of guest experiences at Starwood brands in North America.
“It’s not rocket science: We create memorable experiences for people,” he says. “But Starwood does a phenomenal job of identifying the uniqueness of each of our nine brands. This is the collective strength of the company. We’ve developed a target audience for each brand and then found a way to satisfy our guests’ needs. This has brought each brand to life.”
Marr feels that each brand has retained its special identity. “Previously, a lot of our brands were North America-centric, but as we’ve expanded to the huge emerging markets around the world, we’ve been adapting for each culture,” he says. “We tweak our hotels to make sure that we’re being sensitive to cultural nuances and that we’re not alienating anyone.
Dave Marr with wife Jennifer
All Starwood brands face the ongoing challenge of successfully adapting to groups’ ever-changing needs. “One of the things that changed is that there are now more large meetings, so at urban hotels, in particular, there is a need for more meeting space,” Marr says. “Also, technology keeps moving forward, and we need to look at innovative ways for guests to use mobile devices.
“As always, Starwood will be focusing on how to be successful with new norms. Much of it involves greater personalization for our guests, and it will be a big challenge to stay ahead of the game. It’s a very steep hill to climb, but we’re up to the task.”
This confidence stems partly from the determination and thoroughness Marr learned from his father, Bud, who was a traveling home-furnishings salesman. “I followed my dad’s footsteps at trade shows,” Marr says. “I could see that he was heads above other salespeople. He was a consummate salesperson and worked until he was 80 years old.”
Marr’s character also was shaped by the toughness and loyalty displayed by his mother, Ann, who focused on raising him and his two brothers in the family’s homes in Kingston, N.Y., and Nashua, N.H. “She’s a tough Irish lady from a strong family. She’s incredibly loyal to those she likes and trusts. She likes to say, ‘Half of life is showing up for people.’ People appreciate the effort of showing up on time, and it’s a good business nugget because you’ll later find yourself knocking on the doors of many of those same people.”
Marr’s approach to teamwork clearly shows his mother’s influence. “One thing that’s helped me to succeed is that I understand how important it is to build a strong team around me, one that can adapt to any situation,” he says. “So, it’s important for me to be there for team members, and to give them direction when needed.
“I’ve surrounded myself with people who are really good, so I’m not at all afraid to take on new responsibilities and challenges. In real life, I’m colorblind, and in my job, I find that I am also able to navigate well in gray space.”
Not surprisingly, Marr is eyeing another challenge down the road. “I have an entrepreneurial spirit, and ultimately, I would like to collaborate with my wife, Jennifer, to create our own advertising and marketing business,” he says. Jennifer Marr worked as a high-ranking executive in international marketing for Henri Schein (a distributor of medical, dental and veterinary supplies) before stepping down to raise the couple’s three daughters.
In the meantime, Marr is immersed in his job and athletic pursuits. “I have a busy schedule, but I still make time to run. I’m one of those weird runners who you see on the side of the road, running in the dark and wearing a headlamp,” he says, laughing.
The Calming Presence
Kati Quigley’s serene demeanor has taken her far in the meetings industry
Kati Quigley’s calm demeanor has been one of her main attributes as she has climbed the ladder in the meetings industry to her current role as senior director of worldwide partner community events at Microsoft. One day early in her career, however, her calmness was definitely a problem rather than a positive attribute.
“I was working at an event [in Washington, D.C.] that was attended by a lot of people from Capitol Hill, and many of them had lost their luggage while they were traveling,” she says. “My boss came up to me and said, ‘Don’t look calm. You’re supposed to look worried!’”
Quigley has found herself in plenty of other work situations in which a worried look would have been understandable due to the challenges she has faced. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and business from the University of Washington, she served as an intern for Visit Seattle. She then participated in a Sheraton management-training program before moving to Washington, D.C., where she worked for 11 years as a director of meetings and professional development for several trade associations.
A turning point in her career occurred in 2002, when she was hired as the director of event marketing for Microsoft in Seattle. “It was a huge career change for me,” she says. “I still was working in meetings and events, but suddenly found myself in a corporate culture that was extremely fast-paced and where decisions were made very quickly.”
