Denise Woods, CMP
Director, Communications & Events, Associated General Contractors of Minnesota
Denise Woods didn’t start out as a meetings and events professional. Working as a legal secretary, Woods helped with client seminars and realized she enjoyed putting together all the various pieces of an event.
"Being a natural perfectionist and very detail oriented made the transition from the complexities of law to all the details inherent in meetings and events a fairly easy one," says Woods. She has held positions in the corporate world with a nonprofit and, for the past 10 years, at Associated General Contractors of Minnesota (AGC), a statewide association.
As director of communications and events at AGC, Woods covers a variety of areas. "Communications are only about 10 percent of my job," she says. "The majority of my time is devoted to managing all the logistics for member networking events and education opportunities."
What Woods enjoys most about this industry is also what can make it so challenging-namely taking an idea or concept, starting from scratch and putting together all the pieces to make a complete puzzle. "Things don’t always work as well as we planned and we’re often confronted with last-minute changes and hopefully minor crises, but overcoming these roadblocks and getting as close to perfection as possible is part of the challenge," Woods says. "I hope my future in this industry holds a continuation and expansion of the many friendships I’ve formed and offers ongoing challenges and opportunities to learn and grow, and more fun and laughter."
UP-AND-COMING Meeting Professional
Abby Slagle, CMP
Meetings and Events Coordinator, Piper Jaffray & Co.
Abby Slagle, meeting and event coordinator at Piper Jaffray & Co., has enjoyed planning events for as long as she can remember, but her career officially began 10 years ago.
"While I was finishing college, I started working for Rea Designs, where I quickly learned the ins and outs of special event planning," says Slagle. "Connections made from the five years I spent with Rea Designs gave me the opportunity to work for two vastly different companies within the industry Copeland’s catering department and Buttercream Wedding Cakes." In 2008, Slagle switched gears and joined Piper Jaffray as a meeting and events coordinator in the financial industry.
For Slagle, it’s impossible to become disengaged because there is always somewhere to be or something to do. "I find it rewarding to be on site as the event is underway and seeing all of the hard work come together," Slagle says. "I like helping people realize their vision, and I feel the event is a success when my stakeholder and attendees are pleased with the outcome."
Slagle’s goal is to strive to be better tomorrow than she is today. "Each day I get closer and closer to being an expert," Slagle says. "The industry has a lot more to teach me. I feel that I have just scraped the surface and am excited for what the future will bring me."
BEST Meeting Professional
Vice President of Conferences & Sales, Aging Services of Minnesota
It was an internship as a meeting planner at AgriBank that fueled Jenny Prosser’s passion in all things event planning. Seventeen years later, Prosser has made quite a name for herself in the industry.
Currently, Prosser is the vice president of conferences and sales at Aging Services of Minnesota. In this role, her responsibilities are expansive and include managing meeting logistics for signature events, freestanding education, webinars and special events, while also selling, marketing and managing exhibits and sponsorships.
"My favorite part about working in the meetings and events industry is developing relationships with key partners, suppliers and members that ultimately enhance our meetings and provide our meeting attendees/members with memorable event experiences," Prosser says. "Meetings and events is a big industry; however, it is amazing how small it can feel, as everybody seems to be connected in some way."
Not surprising, she can’t imagine being anything other than a meeting planner. "I thoroughly enjoy association work, as it allows me the opportunity to wear multiple hats and work on many projects simultaneously," Prosser says. "I enjoy mobilizing people for a mission that matters: providing excellence and innovation in older adult services."
BEST Special Events Planner
susan diamond, csep
Owner, Jigsaw Unlimited
In 1997, Susan Diamond first started Jigsaw Unlimited. At first, the firm focused heavily on corporate marketing and communications, providing 80 percent marketing services with 20 percent event planning services. During the last 14 years, this has evolved to 90 percent events with 10 percent marketing- which Diamond finds very rewarding.
"My role is to use current trends and a collaborative approach to plan and execute each project," says Diamond. "I’m committed to developing and maintaining relationships that can add value and create the best possible results."
In 2007, Diamond produced 87 events- an all-time annual high for her business- and that included three events in one day in two states. "That was pretty exhilarating," Diamond says. And this feeling of exhilaration entices Diamond to continue in her meetings and events practice. "My hope is to continue to collaborate with and learn from other creative event professionals," Diamond says. "I want to maintain my current list of valued clients and incrementally expand that list with a variety of corporate and nonprofit clients."
UP-AND-COMING Special Events Planner
Development Assistant, The Basilica of Saint Mary
Leah Fogelberg was working at a local Irish pub as a server when she began assisting the restaurant’s special events coordinator. She quickly learned that not only was event planning a position she was good at and enjoyed, but it could also be a long-term career. Fogelberg followed her initial interest and eventually became the special events intern at The Basilica of Saint Mary, working on special events, including the renowned Basilica Block Party.
Now as development assistant at The Basilica, Fogelberg assists the special events coordinator and others in The Basilica’s development department with several fundraising and cultivation events. She also coordinates communications for her department and helps The Basilica Landmark’s Marketing Committee.
"I love the wide variety of events I’m lucky to work on," says Fogelberg. "[The events] all have a different set of challenges and rewards."
Fogelberg’s fondest memory is of the first year she worked on the Basilica Block Party. "It was right before the gates opened, and my boss and I, along with some other committee members, stood on the top of the parking ramp overlooking the gates and the crowd below," she says. "You could see all the people gathering, and you could feel the excitement. It was thrilling in that moment to know I had a part in creating this experience for them."
Account Executive, Mystic Lake Casino Hotel
Melanie Wilen, account executive at Mystic Lake Casino Hotel, stumbled into the meetings and events industry after college when she was searching for a job in communications.
"I took a position as a sales coordinator with a small hotelier, and I loved it," says Wilen. "I really enjoy meeting people and learning from them, and I quickly found that hospitality sales was a great fit for me and my personality. After 15 years in this industry, I am hooked and I cannot imagine doing anything else."
Wilen enjoys connecting with people professionally and personally, as she believes they go hand in hand. "I feel that my clients
sense that I am sincerely invested in helping them be successful in their event planning and this creates a level of comfort and trust for them," Wilen says. "I find it rewarding to assist in creating memorable events by offering out-of-the-box ideas to my clients. It is truly gratifying when they exclaim how happy they were with the final product."
Director of Group Sales & Extended Stay, The Depot Renaissance and Residence Inn at The Depot
Growing up, Clint Greenebaum had a passion for hotels. Competing at a high level in youth sports and activities, Greenebaum had the opportunity to stay in many different cities and was able to experience many different hotel environments.
"I always had bits and pieces of individual hotels that I liked and disliked," he says. "This gave me the idea to be a hotel owner so I can create my hotel to my own specifications based on my previous experiences."
After graduating with a general business degree with an emphasis on hospitality, Greenebaum began his career in the industry at Crowne Plaza in St. Paul, working primarily with sports, religious and education groups.
Eventually, Greenebaum became the director of group sales and extended stay at The Depot Renaissance and Residence Inn at The Depot in Minneapolis. "I enjoy working with different people each and every day. Working with each potential client is very important in hotel sales," Greenebaum says. "I find it most rewarding being the home away from home for guests and making their stay better than they could get anywhere else."