From industry leaders to talented up-and-comers,our 2013 hall of fame inductees inspire with their dedication to their profession and to Michigan.
Chair Covers & Linens and Top That! Event
As a child, Todd Lloyd enjoyed gardening and floral design. But as a young man, he decided he needed to pursue a career that would provide him with a comfortable lifestyle, which meant a job as a financial consultant with Merrill Lynch. He was successful at the firm, he says, but his early interests stayed with him.
"One day my boss asked me, ‘What’s next?’ I said, ‘I’m going to give you my resignation and I’m going to buy a flower shop in Roseville, Mich.’ He looked at me like I was crazy, and I probably was at the time," Lloyd says. "I quickly found out how not to make money, which was by owning a floral shop. But what was profitable for us was doing events."
Today, Lloyd, president of Chair Covers & Linens, a Madison Heights-based rental company, and Top That! Event, a full-service event planning company, has grown his modest flower shop into an organization with 10 offices nationwide, five divisions (linen rentals, events and, within the events company, stationary, props and set building and Indian weddings) and anywhere from 135 to 200 full-time employees, depending on the season.
"As the industry has evolved, our business has evolved," Lloyd says. "I really enjoy identifying opportunities."
Lloyd also gives back to the industry. His long list of service roles and accolades include that of past president of the National Association for Catering and Events Greater Detroit and the 2011 NACE National CPC board vice chair event professional.
Q: What do you view as your biggest accomplishment?
A: The biggest thing I’ve accomplished is surrounding myself with the most creative people on the planet. I’ve got a knack for hiring great people. And they’ve been with me for a very long time.
Fun Fact: Lloyd and his partner collect "anything with an engine," Lloyd says. They own a plane, a boat and nine cars.
BEST MEETING PROFESSIONAL
Carol Galle, CMP
Special D Events
She’s a planning industry veteran who’s worked magic, from last-minute poodle rentals to transforming airplane hangars into elegant gala spaces.
Carol Galle started her career as a training coordinator at General Motors and later co-founded Special D Events, a corporate meeting and event planning firm in Royal Oak with a staff of 13.
The past two years have been the best in Special D Events’ 20-year history, Galle says. One key to her company’s longevity in the competitive planning field is, well, planning. Galle is preparing to expand her corporate anniversary business, where she sees "lots of opportunity."
Galle also foresees an increase in hybrid meetings that blend virtual and traditional attendance. Technological advances have made it crucial to be able to take events "beyond the four walls of a meeting room," she says.
A hallmark of Special D Events from its inception has been community service. Last year, Special D Events donated 20 hours of planning time, per employee, to its nonprofit clients. The staff regularly engages in volunteer projects, and Galle encourages client involvement as well.
"When you get an event with 500 people and they spend an afternoon working on a service project, the impact is amazing," Galle says.
Q: What’s been the secret to your company’s success?
A: I hire people who do good work and whom I trust. Our first client from 1992 is still our client today.
Fun Fact: Galle once worked as a film critic. "I’m kind of obsessed with movies," she says.
Catering and Special Events Sales Manager
Jennifer Berkemeier draws on an unlikely source to be successful as a top supplier: a degree in anthropology.
"I often observe my clients because I’m trying to figure out what’s going to make the event really work," says Berkemeier, catering and special events sales manager at Cobo Center.
Berkemeier is the first person at Cobo to hold a blended position of sales and event management. With the center’s riverfront renovations nearing completion, there’s much to look forward to. Cobo’s Riverfront Ballroom, slated to open in August, will be "the new cool, fun place to be on the water," she says.
Berkemeier came to Cobo from The Fillmore Detroit, where, in 2007, she became its first special events director, tasked with building her department from scratch, with no advertising budget.
"I was sort of overwhelmed," she says. "I thought, ‘How am I going to get the word out?’"
Berkemeier soon discovered the answer: old-fashioned shoe leather. "You have to just go out and be this person that’s everywhere and meeting people," she says.
Over the years, Berkemeier’s work has earned her statewide recognition and numerous awards, including the Michigan Meeting Professionals International Outstanding Volunteer and Leadership Award in 2011.
Q: What’s the strangest event request you’ve gotten?
A: A best man wanted to inflate a 15-foot Frankenstein statue as a surprise wedding gimmick. We did it. It was disastrous.
Fun Fact: Berkemeier has written and published a memoir, The Cabin and the River: Love Stories from Up North.
BEST SPECIAL EVENTS PLANNER
Kelly M. Brennan, CMP, CPCE
Residence and Events Director
Michigan Governor’s Residence
How does an event planner achieve excellence working under all the usual pressures, plus political scrutiny, tight government controls and even tighter budgets? Ask Kelly Brennan.