In March 2012, Quigley was promoted to senior director of worldwide partner community events at Microsoft. She is responsible for developing and nurturing the Microsoft Planner Network through community engagement and even activities. “This is a broader marketing role that enables me to be more involved in day-to-day operations,” she says.
Many of the challenges she faces involve technology. “It’s changing so rapidly and the company’s pace at implementing it has accelerated so much that it’s a challenge to keep up with it and help our partners. There simply isn’t enough time in the day,” Quigley says.
During her time with Microsoft, the number of employees has increased from 45,000 to 90,000, and this number rises to 130,000 when the company’s recent $7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia’s smartphone business is included. “As our company has expanded, it’s become more important for all of our groups to communicate and understand each other,” Quigley says. “They all have different goals to achieve, and because I’m in a position that oversees a lot of groups that converge, it’s a challenge to assure that we have strong communication.”
She enjoys the challenges and loves the meetings industry. “I like the variety of my responsibilities and the fact that I’m not sitting at a desk all day,” she says. “I constantly meet people from all walks of life and I’ve always enjoyed solving complex problems, dating back to my math classes in school.”
Perhaps above all, she takes great pleasure in mentoring her employees. “My mentoring is probably the thing that I’m most proud of in my career,” she says. “A lot of people have helped me along the way; I like to coach others because I know how much it helps. I always say ‘yes’ when people ask me if I will mentor them.”
She singles out several people who have helped her. Quigley’s business style blends the compassionate, caring nature of her mother, Patricia, with the strong work ethic of her father, Richard. Lisa Block, vice president of meetings and conferences at the Society for Human Resource Management, was very welcoming to Quigley when she first entered the industry, and Teri Tonioli, vice president of sales in the corporate accounts division for The Freeman Company, is one of the first people she calls when she needs a professional opinion.
Kati Quigley with husband Tim
Jim Kaitz, the president and CEO of Association for Financial Professionals, also has been a major influence. “He showed me the best way to lead. A lot of times, I think, ‘What would he do in this situation?’” Quigley says.
She also has been inspired by the ability of Anne Hamilton, vice president of Disney Destinations, to juggle a demanding professional career while raising a family. Quigley, the mother of two boys—Conor, 13 and Colin, 11—faces similar challenges. Family responsibilities are shared by her husband, Tim, the national sales director of strategic accounts for PSAV, which provides event-technology services for the hotel, resort and conference-center industry.
She says that “it’s a constant effort” to find a good balance between work and home, but it’s clear that she’s deeply dedicated to both. In fact, when asked about her long-term ambitions and goals, Quigley immediately replied, “For my kids to be nice and happy.”
Quigley particularly enjoys watching her kids play baseball. “I love to keep score because it makes me pay attention all the time,” she says. When she can find the time, Quigley also enjoys playing golf with her family. “When I was in college, I aspired to be a professional golfer—or a pro architect, or a professional photographer,” she says, smiling.
The Team Player
Michael Massari’s priorities are always focused on people
Michael Massari with wife Joelle
Some years ago, Mike Massari was on a smooth trajectory upward: stellar career, great family life. He had few regrets in life—but one of them gnawed at him.
“I had been a good kid, a good high school student, and a good husband and father,” recalls Massari, senior vice president of meetings, sales and operations for Caesars Entertainment. “But I was the penultimate graduate in my class at Cabrini College—that’s second to last. I was a terrible college student. For those five years I was an idiot.
“I thought, ‘I should right this wrong, I should fix this.’ The only way I knew how was to go back to school.”
Massari got his M.B.A. from the University of California, Irvine in 2007. “It’s one of the things in my life that I’m most proud of, apart from my wife and kids,” he says.
He has a lot to be proud of, actually. In the 13-plus years he’s been with Caesars Entertainment, he’s spearheaded several initiatives that have streamlined and strengthened its meetings business and dramatically increased revenue and market share. In 2008, he received the Excellence in Leadership Award, the highest honor for management within the company. He’s an executive committee member of the board of the U.S. Travel Association, on the global board of trustees for Meeting Professionals International and has been named one of the most influential people in the meetings and trade show industries.
