Some professionals personify the industry’s very best: Their enthusiasm, know-how and desire to put clients and colleagues first raises the bar for us all. Through listening and collaborating, they create amazing experiences that also achieve measurable results. We’re proud to say seven of them are our 2017 Hall of Fame inductees.
CAE, CMP, FASAE
Michigan Society of Association Executives
“I like being able to help people solve problems and advance their careers,” says Cheryl Ronk, who for 28 years has led Michigan Society of Association Executives. Ronk calls MSAE “the association that ensures there’s a professional, knowledgeable and successful association community.” Under her guidance, MSAE has helped 381 professionals (288 in Michigan) earn and maintain their Certified Meeting Professional designation, a number unsurpassed by any other organization. It also is the only society of association executives offering online CMP training.
Having seen many careers blossom over the years, Ronk believes MSAE has played a role in elevating industry professionalism. “In the last eight years, meeting planners have moved from being events planners to adult learning specialists,” she says. “Continuing education has helped them rise to the challenge and foster the borrowing of brilliance that makes organizations stronger.”
MSAE also played a huge role in the American Society of Association Executives’ annual convention held in Detroit in 2015. In collaboration with Larry Alexander, CEO of the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, Ronk initiated a member-based email, social media and letter-writing campaign that helped bring the event to the city.
She also co-chaired the host committee with Alexander, putting MSAE members on task forces. This provided a deeper understanding of attendees’ needs and helped organizers create unique experiences that were educational rather than just entertainment- focused.
“We played the game a little differently and ASAE was amazed and I think our participants were amazed,” Ronk says. “They’re still talking about how great it was to come to Detroit.”
FUN FACT: Ronk is a professional figure skater. When she retires from MSAE in 2018, she’d like to serve as an official for U.S. Figure Skating.
BEST SPECIAL EVENTS PLANNER
Owner and Principal Event Planner
Purple Clover Events
Kate McClellan is committed to delivering exceptional customer service to her clients, as well as to the many vendors she works with daily.
“Having a strong team is so crucial,” she says. And when everyone feels respected and supported, amazing things can happen. Having that strong team of planners and vendors and solid pre-event communication proved crucial to pulling off a complex ceiling floral installation involving thousands of flowers the night before an event when, at the worst possible moment, McClellan was sidelined by illness. “Thanks to the team, the event turned out perfectly,” she says.
McClellan says she draws inspiration from the people she and her team work with. Partnering with top talent to take things to a new level is always fun, and it’s helped her build a thriving business, as well. “If people like working with you, they’re going to refer you to their clients,” she says.
Indeed, McClellan urges professionals to grow their networks. Some of her closest friends are also direct competitors. “It’s so helpful to have that network of people who can relate, who you can vent to and trust to help you when you need it,” she says.
In fact, networking helped McClellan establish herself before leaving a marketing career in 2004 to open Purple Clover Events—named for her love of all things purple and her “crazy Irish family”—though she continued to work part time in marketing until 2014. Today she’s actively involved in the National Association for Catering & Events and Association of Bridal Consultants.
Though she puts in many hours running her own business, she says, “it rarely feels like work.”
FUN FACT: Early on, McClellan planned to live on the East Coast and train marine mammals. But after interning at the New England Aquarium in Boston, she realized she was a Michigan girl at heart.
UP-AND-COMING SPECIAL EVENTS PLANNER
LG Event Design
Lisa Gebhardt planned plenty of events for her college sorority, but she never thought of it as a career. It was only after a turn in visual merchandising that she considered its potential and pursued a role at a full-service event planning company.
She opened her own firm in January. Gebhardt says she’s always been surrounded by some kind of creative energy and art (her father is an architect; her mother has a degree in graphic design), and she’s “super excited” to use her artistic talents to help people develop their vision for corporate and social events.
Gebhardt cites celebrity event designer Mindy Weiss as a big inspiration. “I respect how she’s built her brand,” she says. “She has a big empire. Hopefully one day I can be like her.”
In fact, Gebhardt is already planning events in Chicago and Florida. Learning about other cultures and how events are produced in different locations is a fun challenge, says Gebhardt, who is constantly on the lookout for new venues and isn’t afraid to break a few rules to make an event personal and fresh.
“Incorporating the five human senses helps you really create something special, from the look and physical feel of the event to composing a menu specific to the theme or client’s personal story to music and scent, which are most important as they complete the experience,” she says of her planning philosophy.
Seeing a client’s reaction to a finished event space before guests arrive is “like no feeling I’ve ever felt,” she says. “It’s something you don’t forget.”
FUN FACT: Gebhardt almost started a food truck bakery. “My friends and family won’t let me go anywhere without bringing my famous red velvet cupcakes.”
BEST MEETING PROFESSIONAL
MoHen & Associates
Corporate and nonprofit events are planner Monique Henderson’s sweet spots.
Henderson, a “one-woman show” with more than 20 years of industry experience, is most proud of her work for the Southfield Chamber of Commerce. Hired to plan the 2014 Annual Taste of Southfield, she now organizes all of the chamber’s signature events, which have grown significantly in attendance, content and recognition under her guidance.\
In fact, turning a client’s vision into reality is what motivates Henderson. “That requires careful listening, or it’s easy to get caught up in your own ideas for a meeting or event,” she says. “When a client says I’ve exceeded her vision, I know I’ve done my job.”
