Take note of these seven pros who are making their mark in the meetings and events industry. 

Mary Kerr, CTA, President & CEO 
Destination Ann Arbor
Lifetime Achievement 

“I’m a connector and an advocate. My job is to bring the community together for the benefit of all of us—visitors, residents, students, businesses, etc. I spend my days advocating for our industry and telling the story of the influence that meetings, events and the visitor economy have on our quality of life in the Ann Arbor area, and getting others at the table to help grow our visitor economy... I’ve always had thehonor of working for a community that is very engaged.”

ON HER BIGGEST CHALLENGE: 
“Without a doubt, meeting space is our biggest challenge. We have an incredible sales team that has learned to be exceptionally creative and innovative to book large conferences and events. Lack of a large conference facility constantly compels us to think outside the box. We make it work—we’ve had wine tastings at rural farmland event venues and receptions in art galleries, for example.”

ON HER FIRST JOB: 
“Like so many of my closest friends and collaborators, I started my career in hospitality, managing a restaurant in Ypsilanti called Haab’s. I loved every minute of it. I got to know our small community so well in that job—and my background in food and  beverage  has given me tremendous respect for the work done by our service-oriented hospitality community every day. I still go to Haab’s frequently!”

ON ONE OF HER MOST MEMORABLE MOMENTS: 
“I have the honor of attending tons of events throughout the Ann Arbor area, year-round. One that stands out is the 2014 NHL Winter Classic, when we helped to put ice down in Michigan Stadium (the biggest stadium in North America) for a record-breaking hockey game with over 105,000 people in attendance. The night before, we hosted a downtown party called ‘The Puck Drops Here.’ The whole thing was just surreal and so exciting! The Toronto Maple Leafs played in the game and having their fans here was really electrifying.”

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Britta Carlson, Event Operations Coordinator
Karmanos Cancer Institute
Up-and-Coming Meeting Professional

ON WANTING TO WORK IN THE EVENTS INDUSTRY: 
“I knew in the eighth grade. … My parents didn’t exactly understand how that could be a career, but were supportive in helping me make it happen... We met with the dean at Grand Valley State University and my dad asked if event planning was something you could actually make a career out of. The dean asked my dad if he’d ever gone to a sporting event, a concert or conference for work, to which my dad replied, ‘Yes.’ The dean replied, ‘Well, someone had to plan those events.’”

ON THE MOST VALUABLE SKILL FOR THE INDUSTRY: 
“It seems simple, but kindness goes a long way. There are a lot of valuable skills that it takes to be a successful event planner like organization, attention to detail, being creative and adaptable, but if you’re not kind to your vendors, volunteers, etc., your job will be much more difficult.”

ON THE BEST ADVICE SHE'S EVER GOTTEN: 
“Everyone is in the hospitality field, whether they know it or not.”

ON HER FIRST JOB: 
"My current job was my first job after college. I’m originally from Rockford, Illinois, and as soon as I started at Grand Valley I fell in love with Michigan and knew that I wanted to continue working here after graduation... I have gained so much experience and knowledge and I get to  do it with an amazing team of coworkers who truly care and have passion for raising money to eradicate cancer.”

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Joan C. Press, Director of Event Operations 
SME
Best Meeting Professional 

“I don’t see many things as a challenge but more of an opportunity to perhaps change. In some cases, it may require an immediate change... When service providers perhaps don’t meet the mark and it may impact the success of an event, you have to make tough decisions, and in some cases change course immediately in order to provide your customers the best outcome.”

HOW SHE DESCRIBES HER JOB: 
“My role has many facets. I manage the department that basically owns every service for a trade show. Remember, in the events industry, that no man is an island. It takes a team to produce an event. I manage the contracting, tradeshow operations, registration and housing for all our tradeshows and meetings. We have over 12 trade shows in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.”

THE BEST ADVICE SHE HAS RECEIVED: 
”Make a difference—do the best you can and try to make a difference in the outcome.”

ON HER MOST VALUABLE SKILL: 
“Relationship-building and customer service attributes are the two key skills that have gained me respect and support in this industry. Being a leader that is honest, consistent but flexible, and hardworking are certainly other traits that have allowed me to be successful in my role for SME.”

ON HER FUTURE ASPIRATIONS: 
“As a veteran in this industry and with a few years left, I hope I can continue to make a difference and add value. Teach and mentor those in the industry that are new. It’s really an easy industry to figure out—it’s called people.”

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Sherri Perez, Director of Catering & Special Events 
The Detroit Athletic Club 
Best Special Events Planner 

“People have asked me what has kept me at the same place for 18 years. My answer is there’s never the same day. There are always opportunities to grow here... In this industry I often hear individuals talk about life balance as a major challenge. I think if you work for a company that you believe in and they believe in you, you can often find the balance.”

ON HOW SHE DESCRIBES HER JOB: 
“I have the honor of not only creating and putting events together, but also helping guide my Catering & Special Events team every day to develop and create the most fantastic events for our members. This is a sizeable task, making sure we are programming and creating events that will capture the attention of our wide array of membership. We have around 2,000 catering events and over 200 special events for our members each year.”