While he is recognized as a leader, Massari knows that it’s a critical time for collaboration, not necessarily individual opinion. “By far the biggest challenge in the hospitality and travel industry is how to learn to speak with one voice,” he says. “We’re a huge but really fragmented industry—hotels, airlines, restaurants—that employs one out of eight Americans.”
Perhaps as a result of playing and coaching team sports, Massari understands the power of group effort. “You often subjugate your own desires for the good of the team, so that comes easily to me: I have to give up part of my voice to be part of the larger message by coming together with key associations and players working toward this. We have to stand up as an industry to speak as one voice,” he says.
Massari grew up in Sharon Hill, Penn., in a family “Italian on my father’s side, English-French on my mother’s side, a family where everyone talked, everyone felt safe speaking their mind and giving their opinions, and we made decisions as a team.”
Massari with (left to right) Joelle and daughters
Collette and Ann.
He has loved the teamwork and collaboration involved in hotel and conference life for a long time. His first job in the hospitality business was as a busboy at a banquet hall when he was 15. He left 10 years later, having advanced through the ranks to manager, for a position as catering sales manager at a hotel. “The hospitality biz grabs you, sucks you in and never lets you go,” he says.
It still excites him. “Every day I meet and work with the most diverse, remarkable people, of every level of education and ethnicity. We help people achieve what they want to achieve and help them create an experience where they leave happy,” he says.
Massari has learned a few things about leadership along the way. “You have to be careful and cognizant of the people you surround yourself with,” he says. “At the end of day you’re only as good as the people you have around you, in my case my wife, Jordan Clark, and Don Ross [Caesars vice president of sales and vice president of catering, conventions and events, respectively]—people that define who you are and who you’ve become.”
Massari references football coach Vince Lombardi, whose famous saying was “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” “I respectfully disagree,” Massari says. “You have to appreciate the journey, [including] the hard work and effort. If you have skill and are willing to put forth the work and effort, you can assume that victories will come.”
But mostly, Massari has learned that with leadership comes great responsibility. “Life and the hospitality biz are about the people,” he says. “People’s lives are on the line, so when you consider success or failure from that standpoint, as a leader you have so much impact on other people, and you really have to keep that at the forefront. It’s not just about numbers and business, but also about helping others.”
He’s made mistakes and admits to being a “tough learner” who can make the same mistake over and over. When he was at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas, for instance, he made decisions with the hotel’s wedding chapel and business center staff—regarding pricing, the market and the number of people involved—that in retrospect, he would have handled differently.
“We made quick judgments, and we were wrong. I learned that you have to ask lots of questions and learn as much as possible before making decisions. It’s a constant fight we struggle with all the time,” Massari says.
He points to mentors who have helped him grow professionally, including Bobby Moody, who took a chance on him as a teenager in Philadelphia, and Tom Jenkin, current global president of destination markets at Caesars Entertainment, who Massari says helped him gain “business sense and judgment.”
Massari’s current challenges include managing a staff of 2,000 (including a dozen direct reports) around the country and all over the world—so, he’s on the road a lot. But when he’s not working, Massari is with family, including wife Joelle, who he met one summer on the Jersey Shore while he was in college. He and Joelle, a fifth-grade teacher at a Las Vegas Catholic school, have two daughters: Ann, 9, and Collette, 11. Massari coaches their basketball and cross-country teams.
He also is dabbling in investment management. In December, Massari and five colleagues from his M.B.A. class at UC Irvine launched Connexus Equity Management Partners, a boutique private equity firm that invests in early-stage companies in industries including technology, retail—and hospitality. “We’re looking for companies to provide equity investment, both capital and expertise, where we can really make a difference,” he says.
But don’t look for Massari to change his career anytime soon. “I used to have a grand 10-year plan, with each job laid out,” he says. “Now that I’m in a job that I love and find it intellectually stimulating, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
Peter Micciche provides progressive software solutions for the meetings industry
Peter Micciche has earned a stellar reputation while running technology companies and other firms, and much of his success can be attributed to one outstanding skill: his problem-solving ability.
“I really enjoy the day-to-day challenge of working with people to solve problems,” says Micciche, the CEO of Certain, a San Francisco-based company that provides software solutions for the meetings industry. “I believe that if you found your way into a problematic situation, you can find your way out.”