Henderson is not afraid to follow her dreams. In 2003 she opened a full-service salon and spa while honing her event planning skills at a marketing agency. When she realized the salon wasn’t her true passion, she embraced the lessons learned and came to the conclusion that anything is possible. In 2006, the single mother walked away from a 12-year marketing career to pursue her own planning consultancy full time.
Today, Henderson’s thriving business allows her the flexibility and opportunity to be creative, as well as the chance to expand into markets like Arizona, where she enjoys spending time. Because a supportive network is a key to success, she never hesitates to share her industry knowledge with peers and up-and-coming professionals. That effort is “going to come back to me tenfold,” she says.
Henderson is actively involved the Greater Detroit Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, where she serves as membership chair.
FUN FACT: Henderson loves riding motorcycles, a thrill she claims is similar to event planning: “Anything can happen and you have to be ready to act on it.”
UP-AND-COMING MEETING PROFESSIONAL
CBA Program and Meetings Manager
Michigan Association of School Boards
Working with people who are truly passionate about what they’re doing is daily inspiration for Angel Davis, who manages the Certified Boardmember Awards Program for the Michigan Association of School Boards.
The continuing education initiative helps members develop new skills and stay up to date on educational issues; Davis ensures those courses are of value and accessible to members across the state.
“It challenges me to get out of my comfort zone and to be creative, but most of all it allows me to be part of a team and to build relationships with other industry professionals outside the office,” she says. “Learning from them is good for my soul.”
She joined the association after high school as an accounting intern. That became a full-time position, and she often assisted the conference staff at on-site meetings and events.
Eventually Davis took on full-time roles in the conference department, gaining skills, experience and responsibilities along the way. Today, she’s pursuing a degree in management and leisure studies.
She says she believes in “never giving it any less than your best; always approaching your work, whether the task is big or small, with pride; behaving ethically, not just with your work or for yourself, but with your colleagues and teammates because you all are a reflection of each other.”
Davis also strives to maintain a healthy work-life balance as her son, who she calls her superhero, is her No. 1 priority. Knowing he sees how hard she works inspires her.
“It moves me to keep showing him a positive work ethic,” she says.
FUN FACT: “I am very much an introvert,” Davis says. “I like the behind-thescenes work and watching it unfold, but I don’t need to be part of the celebration.”
Director of Catering
The Townsend Hotel
For 29 years, Joanie Sams has helped clients celebrate life’s milestones and host meetings and events at the Townsend Hotel. Sams joined the property when it opened in 1988 as a part-time concierge and as part-time staff in the Rugby Grille; she later took over the catering department as director in 1994. Her long tenure can be attributed to being inspired by the hotel’s guests.
“When I see them get excited, it makes me excited,” she says. “So does knowing how capable our team is of making clients happy, and this beautiful property.”
Her career path is no surprise given that she was raised in the business. Her family owned a restaurant, catering hall and other properties in River Rouge, and she worked there when she was young. Although joining the family enterprise wasn’t her plan, she took the reins after her father died, selling it 13 years later. When she learned of the Townsend, she was determined to work there in any capacity.
Today, Sams is focused on teaching her team to be successful, stressing confidence, honesty, a friendly attitude and listening. “Those are the things that are important to people; they want to know that you care,” she says.
Providing hospitality for the 2004 Ryder Cup is one of her biggest achievements. Not only did it take four-and-a-half years of planning, but it was the first time European and U.S. golf teams stayed under the same roof. Security was intense following 9/11, and Sams' every move was shadowed by planners preparing for the next cup event in Ireland.
Still, it is the nonprofit groups that have returned to the hotel to host fundraising luncheons for decades “that really make my buttons pop,” Sams says.
FUN FACT: As a journalism student at Central Michigan University, Sams interned at the Chicago Tribune. “I lasted nine hours,” she says. Today she enjoys creative writing, often composing the hotel’s menus.
Director of Sales
Continental Services/Forte Belanger
When Kate Mahanic was nominated for this honor a few months ago, she was account manager at Forte Belanger. Since then she’s taken on a new challenge at the off-premise catering firm’s parent company: leading the sales teams for Infinity and Ovation Yacht Charters and Waterview Loft at Port Detroit.
Mahanic looks forward to helping grow the company and teaching her teams what she learned from the bottom up in her more than 15 years in food service.
Starting as a teenager at McDonald’s, she worked at fast casual and fine dining establishments, as well as interned at The Parade Company and worked for a top caterer in Washington, D.C. “I think all of that has helped humble me and shape me into the professional I am today,” says Mahanic, who enjoys “the variety and the collaborative spirit of what we do.” Working with a deep bench of people who are experts in their fields inspires her to strive to be better, she adds.
An avid traveler and a self-described “joiner,” Mahanic is communications chair of the Detroit Chapter of NACE. By picking an organization and really getting involved, you can meet other vendors and planners, learn from national experts and educate clients on what’s new, she says. “It’s our responsibility as planners to be that trendsetter,” she says, “and you can’t be one if your only inspiration comes from Pinterest”
Mahanic also previously was president of the Associate Board of Ambassadors for the American Cancer Society of Metro Detroit. During her three-year tenure, the nonprofit raised $220,000 for cancer research, patient support and education, what she calls one of her proudest accomplishments.
FUN FACT: Mahanic had the “surreal experience” of helping plan one of President Obama’s second-term inaugural balls. “I never thought I would have backstage access to something so important.”