The residence and events director for the first family of Michigan, Brennan has survived a change in administration and a 320 percent jump in events in the governor’s residence since beginning her job in 2007. In her position she must adhere to a complex system of state rules and avoid waste, all while delivering a high-quality product and service.
"It’s my responsibility to provide our first family with an atmosphere where they can comfortably focus on what is important-the citizens of this great state," she says.
Brennan started in the industry while a student at Western Michigan University, where she worked in the athletics department. She went on to a position as conventions services and hotel training manager for the Radisson Plaza Hotel and Suites in Kalamazoo.
"I’ve been blessed to be in collegiate events, private events and now public events," she says. "Knowing your industry sectors in and out will allow you to provide your client with an event opportunity that exudes excellence."
Q: How would you advise a young event planner just starting out?
A: Each young planner needs to have someone to look up to, to learn from and to simply ask questions. A mentor can provide that extra push or advice that is needed. I also encourage young professionals to volunteer and take on those opportunities that may arise.
Fun Fact: Brennan volunteers with Sparrow Hospital’s Mother Baby Center.
UP-AND-COMING SPECIAL EVENTS PLANNER
Event Design Manager
Grand Traverse Resort & Spa
Think a job planning events at a top resort sounds like a blast? You’re right.
"I deal with all the fun stuff," says Meghan Gamelin of her position with Grand Traverse Resort & Spa, where she helps plan and design events from weddings to corporate tours.
Gamelin joined GTRS in 2008 as a conference services assistant, after earning a degree in hospitality and tourism management from Grand Valley State University and completing two event planning internships. She moved up to executive meetings manager before claiming her current post in 2011.
In planning events, Gamelin takes pride in sourcing talent and materials from her hometown-close to 80 percent of her vendors are local.
"My job is promoting the area, so why would I hire a musician from Indiana?" she says.
To make an event successful, "really listen to your client and find out what’s important to them," Gamelin says. "Never overpromise and underdeliver."
Q: What’s the most unusual event request you’ve gotten?
A: One group wanted to have a pirate war with live-action cannons including tall, pirate-style ships. I said, ‘We can’t do a cannon, but we can do two tall ships.’
Fun Fact: Gamelin loves to cook. She enjoys hunting for recipes and finding ways to make them her own.
Nate Melvin, CMP, CTA
Nate Melvin thought he wanted to be a filmmaker. Instead, he wound up helping planners and visitors envision the appeal of Kalamazoo.
Melvin graduated from Full Sail University in 2001 with a degree in film production. After college, he moved home and dabbled in production projects, only to realize filmmaking wasn’t for him.
He capitalized on his people skills to land a sales job at the Air Zoo, an aviation-themed museum and indoor amusement park in Portage. From there, he joined Discover Kalamazoo, the county convention and visitors bureau, as sales manager.
"It was a great move for me," he says. "I feel much more integrated into the industry now."
For Melvin, promoting Kalamazoo comes easily. "I love this place," he says. "Kalamazoo has a draw for folks interested in the arts. It’s also home of the first outdoor walking mall in the country. There’s so much to do."
Melvin, who joined the board of Michigan Society of Government Meeting Professionals as treasurer in March, says he looks forward to a long career in the industry.
Q: What are your tips for future up-and-comers in the trade?
A: Don’t be shy because nobody is. People love to talk and have fun in this industry.
Fun Fact: Melvin brews his own beer. "Kalamazoo is a beer destination, so it’s fun to be a part of that scene on a personal level," he says.
UP-AND-COMING MEETING PROFESSIONAL
Brandi Tribell, CMP
Meeting Planner and Executive Assistant
Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association
A public policy enthusiast and avid organizer, Brandi Tribell’s job gives her the best of both worlds: The Lansing-based planner works for the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association.
Previously, Tribell served as office manager for the speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives, where she thrived in the fast-paced environment.
"It was a very exciting time," she says. "[But] the changeover every two years in the legislature was not dependable." Tribell's current job, helping legislative assistants coordinate event logistics for fundraisers at the MB&WWA building gives her career stability while allowing her to remain conected to the political community.
Tribell, who recently earned her CMP designation, knows the stuff great meetings are made of. To prevent the dreaded zoning out by attendees, she says, "you want to make sure a meeting provides mixed content. Group participation is key."
Looking ahead, Tribell says she’ll stick with the wholesalers team: "We’re like a family here. It makes me feel at home."
Q: Do you ever apply your degree in public policy and administration studies to event planning?
A: The main thing when planning a fundraising event is ROI; my study of policy statistics and budget planning helps with really understanding that.
Fun Fact: Tribell is a serious sports fan and often attends Michigan State University football and basketball games.