Micciche began developing his problem-solving skills early in his professional career. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in finance and accounting from Boston University in 1975, he began selling pianos and organs for Sherman-Clay. “Regardless of what you’re selling, everything fundamentally revolves around understanding customers’ needs and crafting solutions around them,” he says.
He subsequently received an M.B.A. from Suffolk University in Boston. “By that time, I realized that I didn’t want to be a professional finance person or an accountant. I understood the important role that software solutions was playing in many situations, and began thinking about how they create transformative opportunities. I found this intriguing,” he says.
Micciche subsequently served in leadership roles for several business-software companies, including president of Cognos Corp., CEO of NativeMinds Inc. (now Autonomy) and CEO of Kinecta Corp. (now Oracle). He also worked in executive roles for several other firms, including director of Centura, Inc.; senior vice president of sales in the Americas for Nuance Communications, Inc., senior vice president of sales for ChannelPoint, Inc.; and vice president and general manager for ASK/Ingres.
In 2009, Micciche became CEO of Certain, which was founded in 1994 by Dr. Douglas Goldman to create a line of software products specially designed to meet the real-world needs of event planners, including budgeting, seating, attendee and vendor information, and timeline management. Goldman made a point of providing affordable, easy-to-use, comprehensive software.
Micciche was familiar with the meetings industry when he joined Certain, but as he dug in deeper, he realized the enormous potential for expanding software usage at conferences and meetings. “When I discovered this market segment, I found that it is comprised of many niches, but was not efficient in the marketplace,” he says. “I saw that the business should be all about giving executives who participate in events ways to measure their own success. It became clear that there was an opportunity to drive the industry in a whole new direction.”
Peter Micciche displays his "hidden" talent
While overseeing Certain’s vision, strategy and global operations, Micciche has established the company as a leading provider of event-management technology for the meetings industry. The company’s platform supports a wide range of events, including small meetings, educational sessions, large conferences and worldwide gatherings.
Certain has been steadily adapting its software programs to meet the ever-changing needs of the meetings industry. “Not so long ago, technology basically was used to support meetings and events logistically, and attendees were viewed as simply part of the event,” he says. “But now, the attendee has a voice and needs to be heard. So, there is a tremendous opportunity to personalize events for them. The challenge is to find out how to apply technology and to stay ahead of the curve.”
He faces plenty of other challenges as CEO of Certain, and often draws from his wealth of professional experiences and relationships to find solutions. The late Mike Fields, former president of Oracle USA and CEO of Kana Software, was a major influence in his career. “He was a fearless competitor, a great role model for team building and quite humane,” Micciche says.
Micciche has cultivated these traits as a senior executive. “A person who reaches that level already has all the required experience and skills, so what it comes down to [in order to be effective] is the ability to communicate and collaborate with others—to be able to look at people in the eye and be able to work with them,” he says.
Certain was named one of the Top 100 Private Companies and one of the Top 250 Global Companies by AlwaysOn Network’s editorial team, which praised Certain for its “leadership amongst its peers and game-changing approaches and technologies that are likely to disrupt existing markets and entrenched players.” Five criteria were used to make the selections: innovation, market potential, commercialization, stakeholder value and media buzz.
Micciche attributes much of the company’s and his own success to his coworkers. “My success is predicated upon the work of very competent professionals working in different areas. My job is to help with organization and planning, and provide people with the resources they need. Then I get out of their way, but I provide help when necessary,” he says.
Teamwork is crucial in another role Micciche plays: musician. “I’ve been interested in music ever since I was growing up in Medford, Mass., when my parents bought an organ for the kids [two boys and two girls],” he says. “About 15 years ago, I got serious about studying jazz history; my big preoccupation is with jazz piano. And I’m a pretty good amateur keyboards player.”
Following in the family musical tradition, his two sons play guitar and his daughter plays piano. Micciche occasionally plays for senior citizen groups and can’t resist the temptation “whenever I see a piano at a cocktail party,” he says
The Driving Force
Inspired by her father, Karen Kotowski’s work ethic provides key to success
While growing up in eastern Pennsylvania with her four siblings, Karen Kotowski closely observed the steadfast dedication of her father, Ted, as he dealt with coal miners’ issues and other matters as a branch manager for the U.S. Department of Labor.