ON THE BEST ADVICE SHE'S RECEIVED: 
“Make sure you are always listening, listening to your clients, your members and most especially your staff. Be open to any and all feedback—you don’t necessarily have to fully agree with everything, but you are doing yourself a disservice if you ignore or explain things away. You can gain tremendous insight just by listening and asking questions.”

ON HER FIRST JOB: 
“Hostess for Old Country Buffet. It was a great experience and made me realize that I really liked working with people in hospitality and interacting with guests.”

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Lauren Jacks, Event Manager
Bedrock Detroit 
Up-and-Coming Special Events Planner 

“Soon after I got involved in this industry, I realized the things I enjoyed in my life outside of work were quite literally written into my job description. Every day I’m so lucky to get up and play around in such a creative and experiential environment.”

ON HOW SHE DESCRIBES HER JOB: 
“The flexibility in this career makes me think I have so many different titles. I can start the day as a venue manager, turn into a day-of coordinator, hop behind the bar to help guests and then turn into an adult babysitter. There isn’t a title that describes what I or anyone else in this industry does. We create magical memories for everyone under the sun.”

“I get a bit emotional when vendors lend a helping hand in something they have absolutely no reason to assist on. When I see a vendor jumping in to support a fellow industry partner on their setup, my heart feels so happy! At the end of the day, it isn’t one person’s event; every vendor plays a role in its success.”

ON THE MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT OF HER CAREER: 
“Is it cheesy to say the moment I found out I was recognized with this award? Seeing your hard work pay off and being recognized for a job well done is such a source of inspiration.”

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Aimee Paquin, Founder, Designer, Buyer, Client Manager
Modernly Events
Up-and-Coming Supplier 

“I never pictured myself working in the events industry, particularly as a self-described introvert! However,  I’ve always  had an interest and affinity for design—interior, graphic, web—going as far back as middle school watching “Trading Spaces” on TLC. … I came back to design, and specifically event design, after I planned my wedding in 2012 and fell in love with the idea of transforming environments/venues through furniture, lighting and large-scale installations.”

ON HER MOST VALUABLE SKILL: 
“Listening. I take in as much information as I can when I meet with potential and existing clients to really hear what their needs and wants are for their event, so that I can recommend the furniture and décor that will work best for them and come up with ways to create visual impact based on their budget.”

ON HER FIRST JOB: 
“Besides summer babysitting, my first ‘real’ job was a sales associate at The Gap. Beyond folding mountains of clothes, it taught me how to  deal with customers, how to read a situation and react appropriately, and that no matter how long I worked there, I’d never get the hang of using the cash register.”

ON HER MOST MEMORABLE CAREER MOMENT: 
“My out-of-town clients hired me as their event designer for their October 2019 wedding and placed their full trust in me to develop and execute their design...  I’ll never forget the moment the first guests walked into the ceremony space and looked around in wonder. Or the moment when I showed the bride her reception space and she said it was beyond anything she had imagined... It was so special.”

Kathy Bart, Director of Sales
DeVos Place & Van Andel Arena
Best Supplier 

“When I was growing up, I didn’t even know that this was an indus- try. People graduate now with a hospitality degree. At our house, people came over and you treated them like family. That, to me, is hospitality and that is what makes what we do so great. We are having people over to our home and opening the door like when I was younger. Did I know I wanted to do this? Maybe deep down I did. I did not find the job. Hospitality is something that is innate to each of us in the meetings/events industry. It finds us.”

ON HER MOST VALUABLE SKILL: 
“Flexibility is the greatest asset. You never know what the day will bring. You can plan everything out but if you are not flexible, well... it just does not work. Anyone who has planned meetings will tell you that. Things come up and  you need to problem-solve. Wait... can I change my answer? Problem solving... or maybe it is a sense of humor.”

ON WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE MICHIGAN MEETINGS INDUSTRY DURING UNCERTAIN TIMES: 
“This is tough to say considering what we are currently going through with COVID-19. Nothing could prepare us for this. Every time something severe happens, we learn more. If I had to guess, there will be a dip in attendance once meetings in our state are able to resume. We will have a spike in virtual meetings for a bit. Then, once things get back on track, we will see more integrated meetings with technology. Face-to-face meetings will never go away, though. Body language, posture and the handshake can never be replaced.”

ON WHAT MIGHT BE SURPRISING ABOUT HER: 
“Those that truly know me are not surprised by anything anymore. Those that don’t... hmmm… I was a teacher, I have done improv and stand-up and I have driven a Zamboni!”

These interviews are part of a series that highlights new hires within the industry. Have you recently started a new role or do you know someone who has? Submit your ideas to lauren.pahmeier@tigeroak.com

Michael Cerrie was recently named the Executive Chef for Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel.  

1. What are you looking forward to most in your new role? 

 

Congratulations to the winners!

Best Meeting/Event Planning Company
Emerald City Designs 

 

Due to COVID-19, non-essential travel was, or has been, banned for months. Long anticipated trips and in-person gatherings were canceled and people have adjusted to the new normal: staying at home and meeting over Zoom. However, states have been slowly lifting restrictions, and non-essential travel will soon be happening across the country again. However, some may not be as comfortable with the thought of traveling as they were before the pandemic.