“He showed up every day and always gave 100 percent,” Kotowski says. “He worked hard and did the best he could. I developed my work ethic by watching him, and it’s a big reason I’ve been successful in my career.”
Kotowski has displayed the same professional diligence as her father while serving in leadership positions for nonprofit associations and private-sector companies. Currently, she is CEO of the Convention Industry Council (CIC), which consists of 33 member organizations that represent more than 103,500 individuals as well as 19,500 firms and properties in the meetings, conventions and exhibitions industry.
She has had diverse work experiences, all of which in some way are applicable to her current role. In the early ’80s, she was a self-proclaimed political junkie eyeing a career in law while earning a bachelor’s degree in public service at Pennsylvania State University. Kotowski then was a lobbyist for Unisys Corporation’s Office of Government Affairs in Washington, D.C. In retrospect, a pivotal moment occurred while planning a fly-in meeting for Unisys. “I found that I had a knack for planning and enjoyed it,” she says.
It was becoming clear to Kotowski that she “didn’t want to go down a political path” professionally and was intrigued by associations. She took a job as administrative manager of the Professional Insurance Marketing Association in Bethesda, Md., in 1987, overseeing meeting planning, among other things.
In 1993, she was hired as an assistant director by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) in Washington, D.C., and eventually worked her way up to staff vice president of member education, responsible for a $3 million budget and 25 staff members. She also served as a meeting planner, organizing annual educational conferences.
“I was especially proud of some of the things that I accomplished at NAHB, such as being part of the team that developed the University of Housing unit from the ground up and creating the Builder 20 Club program, which made me realize that I could be entrepreneurial in a business setting,” Kotowski says. The University of Housing Program makes available professional certifications to industry employees and the Builder 20 Club program brings together builders and remodelers several times a year to network, improve their daily operations and increase their bottom lines.
After 16 years with NAHB, Kotowski was ready for a change, and CIC came knocking on her door. Kotowski had a background in associations and meetings management, and two certifications (CMP and CAE), but some challenges at CIC—such as managing a meeting-industry certification program—were new to her.
Under Kotowski’s collaborative-style leadership, the CIC has developed several signature programs, including the CMP designation, Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX) and CIC Hall of Leaders. It also has increased the availability of certification programs and best-practice standards. “My challenge was to make them more available and relevant for the meetings industry throughout the world,” she says.
Karen Kotowski visiting Plumari Private Game Preserve in Magaliesberg, South Africa
Two of the most significant recent CIC efforts are the Environmentally Sustainable Meeting Standards, the industry’s first comprehensive criterion for environmentally sustainable meetings, created through a partnership with ASTM International; and the CMP-Healthcare certification, awarded to CMPs who pass an exam demonstrating they have sufficient knowledge to plan meetings related to health care.
A big part of Kotowski’s job is to advocate for the meetings industry. “One challenge is to tell the story about the importance of face-to-face meetings and recent economic circumstances,” she says. “A few years ago, the press and general public had the impression that meetings are a luxury, but the industry has done a lot during the past couple of years to correct this misunderstanding. Part of our message was that if we didn’t have meetings, many connections wouldn’t be made, and so, relationships wouldn’t be built.”
One of her personal challenges with CIC is to constantly adapt to a very fast-paced, constantly changing world. “We’re now trying to do more with less,” she says. “It’s important for me to develop expectations of what we need to accomplish and to do things in a responsible way.”
Kotowski says that many of her colleagues would be surprised to know she’s an “off-the-charts introvert, and sometimes I need to overcome this.” She adds that on a positive note, her own nature makes her sensitive to the need to design meetings not only for extroverts, but introverts as well.
She clearly enjoys the challenges of her job but welcomes free time when she can play golf, ride her bicycle, read, listen to modern country music, visit wineries—and hand-feed elephants.
“Two years ago, I was invited to speak at an event in South Africa, and while there, I visited the Plumari Private Game Preserve (in Magaliesberg). It gave me an opportunity to get up close and personal with an elephant,” she says, laughing.
The Big-City Booster
Don Welsh is Chicago’s ambassador—and its biggest fan
Don Welsh, CEO of Choose Chicago, is in a hurry. It’s not so much of a personal rush, despite his high energy level and famous stand-up desk, which keeps meetings short and Welsh on his feet, literally.
Rather, he’s in a hurry to build up Chicago as the top city to meet and visit. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to generate more revenue for the city and has set a goal to attract 55 million visitors annually by 2020. (Almost 48 million are estimated to have visited in 2013.)
Choose Chicago, the city’s lead tourism agency, is a key player in this effort, and Welsh is optimistic. “We feel very fortunate to have a city like this, and literally all the roadblocks—including political and labor issues—have been removed. So it’s clear sailing, and expectations are high,” he says.
Chicago, of course, is already a big draw for visitors: The food! The architecture! The arts and culture! But Welsh still needs to work to overcome the negatives: “Chiberia,” the city’s nickname during the past winter, comes to mind.
So Welsh and his staff have been busy promoting Chicago’s splendors near and far. Choose Chicago now has satellite offices in major U.S. and global cities, including Sao Paulo, London and Tokyo; it also has a whopping three offices in China, with a fourth expected to open later this year.
“We get a steady stream of Chinese—a high percentage of Chinese students who attend the University of Chicago, De Paul and Loyola,” Welsh says. “We get a lot of smaller business-oriented groups from China, in engineering and architecture. We’ve made China a priority from a tourism standpoint.”
Chicago also had a presence at the recent South by Southwest gathering in Austin, Texas, to let the creative world know that it, too, is a hip venue for artsy-techie happenings.
Perhaps most importantly, Welsh and Chicago are playing host to the U.S. Travel Association’s massive IPW convention April 5–9, when 6,000 travel buyers and journalists from 70 countries convene at McCormick Place, the nation’s largest convention center. Welsh considers the showcase a “job interview” for Chicago’s meetings sector, and big money is at stake. According to a report by Rockport Analytics, the IPW convention’s direct economic impact on Chicago could be about $891 million, and a $1.6 billion increase in tourism over three years.
If Welch feels pressure, he doesn’t let on. All of his experience in the hospitality and meetings industry—and even one outside of it—have molded him into a seasoned executive capable of handling just about anything.
Don Welsh with daughter Sarah
Welsh grew up in Baltimore, the youngest of four children born to immigrants—his father came from Ireland and his mother from Italy. After graduating from college with a marketing degree, he found work at United Airlines, and in 1981 he joined Seattle-based Horizon Air, which was just getting off the ground, as head of sales and marketing.
He made the switch to hotels, working in senior sales and marketing positions at Westin and The Ritz-Carlton properties and MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Eventually he became senior vice president for Westin at its corporate headquarters.
Welsh moved over to the Seattle Convention & Visitors Bureau (now Visit Seattle), becoming CEO, and over five years successfully helped rebrand the city for tourists and locals alike. As the head of Visit Indy, the Indianapolis CVB, he grew hotel occupancy rates, increased convention bookings and helped open more than $3 billion in tourism-related developments, including a new airport and new stadium, and doubled the size of the convention center.
He was recruited to Choose Chicago in 2011. “I get bored when things are static,” Welsh admits. He doesn’t have that problem in fast-paced Chicago.
He also keeps busy in his industry leadership positions, serving on the board of trustees for the Professional Convention Management Association and as an executive committee member of the U.S. Travel Association’s Chairman’s Circle.
Welsh’s professional life, however, had its low point. When he was still with The Ritz-Carlton, he was introduced to Isaiah Thomas, who played for the Detroit Pistons in the National Basketball Association. “We became friends and we maintained a friendship,” Welsh says.
In 1999, Thomas bought the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) for $10 million and offered Welsh the job of president and chief marketing officer. Welsh jumped at what he calls a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“I always enjoyed sports teams,” he says. “We planned to take nine teams and grow to 20 or 30 teams. The CBA had been in business for 57 years.
“I uprooted my family. I left the comfort of the hotel industry to join Isaiah. I did it based on my relationship with him. Sixty days after I did that, he decided he didn’t want to be in this business.”
For Welsh, “it was a painful year personally, financially, legally. That one particular episode taught me that unless there is a total, passionate commitment from ownership on anything, you’re not going to have the success you think you will have.”
Welsh turned back to the meetings industry, counting on contacts he had made through the years. One of them, Roger Helms, was starting Helms-Briscoe, and Welsh came aboard as vice president for business development.
“If you treat people with respect and fairly, and you’re nice and you’re a decent human being, maybe when things are not heading in the right direction for you, people will remember these characteristics,” Welsh says.
He hasn’t forgotten people who mentored him early on. “Marc Pujalet, executive vice president for Westin through the Starwood merger, who went to work for the Seattle CVB [Visit Seattle], told me ‘I think you’d really enjoy this industry,’ he says.
“Milt Kuolt, founder of Horizon Air, took a chance on a 24-year-old, wet-behind-the-ears kid [Welsh] and entrusted him with the sales and marketing effort,” he says, adding that others have helped along the way. “I’ve worked with really good people.”
He’s clear-eyed about the big issues that need to be addressed by the industry.
“There’s a new supply of hotels and convention facilities,” he says. “What’s happening as cities and states build these facilities is the financial models are based on customers paying fair market value for the product. But fair pricing is out of whack, meaning cities can’t build or renovate.
“A lot of organizations did everything they could do to keep their head above water. At the same time, look at the overall concessions by convention centers, hotels and transportation companies. We were all in survival mode. We’ve got to get back to a level of reasonable pricing of our products.”
Meanwhile, he’s pushing ahead with Choose Chicago. “I’m forward thinking,” he says of his management style. “I surround myself with good, smart, talented people. We work hard, we try to balance hard work with fun and we celebrate our successes.”
He balances family life as well, with wife Jean, a former United Airlines flight attendant he met at O’Hare International Airport. (“I took the initiative and asked for her phone number.”) They have four daughters; the family lived in 17 different homes in 12 different cities while the children grew up. Now Ashley lives in Seattle, Laura and Amanda are in Chicago and Sarah attends Indiana University.
When he’s not working, he and Jean partake of Chicago’s many attractions, including the dining scene. “We eat, and offset that by working out,” Welsh says. “I also love music. I’d rather be at a concert, like Coldplay, or a sports event.”
He’s thought of his future. “You can only run at this pace for so long,” he says. “I want to find a nonprofit where I can give back and use my marketing, sales and negotiating skills for the betterment of something.” He singles out veterans and children who are sick, saying, “There are so many great causes.”
For now, his cause is Chicago, and he can tell you all about it.
The Disney Princess
Anne Hamilton leads with a light touch
Whenever Anne Hamilton reaches a personal or professional milestone or attends a special meeting, she gets a new tiara. She has a lot of them now, collected over the years. It’s an apt accessory for the “princess of meetings and conventions,” as she’s known in her company.
Hamilton, vice president of resort sales and services at Disney Destinations, has been with the Magic Kingdom in Orlando for 18 years. She loves her job, leading a 200-person team that works with a wide range of organizations to produce meetings and events for Fortune 500 companies, associations and groups.
In describing her work, Hamilton makes it clear that her “cast members” (Disney doesn’t use the term “employees”) are her family. “I oversee our team at Walt Disney World, Disneyland and Hawaii [Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa],” she says. “They’re my Disney family. If we take care of our cast, they will take care of our clients and guests. My goal is to create a vibrancy, collaboration and creativity that build on each other. Our family is so culturally diverse, so diverse in talents and expertise. I am never alone.”
Hamilton’s inclusiveness and leadership extend beyond her workplace. She’s long been a mentor to young people and works tirelessly to bring them into the meetings industry and its organizations. She’s active in many of those organizations, currently serving on the Professional Convention Management Association’s Education Foundation board of trustees and, beginning in July, on Meeting Professionals International’s board of directors.
On helping young men and women, Hamilton says, “I have an open door at work; I mentor several cast members, formally and informally. We also have interns from the University of Central Florida and Florida State University, and I meet young people when I do speaking engagements at business and hospitality schools.
“I do try to make the time, because I was given that type of opportunity and good direction when I was coming up. It’s my way of giving back.”
Hamilton has been recognized for her contributions to the industry, including being named an American Society of Association Executives fellow and honored as a Florida State Dedman Hospitality School Alumna of the Year.
Anne Hamilton with son Ian
Her path to the top may sound like a fairy tale, and in a sense, it was predestined. When growing up, she was a “real Florida girl” who loved swimming, boating, biking and fishing; though shy by nature, she helped plan her school’s homecoming. Her father owned hotels in north Miami Beach and she started answering phones, booking reservations and mailing out brochures when she was 10. She remembers thinking, “Wow, what a great business.”
But she initially had a difficult time in the industry. She worked at the Hilton for eight years, moving up to director of sales and marketing. She was a single mother and Hilton executive during a time when there were few role models for women, and she struggled.
“I was the only female on the executive committee,” Hamilton says. “The hospitality industry was male-dominated for a long time. It was tough coming up, and I didn’t always get the same breaks as others. At times I felt I was working harder. But it gave me determination and strength.”
She juggled day care for her son, Ian, with an intense work schedule, hiring a nanny because she was on the road so much. She reconciled being away from Ian by being there when it counted. “The time you have with your child is quality, not quantity,” Hamilton says. “You may miss the first step, but they know when you’re there. You can make yourself feel guilty, or celebrate that they’re doing things because you encouraged independence.”
Raising Ian taught Hamilton how to be a better, more caring manager. “When I was young, I was a very tough leader because I’m a perfectionist. But you learn empathy from having a child because you need to juggle and dance, and still be successful. You also need to be creative with your time, career and direction,” she says.
Hamilton learned even more about herself, Ian and others when she was recently diagnosed with melanoma cancer. “Last year at this time I was in a chemotherapy chair,” she says. “Ian was with me; he was a tremendous support, and then he got a job offer from Troon [North Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.] the last week of January. I was in the room when he was on the phone. He was saying he really wanted the job, ‘but my mom is going through chemo and I have to stay with her and I have to turn down the job.’ His values are there—I was just in tears.”
Hamilton with David Caldwell, pilot and check airman for JetBlue Airways
Troon North waited for Ian, and now the 23-year-old works there as a golf pro.
“I learned so much once I had to rely on people,” says Hamilton, who describes herself as very shy, of her bout with cancer. “There were so many heartwarming notes from the supplier industry, my Disney cast. I don’t take life for granted anymore.”
Despite some hard knocks, Hamilton is aware of the luck she’s had, particularly finding mentors of her own. They include Hilton’s Peter Kretschmann, who challenged her to learn everything about a hotel—from how the chillers work in the basement to how the air-conditioning system works—so that she could better understand the guest experience.
Another mentor was George Aguel, a former Disney executive who is now head of Visit Orlando. Hamilton happened to sit next to Aguel on a plane flight, and he ended up recruiting her away from Hilton to Disney in 1996. “I flourished under him; I grew professionally and personally,” she says.
Hamilton was comfortable at Disney. But in 2008, at age 50, she went back to school to get her M.B.A. For two years, she spent nights and weekends studying at Stetson University while holding down her job. Several times she thought of quitting. “What kind of role model would I be for my kid?” she recalls asking herself.
Her goal was typical of what she’s done her entire life. “Life had gotten away from me a bit, so this was a personal accomplishment,” Hamilton says. “I didn’t have to do it for my job. I wanted to learn how to learn differently, to develop critical and strategic thinking. I was surrounded by interesting individuals from different industries, and I had to collaborate with others to come up with big ideas and solutions in a creative way. It helped me to answer how I was going to continue to grow my business at Disney.”
Mostly, it honed her leadership skills. “You become a leader by continuing to educate yourself and learning and experiencing,” she says.
As a leader, Hamilton is confident and vocal about Disney and the meetings industry’s future—and the work she needs to do. “We have to stay completely laser-focused to roll out [Disney] products and services well. Consumers are paying top dollar, and we want to give them that incredible experience. We always want to be first and foremost, the industry benchmark,” she says.
Regarding the industry, she says, “The No. 1 challenge is helping our industry convince the government and others of the importance and value of meetings.”
She wears her (invisible) crown lightly. The tiaras “are a state of mind, part of the fun” Hamilton says. “Life is not a straight road. It’s always a journey.”